This blog post is adapted from Achieving Professional Camaraderie in Family Law Practice by M. Dee Samuels, Esq., published in CEB’s Practice Under the California Family Code: Dissolution, Legal Separation, Nullity.
Anger, distrust, and hostility may spill over from clients to attorneys, who at times find themselves as stressed and as polarized as their clients. Here’s how a group of women family law attorneys I belonged to discovered a way to deal with those stresses. There are lessons here for all attorneys.
Several years ago, a colleague proposed that a number of women family law attorneys form a kind of study group. More accurately, it would be a group that would explore how we as women practice law, including litigation, and how we interact with each other primarily as opposing counsel. We all enthusiastically agreed.
The colleague who convened us proposed that we have a psychologist facilitate our meetings and that, in addition to looking at our litigation styles and interactions with opposing counsel, we should explore what kind of models existed in litigating and which we had chosen to follow, whether consciously or not, as litigators and in our daily law practices.
Over time, we learned some new ways of relating to each other as well as to other opposing counsel and how to deal with some of the pressures of the practice. One very valuable lesson we learned is to make our expectations for professional interactions clear to a new opposing counsel in a case. For example, agreeing to discuss the inevitable accusations that come up in family law cases before writing “the lawyer letter” could be extremely helpful in keeping a case floating in calmer waters.
Our group has come a long way together. In sharing practice-related problems and successes, as well as personal joys and tragedies, we have come to recognize the comfort of this kind of professional group. This gathering of attorneys has transcended its original professional boundaries to provide us with a collective sense of joy and of belonging to “our group”—with its unique understanding and support.
And the group has immeasurably helped us deal with the pressures of being women family law attorneys. As leaders in our field, we think we have developed a model for younger lawyers. Indeed, we recently met with young women lawyers who have formed their own group. Their group is unique to and for them, yet dealing with many of the same issues as we have dealt with—professional pressures and balance in their lives as they rise to the top of their field.
We hope our example will continue to inspire others to explore how professional relationships can be a source of positive growth and support.
The stresses of law practice are certainly not the exclusive purview of family law practitioners or woman attorneys; many attorneys would benefit from the support and assistance of a group of colleagues. Are you part of a professional group? Have you considered forming one? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Get more detail on how this group functioned in the full article in CEB’s Practice Under the California Family Code: Dissolution, Legal Separation, Nullity, chapter 1.
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