Despite My Best Efforts, I am Still a Human Being
This morning during an otherwise routine divorce hearing in Providence County, so early in the day that the caffeine was still buzzing me, a strange and funny thing happened. My client, Plaintiff / wife (who, it must be said, was an unusually wonderful client throughout) began to cry during her direct examination testimony. It wasn’t troubling testimony and I certainly wasn’t grilling her. Just the quotidian “Who gets the lawnmower? How many health insurances do ya want?” kind of thing. It was an unusually human moment in an all-to-inhumane procedure.
And she cried. Like a person! As a rule, persons are not allowed at the Family Court. At least, not if they insist on acting like a person. It is considered gauche.
Because while for the judge and staff at the courthouse it was Wednesday, for her this was the end of a relationship that was not supposed to have an end. And how can someone be expected to come to terms with the surreal reality of that while answering her idiot attorney’s lawnmower questions? They can’t. Or, at least, they should not be able to. Honestly, I worry more about the “Westworld”-like robot cyborgs who take the stand and apathetically agree to only see their children on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I loved my client for crying. Up until now, mind you, she had been stoic and strong. And I believe her to be both of these things, still. If not more so.
Your average attorney, say a tax or (spits) personal injury attorney has all the empathy and emotional I.Q. of a dead iguana. And, for a time, I thought that the daily drudgery of the Family Court: the threatening, posturing, ego-stroking, Motion-ing, and begging that comprises so much of my everyday had jaded me, too.
If you lose your natural, human connection to people you can still be a great criminal attorney. In fact, it might be an asset! “You robbed a little old lady at gun-point? Well, I’m sure she didn’t need all her blood pressure pills, anyway. Sell them and give me ten thousand dollars.” But if a Family Law attorney loses her “way with people” she is useless to everyone. Her client first and foremost. When your genuine human connection is gone and that spark does out you are Old Yeller-ed as a Family Law attorney.
But, readers, when my client cried I felt terrible for her. I felt a feeling! Because I can’t relieve that pain for her. I can’t protect her from that. And that is what are trying to do ultimately in this messy court process. Protect the client. Protect the client’s feelings. Protect the client’s assets. Protect the client’s perspective. Protect the client even, from, sometimes, from themselves.
Sure, the judge was thinking about what’s for lunch and opposing counsel was checking her stock portfolio. The stenographer was cranky because it is so very hard to transcribe sobs, but the spontaneous and uncontrolled show of genuine human emotion should be a reminder to we family law attorneys that what we complain about doing every day has a very real, very permanent impact on human lives. We shouldn’t have the affect of an accountant.
We rearrange families and finances. Sometimes even a Fido.
The people we help, or try to help, are going through what may be the worst year of their entire lives and we have to (get to?) guide them through. That’s kind of cool. And intense. We need to stop looking at it as a curse and more of an opportunity. We need to remember the very human influence our work has when we are lost in the ennui of another Wednesday in the unnatural environment of the Family Court. It is so easy for us to forget. The clients aren’t allowed to forget.