I read an interesting blog on LinkedIn recently quoting an entrepreneur named Bruce Kasanoff who said he believes compassion and boldness can coordinate.
Of course they can!! This is one reason I practice family law, and one reason I am known for being different than other divorce attorneys.
It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be both compassionate and an achiever – and I’ve always believed that divorce can be a compassionate process! Most people don’t, I know, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to show up with both capacities and weave it into my work with clients.
One of the ways an entrepreneur can stand out from the competition is by listening to her instincts and living out her values. That’s what I try to do every day. And it’s not easy, believe me.
That post by Bruce, whom I don’t know but would like to meet, said, “Compassion creates meaning in our lives. Combine that with a drive to achieve big things and you will make the world a much better place.”
I chose to build a career in family law because I wanted to help people. Particularly, families.
People come to me at a difficult time in their lives, wrapped up in emotions but with real needs to make a change and move forward productively. It’s imperative for a family law attorney to recognize the emotional state of their clients even as they proceed in a professional manner.
The truth is that any professional should bring compassion to their work. I don’t believe in separating personal and professional entirely. Of course, we don’t need to blur lines or take things personally when they’re really just business. But we don’t stop being human when we get to the office.
And in this line of work, you see good people at bad moments. There must be not only room for compassion, but a concerted effort to lead from your values and get your clients to do the same.
That’s one reason we use a fantastic tool called Our Family in Two Homeswith every client who comes to Transitions Legal. It’s a resource that guides clients to articulate their values before they go deeper into their divorce process, preparing them for the decisions they will need to make and for the work they will do with us. That way, they can proceed from a place of values and clarity and minimize the number of mistakes or hurdles along the way.
Think about where you might be able to infuse your work with compassion – and what the impact might be on the success of your work, and also your connection with your clients.
If the Covid pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the way we always thought we had to do things may not be the only way. In fact, when it comes to the legal system, and in particular, family law, the old way of divorcing may not be the best way at all. The future of divorce will look very different from the past.
I believe the future of divorce is not in court. We’ve already seen a shift to Zoom hearings, and while at the start of the pandemic, it felt difficult and strange and not ideal, this necessary switch taught us that we can, in fact, find better ways to serve couples seeking to dissolve their marriages.
The future of divorce will happen outside the court room – photo by Headway on Unsplash
I don’t want to say that I’ve known this for a long time, but I have. Since I started practicing Collaborative Divorce, and as long as I’ve been a Mediator, I’ve seen firsthand that when a couple breaks up, the court system can’t look out for what’s best for them or their families.
By definition, a system needs to move people through quickly, and not necessarily efficiently or with an eye toward individual needs and circumstances. But a good attorney or legal team can.
Driven by the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution, I approach Mediation with curiosity. This approach makes me more effective when there is conflict between divorcing parties. But instead of giving direction, I have learned to ask questions.
The Insight Approach helps me educate and empower clients to help them evolve through the course of their divorce. It’s a more holistic approach, which might sound touchy-feely and hard to understand, but now I have tools to make it way more concrete.
The more I get involved in this approach, the more I see how different it is from how typical family law practitioners do divorce. From the beginning with a client, I talk to them from a place of curiosity, so their experience is going to be different from the start all the way through the completion of their divorce.
Another tool that my Transitions Legal team employs with our clients is the Our Family in Two Homes workbook, which we give to every client before they begin their divorce to help them articulate their values and goals.
If you start with their values and concerns and ask questions that help reflect on their partner’s values and concerns, you can help divorcing clients change the narrative of their past, skip the arguing part and move on to their future. Doing the work beforehand helps me guide clients to the outcome they’re happy with.
Once you know how to do divorce with these thoughtful approaches, you can’t help but use it everywhere. It’s already built into Collaborative Divorce, which by definition seeks to divorce through a team approach that brings not only the spouses to the table with their attorneys, but also with the support of a team that includes mental health professionals, certified divorce financial advisors and more when needed.
The idea of Insight is not to tell people what to do. In the moment, when they’re going through their divorce, they might want to be told, but ultimately, it’s up to the client. I know how overwhelming and futile it can feel to be going through the end of a marriage you didn’t expect to end. No one does! But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for a lawyer to make decisions for their clients.
I can make suggestions or recommendations, but if the ideas come from the clients themselves, then they’re more likely to be happy with the outcome.
There are so many stories of court-based divorces where a client agrees to settle and then comes back to the lawyer months or even years later, unhappy with the settlement. The lawyers say, “But you agreed to this.” And that may be true. Or maybe they felt exhausted and pressured to just finish the darn thing or agree in the moment, but ultimately it never aligned with what they’re most concerned about and what they value.
A court is designed to make decisions for people. To put people in positions of power to apply the law as objectively as possible.
But a divorce is anything but objective. Which is why I don’t see the future of divorce remaining in the courts.
If we want families and individuals to thrive, we must approach each divorce with curiosity and questions to guide the people involved to their ultimate best destination. Every single client is unique, with their own interests, desires and challenges. A court can’t see that, but you we can. And that’s the only way to achieve the dissolution of a marriage with concern, care and compassion for the people most affected by it.
Americans as a nation are obsessed with happiness. So what does it take to be happily divorced?
After all, the promise of happiness written into our founding documents: From the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The thing is, happiness is subjective and it’s also completely within our control. In fact, that’s the only place it can begin – because if we are dependent upon outside forces to deliver satisfaction to us, we are going to ride a ridiculous emotional roller coaster.
So how can someone be happily divorced?
Simple. Decide to be.
Ok, I know that’s a bit too easy, but the sentiment isn’t far off. Because to be happily divorced, you have to accept your situation, choose to find the opportunity in the misfortune and commit every day to strive for personal growth and acceptance.
People going through divorce face an array of emotions. Disbelief. Sadness. Hurt. Anger. Denial. Depression. Elation. Sometimes all at once!
But at Transitions Legal, we view divorce as neither good nor bad – it’s a transition from one phase of life to another. You were married to a person one day and the next you no longer are. That’s all it is – the judgment is purely fabricated from within.
So once we accept this undeniable truth, we can begin to understand that all emotions are created within our own minds, and we can make choices to lead us toward the emotions we want to embrace – and not the ones we want to shed.
Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash
If you want to be happy, what will it take to make you happy? Even if you’re feeling sadness at the loss of the marriage, this too shall pass. One day, you won’t feel quite so sad. Each person must move through the emotions that come to them, knowing that they are temporary. That’s the only way to get to the other side.
Happiness is hard to define. You’d think it would be obvious, but it’s not!
From the Greater Good at University of California Berkeley: “…to understand the causes and effects of happiness, researchers first need to define it. For most, the term happiness is interchangeable with “subjective well-being,” which is typically measured by asking people about how satisfied they feel with their lives, how much positive and negative emotion they tend to feel and their sense of meaning and purpose.”
The article continues: “In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
And finally, “It’s important to note that social and cultural factors also influence how we think about happiness. For example, studies by William Tov and others have found that people from cultures that embrace more collectivist ideals think about happiness more in terms of harmony and contentment, while more individualistic-minded people connect it to feelings of exuberance and joy. Happiness levels are also shaped by social groups, like families; happier people increase the happiness of people around them.”
Simply put, happiness is a choice, and it’s a state of mind. How you define happiness will depend on whether or not you feel happy. So why not work on the definition so it serves your ultimate goal?
In the end, you can be happily divorced if you accept your circumstances and each morning commit anew to doing something that will bring you satisfaction, contentment and connection that day. One day at a time, that’s how happiness is built.
When I chose family law as my specialty, it was because it was a more focused and high-level way to help families during difficult times of their lives. Originally, I thought I might go into social work but I learned that through law, I could empower and support families in meaningful and long-lasting ways.
My career was inspired by the experiences of my own childhood – as happens with so many people. I grew up without a lot of stability in my family, and I wanted to help both children and parents not have to go through that.
So I became a lawyer, learned the nuances of family law, and recognized that even when a marital relationship breaks down, the family doesn’t have to fall to pieces. That’s the beauty of family law.
While there are many divorce lawyers around, not many focus on helping people. The natural inclination is to get the job done – file for divorce, go through the negotiations, see it through to completion and wish your client well.
However, even when a client must go through the litigation process – which I’ll always say is my very last choice for a divorce because it takes the power away from the couple and puts it in the hands of people who are not impacted by the outcome – we use Collaborative and Insight-based approaches.
Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash
Many clients come to us because we specialize in Collaborative Divorce and also because I am trained in the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution. But not every divorce can be Collaborative. However, we can and do use those principles and ideals to guide our case no matter where it ends up.
If we end up in litigation, don’t litigation clients also deserve a compassionate and insightful attorney that would guide them in the same way that I would guide a client in non-adversarial process? Absolutely! So that’s what we do.
And that’s why I continue to practice family law. Because not only can I help good people through one of the worst times of their lives with grace, dignity and compassion, I can bring a big-picture, insight-based approach to any divorce.
In this month of thanksgiving, I am beyond grateful for a successful decade as an entrepreneur in family law.
To think that I started Transitions Legal 10 years ago as an effort to be my own boss and practice law the way I felt was the best for me as a lawyer and my clients!
I am just filled with gratitude for the past ten years. For all the things I’ve learned, including the mistakes I’ve made. For all the people with whom I’ve worked – other lawyers, staff and team members at Transitions Legal, partners in Collaborative Law, my colleagues in the global legal industry and of course, my wonderful clients.
When you start a business, you can’t know what is going to happen, or who will walk through your door. IF anyone will walk through the door!
You sort of have to leap and hope a net will appear to catch you. That self-belief is so crucial to success. When I started Transitions Legal, I was confident in my legal skills and experience practicing law. But running a business, that’s a different endeavor altogether.
I’m happy to say that I’ve come to love the art and strategy of being an entrepreneur! It’s not always easy, and it’s sometimes like finding my way in the dark, but I’ve learned to surround myself with skilled professionals who can guide me when I am out of my depths.
So 10 years – wow!! I go back to gratitude again and again. Leading my own law firm allows me to build my life the way I want to, to answer to myself (and my clients) and to strive for work-life balance as best I can.
And, to pay it forward. I love mentoring others coming up in the family law field, to share what I’ve learned, to learn from each other.
I am grateful that I live in a time and a place where I can be a strong woman entrepreneur in a field that is constantly changing and innovating, where I can use my mind and my skills to help people.