“Can I ask you a personal question?” my client asked. I took in a breath. Answering personal questions from clients is uncomfortable because I am mindful that as an attorney, I have the power to influence my clients and their decisions. I generally keep my personal opinions and experience out of reach of clients for fear of my experience shading theirs.
Just the day before, this client and I had successfully negotiated an outcome for her divorce in lieu of going to trial. We finalized negotiations an hour before our scheduled trial time. I had been supporting this client for nine months. I knew of her struggle with the divorce process and how she was ending a relationship where she was controlled by an unkind spouse. “Yes, of course.” I replied.
“Why don’t I feel happy? It is finally over and I don’t feel happy.” This is one of those strange occurrences that routinely happen at the conclusion of a case. Oftentimes when I come back from a day at trial with a successful ruling or I have negotiated a good solid outcome for a client after months of work – the first question my support team will ask is “Is the client so happy?”
The truth is – although lots of clients may feel their stress load lift in the end, they usually are not happy. Divorce can be sad and hard. And even when someone ultimately determines that the divorce will open up their path to happier days in the future – the actual conclusion of the divorce is rarely a happy occasion. It is usually met with tears and a sad heart.
I told my client these truths. I told her that grieving all the changes of her world will continue for some time; but, that in small and surprising moments, happiness would start shining through and the frequency would increase over time. She would eventually come to a place to hear her own voice and reclaim her strength. When that day comes, she will no longer need the reassurances sought in asking someone about their experience, but instead she will have fully answered her own personal question.