The following blog post is written by Dean Lynne Marie Kohm, Associate Dean of Faculty Development & External Affairs and John Brown McCarty Professor of Family Law at Regent University School of Law.
Professor Ben Madison discusses this connection between professional identity and character in his article on that subject. Appropriate lawyer conduct can make all the difference. That said, the relationship between the Rules of Professional Conduct and the development of practical judgment needed to help families make good decisions is most curious, and extremely vital.
When a person consults a lawyer to seek a divorce, for example, the model rules require an attorney to advise that potential client of all his or her options to end the marriage. To do otherwise would be malpractice. But those options can also include other remedies for a broken marriage. Advice on alternatives to divorce may even be welcome by many clients who think their only option is a divorce they don’t really want. Indeed, the rules do not prohibit a lawyer from sharing assistance toward marriage restoration, and in fact, the public policy of every state in the nation is to encourage marriage and marital stability.
So how might an attorney take on this task? What if one party sees the marriage as over because of his or her substance abuse, but the other party sees that substance abuse as ruining the marriage? Contract language that both parties agree to in terms of getting medical assistance and counseling to deal with the abuse problem may just help this otherwise-over marriage. If the client wishes to preserve their family for the sake of the children involved, or to preserve family wealth, or simply to preserve health and stability of the parties, the attorney who understands real legal alternatives can make a tremendous difference. In my article “Understanding Realistic Reconciliation in an Age of Divorce,” attorneys and clients are offered a similar simulation of alcohol abuse, and actual contract language to assist couples in those types of marital difficulties to rebuild trust toward family restoration.
The importance of authenticity and self-awareness as precursors to helping a client to make good decisions will reflect the personal integrity of the lawyer, and will promote the emotional well-being of both lawyer and client. Family law particularly brings out some cognitive dissonance that enables and encourages well-prepared lawyers of strong character to understand the desperate need clients have for lawyers who care about them, their family, and their future.
Lawyers can be healers of human conflict, and can use the law to work toward family restoration – setting a whole new pace – beyond the rule.