Continuing our Business Divorces series, this blog looks at the people problem.
What do we mean by "People Problem"?
The problem is not the people themselves. The problem occurs whenever there is a failure to distinguish between the people involved in a legal matter and the matter itself.
Lawyers sometimes categorize a client as having a “real estate law matter” or a “commercial law problem” or a “business law dispute.” Using short, quick jargon like that can be useful when lawyers are communicating among themselves, with paralegals, and to other professionals. If they use similar language to describe the matter when talking with their client or the other side, however, the effect may be counterproductive.
Business Divorces are Human Matters, not Law Matters
In my experience, clients have “human” matters, problems and disputes which involve legal overtones. In my opinion, it is not possible for an attorney to adequately understand the legal problem a client has without first understanding the client who has that legal problem. I also believe it is not possible for an attorney to adequately assist a client with a legal problem without first understanding, insofar as possible, the other parties involved in the legal problem.
Listening, Perceptions and Interests
Learning about a client requires actively listening to him and to the other people that are involved in or affected by the client’s legal matter. It requires a critical grasp of their perceptions of the legal concern and the exercise of good judgment in evaluating the accuracy of those perceptions. It also requires working through those perceptions to find out the reasons and true interests underlying the perceptions each person holds.
Distinguishing People from the Problem Helps; Confusing People with the Problem Hurts
Only then can an attorney begin to take the essential step to “separate the people from the problem.” Unless a lawyer can distinguish the people who have a legal dispute from the dispute itself, he and the client he represents will make little progress toward resolving the conflict. On the contrary, they are likely to succeed only in hardening the initial positions of both sides and worsening the problem.