How to Handle Difficult Clients in Family Law Proceedings

by Richard Mackenzie


The most difficult part of the family lawyer’s occupation is handling clients’ feelings and emotions during law proceedings, especially dealing with clients in high conflict divorces or child custody cases. As a family lawyer, you accept to take on a difficult client intentionally or without knowing. Such clients may push you to the breaking point if you do not know how to calm them. However, taking certain measures can be used to avoid possible disagreements, conflicts or complaints.

Make your role clear

You are expected to be clear in your representation, but if you are dealing with volatile client your role may not be that clear to them, and therefore you should be ready to explain yourself in a simple and easy to understand way. It is always prudent to be very clear when explaining the roles in order to reduce the chances of misunderstanding arising. Note that people going through these situations can be very angry and emotional and you are required to assist them find the way to overcome the tough moments. You should not take any upset personally, so long as you are doing the job to the best of your abilities. However, volatile and threatening clients should be reminded that this sort of behaviour will not help their case, and may lead to you refusing to represent them.

Be ready to explain things more than once

Be patient when handling a client who is difficult to work with. Always do your best to be clear and calm with them regarding every detail they would like to know. Avoid giving scant information in writing because the more you do so, the more likely there will be conflicts. Therefore, you need to disclose everything to your clients in order to avert possible misunderstandings. Let them know in advance what they should expect concerning their connections with you and your team. This will help them understand when to come to you or your staff whenever they need assistance. Surprisingly, clients of this nature want only to deal with their lawyer on every issue, but not the staff. However, this approach is very expensive and time consuming, not very effective and in most cases unnecessary.

Make Use of Your Staff

Your staff can help you deal with difficult clients, as they can be empathetic and may be a voice of reason, explaining legal terms in laymans language. However, do also make sure your staff are able to handle the client and they are not put in a position where they feel under threat. This happens sometimes because complicated clients are more often hard with the staff than they are with a legal representative. Deal with the matter without delay and openly with the individual you are representing regarding the unsuitable treatment to make sure that the client understands clearly the duty of staff in the representation and to ensure that such behaviour is not repeated in the future.

Be ready to manage the Expectations from the Start

Several clients have expectations that go beyond the services you are offering or the results they expect from you. It is advisable to have a forthright discussion with your clients from the start in order to know their expectations. Sometimes the clients’ expectations are not realistic and thus you should be clear from the beginning that you cannot offer that kind of service. In a situation where you cannot meet the expectations of a client, you can transfer the client to another lawyer or even ask the client to look for another family lawyer.

It is more crucial to be honest with the people you represent if you find that their goals cannot be achieved. When a client cannot accept your evaluation of the issue, then he or she should find another legal representative.


Richard Mackenzie is a senior partner at Eales & Mackenzie, a reputable legal firm in Melbourne, specialising in the areas of commercial law and property law, commercial litigation, wills, estates and estate disputes and family law. He employs a personalised approach to his cases and holds an unrivalled reputation for establishing long-lasting relationships with his clients.