Is Your Client’s Spouse Driving You Crazy?
By Paul Fisher1
It had been a long, hard slog for Jacob, the attorney. Though the case was only 9 months old, it felt like 18. Whenever his client Don came into the office, Hillie, his client’s wife always came, too. Don had been accused by his business partners of diverting company opportunities, cooking the books and mismanagement, among other alleged wickedness. Hillie did most of the talking. Don rarely spoke. She answered the written discovery for Don and responded to almost all of Jacob’s emails. The partners’ discovery responses suggested Don was preoccupied with himself, had a sense of entitlement, exploited their business relationship and recklessly destroyed the company for his own gain. Hillie was angry and defensive and blamed Don’s ex business partners of being the cause of the problems. She acted the same way one would expect Don to act. Mediation of the conflict was coming up next week and Jacob felt out of control and almost powerless.
Beware the enabler. This is a person who is often present in meetings with you and your client and who participates as much or more than your client. This could be a spouse, partner, best friend or each of the foregoing. This pairing can be double trouble. Enablers help high conflict personality people by covering up for them. An enabler aids another in self destructive behavior by providing excuses or helping that person avoid the consequences of their acts. They adopt or agree with the high conflict person’s distorted view of reality and help them avoid taking responsibility. Some attorneys may be enablers, too. They do not carefully examine facts, documents and other proof they need to successfully try a case. They step into the clients’ shoes and go to battle.
You might be dealing with an enabler when you see the person with your client zealously covering up a problem and their position is illogical, and your gut tells you, “This does not make sense.” To manage the enabler, be empathetic and supportive of their emotions, but not supportive of their position. Supporting unverified claims validates high conflict behavior and the enabler. Encourage the enabler to step aside and let the high conflict person independently do all preparation work for you. Assist the enabler in letting the high conflict person experience consequences, responsibility and the pain of litigation. When discussing claims, defenses, strengths and weaknesses of the case, do not argue with this client and his enabler. Remind this client and enabler that you are their advocate. Then reframe the conversation. Ie. The issue is not whether you or your business partner are right or wrong. The issue is, might it be possible for the judge or jury to believe the other party’s position? Then discuss in a conversational tone how that could happen.
1Copyright by Paul Fisher 2016