Costa Rica Lesson #6 – The Value of Reflection 

One of the great gifts I receive from writing my blogs is the pleasure of receiving feedback from readers.   Last month’s Costa Rica Lessons Learned #4, The Importance of Having a Guide When You’re in Unfamiliar Territory, was no exception. My neighbor Tim, who is thoughtful, a pre-college educator and member of Write Stuff, a writing group, has permitted me to share his words with you. Although I talk often about the power of words and their impact, particularly where it concerns  restructuring families, I was pulled up short by Tim’s words and wanted to share them with you as an addendum to that previous blog.

As an admirer of Consilium, I found myself reacting to your latest, interesting letter, specifically to the use of the word ‘client’. In almost all interactions with lawyers, client is the right word, but yours is not like most interactions. The word client generalizes, depersonalizes; just the opposite of what Consilium does. You deal with individual people, with couples who come to you to try to find a better solution.  

To give context to Tim’s comments, here is the paragraph he referenced:

As lawyers, it’s easy to grow accustomed to particular words and language usage, forgetting that the wild calls of the legal jungle were once unfamiliar to us. For most clients, legalese and jargon-heavy lawyerly discourse is not second nature, so it’s important that we guide them toward understanding what might otherwise seem like coded language. Something that seems to a lawyer to be simply “part of the process”, may be entirely murky to a client. If we hope to help clients navigate the many steps on their difficult journey, translation is often the first step in creating crucial layers of understanding. The practical application of this comes into play when, for instance, a lawyer tells a client that they need to complete a financial statement to be filed with the court.  A client may hear these words, and focus on the “filing with the court” part of the sentence; they may imagine that one consequence of completing their financial statement will be an early court-date. Filled with trepidation about court, the client may feel anxious, becoming paralyzed and unable to complete their statement. In turn, while their lawyer may feel that this lack of compliance is willful obfuscation, the client may experience the lawyer’s resultant irritation as a failing on the client’s part. 

The irony was not lost on me in that being a guide requires translation–in our case, the specialized jargon of legalese rather than another spoken language.  In  my blogpost, my own goal was obfuscated on account of my poor word choice. Tim’s observations reinforced why I think language matters so much. The very last thing I want is to depersonalize people. 

Furthermore, his comments also made me think of how tied we are to our identities: part of my identity is being a lawyer, a role I’ve assumed for many years now. As I said to him, perhaps there’s a good reason for the adage that “you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl”.  That having been said, we can certainly try, and when we miss the mark, we can try harder and again.

I realize that this may sound as though I am getting defensive (that lawyer thing again!), but I think when I was talking about the scenario between the lawyer and the person with the financial statement, the construct in my mind was based on a litigation model and therefore I did in fact have “lawyer/client” emblazoned in my mind.  Going forward, I will strive to redouble my efforts to speak clearly and respectfully and acknowledge that even with my Consilium mindset firmly in place and my goal being to do just what Tim said, “help people find better solutions”, I missed my target in my recent post and want to highlight that mis-fire so we can all learn one more lesson from my Costa Rica travels.

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