THE BLOG
11/19/2015 01:24 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2016

The Likability Factor: How Your Lawyer's Opinion of You (and Yours of Her) Can Affect Your Divorce

Photo by Rafa Elias via Getty Images

So you get the feeling your divorce lawyer doesn't like you and you're secretly wondering, does it matter? Some people may tell you otherwise, but in truth, the answer is yes.

Before I explain why, I need to make the following clarification:

There's a difference between liking you and being your friend. If your hunch that your lawyer doesn't like you is based on the fact that she never accepted your Facebook friend request, or she RSVP'd no to your housewarming party, then you're expecting your lawyer to be your friend, and that's not her role.

Your divorce lawyer's role is to be the coach of your divorce. That job requires her to see and think clearly and to stay focused. Just as good doctors don't operate on their friends and loved ones, a good divorce lawyer keeps an appropriate emotional distance from her clients. The fact that your lawyer is not kicking it with you doesn't mean that she doesn't care about you and your case; it means she's focused on doing her job. When your divorce is over, if you and your lawyer become friends, that's fine. But right now, there's work to do.

Also, liking you doesn't mean that your lawyer won't occasionally read you the riot act when you're out of line. Ever see a coach give a quarterback holy hell on the sidelines when he drops the ball or gets an excessive celebration penalty? It's kind of the same thing. It doesn't mean the coach doesn't like the quarterback. It means the coach very much cares about the outcome of the game, and the player might be jeopardizing it. So, just because you and your lawyer disagree -- or your lawyer gives you a piece of her mind -- that's not the same thing as not liking you.

Some divorce lawyers might argue that whether they like a client isn't relevant. After all, liking a client doesn't affect the lawyer's skill set, and the skill set is what is needed to get the job done. I disagree. Family law cases are more personality-driven than any other area of law. Skill matters, for sure. But a lawyer's skill doesn't exist in a vacuum. Skill is applied to the facts, and facts are influenced by personality.

A person's normal personality is often very different from her divorce personality. Your divorce personality is shaped by the temporary insanity that often accompanies divorce, thanks to things like stress, fear, anger, or guilt. Honestly, no one likes a person's divorce personality -- not even you. The mood swings, the crying jags, the insomnia.... ugh. All of that can be really hard on everyone.

But, as you work through the process, your divorce personality should recede and your regular personality should return. One of the most rewarding things about being a family lawyer is helping a client get to the point where normalcy returns. If your lawyer doesn't like your normal personality, helping you get back to that isn't going to be something that is at all incentivizing or rewarding.

If your lawyer doesn't like your personality, it will affect how she feels about working on your case. Rather than looking forward to working on your case, she will have to talk herself into it. Sure, a lawyer with any degree of professionalism will still be able to get the job done; but not liking you can affect her enthusiasm for the work, and how well supported you feel during the process.

A lawyer's ability to recognize which cases to take and which ones to decline is in and of itself a very important skill. For example, I don't like narcissistic, blowhard men who think they're the smartest guys in the room. So, if Donald Trump were to ask me to represent him in his next divorce, I would need to refer him to another lawyer, no matter how lucrative that case would be. There are plenty of awesome divorce lawyers who would do a fantastic job for Donald Trump. Since I can't stand him, I'm not one of them. I won't want to talk to him; I won't look forward to working on his case; and even though I would be advocating for him professionally, at some level I might not be rooting for him personally. Every client -- even Donald Trump -- deserves a lawyer who can do all of that.

It's important to remember that likability is a two-way street. That means whether you like your lawyer matters as much as whether your lawyer likes you. The facts in family law cases involve deeply personal matters -- your most embarrassing relationship missteps and your least proud parenting moments will all be on display. If you don't like your divorce lawyer, or you get the feeling that she doesn't like you, you might be reluctant to level with her. If you don't level with her, that will limit how well she can prepare and how well she can do her job.

I'm not saying that you can't get a good outcome in your divorce if you don't especially care for your lawyer and/or your lawyer doesn't especially care for you. What I am saying is the whole thing will likely go better and be less painful if you do. And with so many skilled lawyers and potential clients to choose from, there's really no reason for anyone to pick someone who is not the right personality fit.