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4 Conflict Resolution Tips for Lawyers

Naturally, your profession as a lawyer puts you in the middle of a lot of conflict. Sometimes this conflict is indirect, while other times it directly involves your clients. Knowing how to resolve conflict successfully is integral to success.

Conflict Management Tips and Strategies

Whether you work in family law, business law, criminal law, or any specialty in between, conflict is a major part of what you do. There’s almost always some sort of problem that your client is dealing with and it’s up to you to help them identify a solution and proactive strategy for pushing forward.

The problem is that most law schools don’t prepare students for this aspect of the job. Conflict resolution isn’t a part of the curriculum. If it is, it’s typically a single chapter in a syllabus, rather than an entire course. Thus, graduates don’t get experience with managing disagreements until they enter the real world and start working with actual clients.

If you’ve found this to be true, it’s imperative that you start cultivating your conflict resolution skillset so that you can become the lawyer your clients need.

Here are some helpful tips and strategies:

1. Keep Emotions From Ruling the Day

In conflict, it’s the emotions that typically get in the way. While easier said than done, you stand the best chance of diffusing a situation and resolving a problem if you’re able to strip away the emotions (or at least soften them).

Take divorce as an example. Nothing is more emotional than ending a marriage. It’s one of the most difficult conflicts for a lawyer to resolve. However, some attorneys are better at divorce negotiations than others. In most cases, you’ll find this is the direct result of how they approach the discussions.

Foster LLP is a great example. When their clients are preparing for a divorce, the first thing they advise doing is organizing financial records. Among other things, this serves as a way to focus on the facts. When the facts are laid out for everyone to see, emotions don’t have as much room to flourish.

If you want to keep emotions at bay, you have to find a way to elevate facts above emotions. This centers the conversation and keeps all parties focused on the truth. 

2. Find Common Ground

In order to resolve a conflict, you have to find some sort of common ground. Even the smallest detail can transform a dead-end argument into a productive discussion.

Sometimes common ground will make both parties happy, while other times it just makes them less angry. Whatever it is, unpack it and see where it takes you.

3. Move People Away From the Extremes

In the beginning stages of a conflict, the parties involved are often on the extreme ends of the situation. Take a divorce as an example. Both parents frequently ask for sole custody of the children – i.e. the most extreme position. When both individuals are on the extreme side of a conflict, it’s hard to move the needle towards resolution.

You make progress by moving people away from the extremes. The parties might not meet exactly in the middle, but if you can get one individual to move 60 percent and the other to move 40 percent, you’ve done your job.

4. Create Win-Win Options

Whenever possible, create win-win scenarios where both parties are happy with the outcome. In a win-win, everyone feels like they’re walking away a winner, even if they’re also losing out on other things. Focus on the positives and soften the blow of the negatives.

Putting It All Together

“Conflict, itself, is not negative, but our responses to it can be,” says Nora Riva Bergman, a leading law practice consultant. “Implementing the right conflict management strategies and techniques in response to conflict will affect the outcome in a much more positive way.”

Conflict resolution isn’t about making everyone happy or finding a perfect solution. In many cases, there is no harmonious outcome. Your job is to look out for the best interests of your client and do everything within your power to ensure they’re taken care of. When you’re able to do this consistently, everything else tends to fall into place.

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