It’s been a rocky start to 2019 for me: On Jan. 8, 2019, my father succumbed to lung cancer at the tender age of 58.
He had been receiving home hospice care since August 2018, so the end was expected. Still, even when it is expected, loss is a difficult thing to grapple with. The person isn’t there anymore to talk to. The last conversation you had with them will be the last, no matter how much you wish otherwise.
As lawyers, we often deal with death and the legal ramifications that come with it. Understanding how grief and loss can impact you and your clients can be an important tool to building rapport with them. You may also learn more about yourself in the process.
One aspect of loss and grief is the realization that everyone processes it differently. Some people will be angry (perhaps wanting to hire an attorney to sue someone related to the death); others will be hurt or stunned, pulling into themselves and perhaps not as forthcoming with information when speaking with you. Either way, take your time to connect with the client and show them you understand, or at least can appreciate what they are going through.
Recently, I met with a widow and her two daughters to discuss the steps necessary to open her late husband’s estate. The daughters were clearly helping Mom get through the grieving process, but I could tell that Mom was feeling frustrated. In response to this, I made sure to involve Mom fully in the discussion, ask her how she was feeling, help show this process can take some time and is not easy, and that, ultimately, that’s OK.
This had an immediate effect on Mom, helping to ease her concerns. She had felt for some time that the daughters didn’t understand how she felt as a person. This understanding helped to build trust and rapport with the entire family.
As lawyers, a good bedside manner can be a tool that really helps to build trust in the community, with potential new clients and potential referral sources. Embrace your humanity and you’ll be surprised how people will respond.
Do any of our readers have any suggestions for dealing with loss and grief?
Richard Adams is an associate with Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore.