The Power of an Apology
I’ve learned so much in my collaborative practice. Unexpectedly, once in a while now, a client begs me to co-counsel . . . with her trial lawyer. These clients come to me, drowning in a pitching sea of litigation and desperately searching on-line for some kind of life preserver. They are so desperate that they’re willing to bring me in, despite that the other side isn’t willing to abate the litigation, i.e. to try collaboration.
Now please understand . . . I’m no mental health care professional. I’m just a lawyer. But the paradigm shift of collaborative practice sensitizes even us to the complicated struggle of emotions at play in the “everyday” divorce. So, I prepped my last trial client for her third mediation by suggesting that she start off by apologizing for her extra-marital affairs.
In the morning, we took our places. My client and her trial lawyer on one side, next to me; her husband (also a lawyer, by the way), and his lawyer facing us. The mediator sat, organized and ready to go at the head of her weighty conference room table; the finance geek hid behind his computer screen at the other end.
Although I knew all four trial professionals, I introduced myself to my client’s husband and explained why his wife had retained me. I requested that we all indulge her as she had some preliminary comments to make.
The room went quiet. She addressed her husband, leaning forward on her crossed forearms as though there was no one else in the room, briefly unburdening herself by relating why she had “needed” to cheat.
But it wasn’t until she then apologized . . . for deceiving him, for hurting him, for breaking their vows, for breaching his trust, and for betraying their marriage that the mood in the room transformed, undergoing a profound sea change.
His eyes filled with tears. It was if her husband had been holding his breath for a long, long time and now he could let it all go.
Magic. The clients settled that case in three hours.
The mediator never said a word.
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Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.