Conflict Avoidance Behavior

One of the many perks of representing wealthier clients is that they can afford expert evaluations.

They can go to doctors of all different specialties, who can diagnose their conditions and write glowing letters to the court.

In particular, they can go to psychiatrists and psychologists who can write about their condition (most often, depression) and how that led to their behavior. And how they're getting treatment now so it won't happen again. And how their condition would make it impossible for them to survive in jail. Sometimes it helps, mostly in those on-the-cusp cases.

In sex cases, the psychiatrist will do an evaluation and report to the court the likelihood that the client will commit future sex offenses. This can help the client, for example, be placed in a lower classification as a sex offender.

One thing that surprises me is how honest clients are with the psychiatrist. They know exactly why they're going there, they know that the report is being prepared for the court's review. But they'll admit their fantasies about children and all of the times that they acted but didn't get caught. I don't know why - maybe they're relieved to finally be able to spill the details to someone. Maybe the psychiatrists are just really good at getting people to talk (that is their job, after all). Maybe our clients aren't too bright, and it never occurs to them that it might be better to downplay their symptoms a little bit. I don't know.

But regardless, the reports are always interesting, although sometimes disturbing, to read.

The other thing that is disturbing is that every single male client, no matter what they were arrested for - whether it was a sex offense, drug offense, traffic offense, whatever - admits to the psychiatrist that they have had sex with a prostitute. Every single man. Young or old. Single, married, with children, doesn't matter.

All of the clients are each told a few times - at least once by us, at least once by the psychiatrist - that there is no doctor/patient privilege, that everything they say will end up in this report that we will see, the judge will see, the prosecutor will see, maybe even their future parole officers.

So, why, then, will they sit in my office, with their wife, and say, "So, how did that report come out? Is it good? Can I read it now?" As if they're just so proud of themselves. At first, I would pass it to them in a sealed envelope, and I would say something like "You don't have to read it now, during out appointment, you can just look it over when you get home." And, invariably, the client would take the envelope and pass it to his wife. And the wife would thumb through it until she finds the mention and gets all upset, right there in my office.

But I can learn from a bad situation. This last time, when the client asked, I said, "The report is fine. So that we don't take up time reviewing it during our meeting, I'll give it to you at the end of our meeting." I guess he had seen it in the file, which was on my desk, just in front of me. Then my client reached across my desk and took the envelope and handed it to his wife. What was I supposed to do? Fight him for it?

I decided to play it cool. I kept talking, keeping an eye on his wife as I went. I knew the first two pages were basic biographical information, a description of the allegations. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, as she flipped to the third page, to the worst, most graphic information. I saw the color drain from her face. I don't know how her husband didn't see this coming, but I knew I didn't need to sit there and watch it.

"I'm sorry, I have to take a phone call, I'll be back in a few minutes." And I stepped out.

I could immediately hear shouting. I stayed close - I figured if I heard anything break, I might need to step in and make sure it wasn't anything of mine. And I figured I could go back in when the arguing ended.

About 10 minutes later, it seemed kind of quiet, so I made my way in, nonchalantly saying "I'm sorry about that. Now the next thing we need to talk about is..." I tried not to look at his wife. But then she interrupted, saying, "We're going to need a few more minutes." I saw that her eyes were all red and teary.

So, ok, I said, "Sure, no problem, just come get me when you're ready" and stepped out. I went and hung out in another lawyer's office for about a half hour. He joked, "Now you know why we don't do family law in the firm." Ain't that the truth, I can't imagine dealing with this drama every day. Finally the client and his wife came out. He saw me and said, "My wife says we have to go home, my wife said we'll reschedule to come back another day." Alrighty then.

I'm thinking my strategy for the next client is going to be to meet with the client in the conference room and "accidentally" leave the report in my office. Then I can "go grab it" to give to the client on their way out.

Now, if I could just find a way to wait until they're all the way in the elevator to hand it off...

Seriously, if I wanted to hear couples fight, I'd still be living with my parents.


  1. Do the husbands want you there as a buffer? How unpleasant for you!

  2. I've been doing criminal law for over 20 years, from the prosecution side, and the one thing all (and I mean ALL) serious criminals have in common is massive denial.

  3. I've been doing this for 20+ years, from the prosecution side, and the one thing I've found all (and I mean ALL) serious crime criminals to have in common is massive denial.

  4. Yes, it is a bit of an eye-opener how many men have visited prostitutes. It's also pretty amazing what people will tell you if you just ask them direct questions in a non-judgmental manner, even when there a clear disclosure of non-confidentiality.

    From the shrinky side of things ... please *don't* encourage your clients to be evasive or to "tone it down" ... you do not want an expert who thinks your client was lying. That kind of report is going to be worse for you than dealing with the angry wives.

    I'm a little curious about why the wives are in your meetings with their client husbands at all? What is the purpose?

  5. Wow, that's pretty intense.

    I seriously considered doing family law. In fact, I did community service in it in law school. But in the end, the lure of IP was just too strong.

  6. Grrr. Blogger just swallowed my post into cyberspace.

    I agree with Pelican. Why are the wives present?

    If you can't keep the husbands from turning over the envelopes, delay the wife's ability to get into them. Personally, I feel (for health reasons) a wife should be aware of whether her husband's been paying someone for sex.

    Seal the report either in one of those fibrous, indestructible envelopes and securely glue it shut, or run a heavy clear tape across the flap and around all four edges.

    With either method, you'll need scissors or a good sharp knife to get the envelope open. My husband's uncle tapes his envelopes like this, and they're impossible. The funniest part is that it's only newspaper articles sent to my husband on the hobby they share.

    I just bumped into your blog today, and I like your writing.

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