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Posted by: Anna Howard on Dec 20, 2016

Sending Clients Condolences After a Tragedy

            I like sending cards. I congratulate clients when they have a baby, I send them happy anniversary wishes, and I have an assortment of “get well soon” messages, and “in deepest sympathy” cards on hand. I also like efficiency. I have a pre-written email for the questions I field when someone asks me what to do next if their parent passes away. My email includes two attachments about grief, local resources, and a hyperlink to a website all about self-care during times of loss.

            However, no one prepared me for how to address clients who faced a violent terrorist attack in their home town. My work with surrogacy has involved clients living abroad, and I have number of clients from France. One year ago I wrote to them expressing my shock and disbelief at the shootings across the nightclubs and stadium in France. Nearly a year later, I was horrified beyond adequate expression to have to reach out again to address the terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day. I think in these instances, no pre-written or pre-purchased condolence card would suffice in letting them know that my heart was aching for them.

In one letter, I shared with them an article that I found somewhat uplifting. In another, I asked what charities my clients supported and if they wanted me to post online about their experiences. I wanted to make sure my words were sincere and did not come across as “sales-y” or invasive. 

            None of the recipients of these emails were angry (the worst outcome I feared) and many wrote back thanking me for the email. But what got me thinking about sharing this communication was that one or two wrote to me and said I was the first American they knew who had reached out and started a dialogue about the terrorism they witnessed. I was deeply sorry to hear so few of my fellow countrymen and women had sent an email or left them a voicemail. 

            As Lawyers Club members, one of the tenets of our mission is to advance the status of women in law and society. I think one of the hallmarks of being a woman in this industry is providing a kind word or caring tone to a fairly formal and arms-length profession. Another tenet of Lawyers Club is to promote civility in the law, but how does one act civil when reacting to a terrorist attack? For those of you who have a small client base in San Bernardino or Orlando, or who have represented people who have lost their homes to fires or floods, perhaps we should create a larger conversation about how to best express our condolences to clients after a tragedy.

Anna Howard, improving the lives of Californian families, one well-crafted legal document at a time.

EDITOR'S NOTE:This post was slated to be published weeks ago. In light of last night's tragedy in Berlin, its message is even more timely and thought-provoking.


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