Life Imitates Law: "Lessons from 'Miss You Like Hell'"
Stepping out into the newly crisp fall air, I declared, "I’ve found my new favorite thing." I issued this proclamation in response to my husband asking how I liked the play, “Miss You Like Hell,” which we had just seen. He laughed at my response, clarifying, "You mean your new favorite play, or favorite musical?" "No," I responded, "Favorite thing . . . as in, in general." The characters, music, set design—they are all transcendent.
But this is not a theater review. Instead, I was inspired by one scene where an attorney asks her client to make a request of a family member. You should definitely go see “Miss You Like Hell,” so I'll only say that the client agonizes over the idea of asking a loved one to vouch for her in the context of a legal proceeding. The scene got me thinking about the things attorneys ask of our clients, especially when the matter is deeply personal, and more importantly, how we ask for those things. (Full disclosure: I am an environmental attorney, but I encounter such situations in my pro bono immigration practice).
We may not realize when certain “asks” that seem routine implicate complicated interpersonal relationships. It is easy to be empathetic when asking a client to deliver on bureaucratically or logistically complicated requests, such as obtaining original documents from a country of origin a client has not set foot in for a decade, or certification from an agency that will require standing in line for half a workday. In making such requests, I have been prepared to provide support, talk through challenges and potential solutions, and research or brainstorm alternatives if necessary.
“Miss You Like Hell” made me realize I have been less readily empathetic in asking clients to make personal requests, whether for assistance in obtaining documents, writing letters, or testifying. I've always been sensitive to potentially difficult or uncomfortable aspects of each client's particular situation. For instance, it's obvious that the last way a survivor of violence wants to obtain original documents is by contacting her or his abuser. Beyond that, I'd do well to remember that no matter how intimately I, in the role of attorney, have come to know one aspect of a client's situation, it is but a tiny sliver of that person's complex personal life.
Instead of asking clients to make personal requests as an afterthought or part of a checklist, I will now be asking clients, "Who could potentially provide a letter of reference?” and, “Is there any reason asking that person would be complicated for you?" I will also be prepared to do some brainstorming if alternative sources are needed. Our clients, like everyone else we know, have rich and varied personal relationships independent of their legal issues and the potential solutions that we, as attorneys, can provide for them. My personal goal is to be more respectful of those relationships.
“Miss You Like Hell" is playing through December 4th at the La Jolla Playhouse.
This blog posted was authored by Bobbi-Jo Dobush who believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices.