Family Law Hot Topics in Iowa

Last month, I presented to 300 family lawyers at the Iowa State Bar Association’s Family Law conference. They wanted to hear about skills to teach their clients to better manage potentially high conflict cases, so I gave them 3 hours on New Ways for Families. It’s gratifying to see more and more family lawyers around the U.S. and Canada, who want to teach their clients skills for problem-solving, rather than just solving their problems for them. This is the big “paradigm shift” of New Ways for Families – especially teaching clients how to write “BIFF Responses” to the other party’s hostile or inaccurate emails [see BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People - available as a book or video!]. We did an example, with the whole group of 300 writing a BIFF Response to a typical high conflict email about a parenting issue. Then I asked two volunteers the “10 Questions” for Coaching for BIFF Responses [see Coaching for BIFF Responses Video Training] This helped demonstrate how different BIFF Responses can be appropriate, depending on three things: 1) Who the BIFF writer is, who the respondent is and what the situation is. There’s no one right way to write a BIFF Response, so long as it’s Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.

We also discussed teaching clients how to make reasonable proposals and respond reasonably to proposals during settlement negotiations. Family lawyers are in a really good position to educate their clients about their choices and the consequences of these choices, by educating them about the law and what looks reasonable or unreasonable to the court. Helping clients prepare reasonable proposals gives them more responsibility in negotiations, and also helps them accept the final outcome better. Just having lawyers or judges make decisions doesn’t really help clients, especially the high-conflict clients who want to put their energy into fighting the decisions made by others.

In the afternoon, there was a session on Pre-Mediation Coaching, which I presented with two other local family lawyers who do a lot of mediation. This session built on the concepts of teaching clients skills from the morning session, by preparing clients for mediation in a structured way. I, of course, discussed our “Pre-Mediation Coaching Workbook” for clients and “Pre-Mediation Coaching Manual” for lawyers. These are brand new materials we have developed, which we hope will help a lot of family lawyers help their clients prepare to succeed in mediation. Even high conflict cases can succeed in mediation, with the right preparation and engagement of client skills.

Last, but not least, I participated in a session on “Protecting Clients, Children and Lawyers form Violence, Kidnaping and Stalking.” This theme is increasing in importance these days, and the speakers included someone from the police department, who spoke about client and lawyer safety, and a deputy from the Attorney General’s office, who prosecutes family murder cases which usually have a history of domestic violence. I spoke about recognizing early warning signs of patterns of high-conflict thinking (preoccupation with blaming others, all-or-nothing solutions, unmanaged emotions and a history of extreme behavior), with two case examples of lawyers being murdered in the past couple years by high-conflict opposing parties.

Overall, it was a good experience exchanging tips and case examples at this Iowa family law conference.  They seem to have a strong, open-minded family law community, which is what it takes these days for dealing with more and more complex family problems. I’ve spoken to groups in Iowa since 2005 and look forward to future opportunities.

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Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and therapist, and the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers and trainers to professionals for managing personality disorders and “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. High Conflict Institute also provides resources for anyone dealing with a high-conflict person, including books, Video Training On Demand and dozens of free articles. For more information: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.