should i apologize for an "outburst"?
March 16, 2010 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I sent my lawyer an email about my case that was kind of emotionally unbalanced. I said at the bottom that if he had a comment, okay, but that I really just needed to say it. He did not reply directly but then in a later email, said that to hang in there, I was "doing fine". I definitely err on the side of hysterical in general but I think I have a good rep for being a thoughtful and passionate and honest person. However, I am having a big problem with the way my case is going, and I need to send him another email, and I am wondering if I need to apologize to him for wasting his time with the emotional crap that really was inappropriate to send to him, or should I just ignore it and don't mention it at all? I'm really embarrassed, and what I have to write to him now is really sensitive and I don't want the previous email's rant to cloud what I have to say right now.

I have had my current lawyer for about two years. I have been in and out of family court with my daughter's father for the last three. My last lawyer fired me because I sent her an email after the first round with family services granted him visitation. The tone of the email was probably panicked and it also pointed out that we had communication problems. I know that nobody ever wants to hear that, and she said that we had trust issues and fired me. I wasn't expecting that reaction, probably because I was unclear about the role of a lawyer to begin with. My current lawyer is a pretty good guy and I send him lots of emails about the case and he is a good sport about them. I would say I send him two or three a month, maybe two fat paragraphs. If things are busy with our case, I email him three times a week, three fat paragraphs. Just the case and my thoughts about it. He always responds, will refer to them thoughtfully in our meetings, and bills me for them. I am unexpectedly heading into a really intense court process which kept getting postponed because of the weather. I also started therapy that week. I was kind of flipping because I was nervous and angry (at my daughter's father) and wrote him a pretty long, somewhat rambling, slightly unhinged email about my feelings on the case, and hit "send". Nothing weird or dangerous or crazy, just kind of emotionally unbalanced. Do I apologize or acknowledge it? I am going into a custody review which is going to be important and if I head in on the wrong foot with my lawyer, that won't be cool....any thoughts? i definitely feel bad that i wasted his time with something that should have been discussed in my therapist's office.
posted by lakersfan1222 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just say a quick "I'm sorry for being so emotional". I'm sure he has seen this before and quite often. Don't add more stress to your life thinking about this.
posted by chinabound at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

just wanted to clarify: I was kind of flipping because I was nervous and angry (at my daughter's father) and wrote him a pretty long, somewhat rambling, slightly unhinged email about my feelings on the case, and hit "send" - - when i say "him", i mean my lawyer, not my daughter's father.....
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:32 PM on March 16, 2010

Erm, pretty much par for the course, at least in my experience. Legal clients get emotional. Most lawyers are used to it. What chinabound said.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it would make you feel better, I would say what you have to say in the new email, and add a postscript that basically says:

John, my last email was a bit off. This case is just getting to me. It won't happen again. Thanks for understanding.
posted by milarepa at 8:37 PM on March 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

I wouldn't feel too bad about it - he's in family court, I'm sure he deals with all kinds of emotional drama constantly! It's basically his job. If it makes you feel better, write what milarepa or chinabound advised.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:42 PM on March 16, 2010

Family lawyers are used to it, and it's not like he's not billing you. It's your money you're spending by sending all the emails.
posted by amro at 8:43 PM on March 16, 2010

(Which is not to say you shouldn't send them, just recognize that he's getting paid to read your rants.)
posted by amro at 8:44 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

few things are as emotional as the importance of a long, drawn out custody case. If there were no issues, you wouldn't be going to court to let a judge determine the fate of the child. I personally would be concerned about you if you weren't emotional about this, as I'm sure your lawyer feels the same. They are used to this and probably emphasize with you. Just don't make it a habit, a quick apology, and you'll be just fine. Remember, this is how they make their living, you pay them, so they can drop you or quit, but only you can fire them!
posted by kittieJen at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2010

As someone who's been a lawyer all of six months, with fairly little client interaction (big firm) and a somewhat less emotional area of law (employment), I can tell you that I've already had clients literally cry and rant in meetings with me several times. It's the nature of what we do - there are a lot of emotions involved, especially in family law. A casual "Sorry about that last email, I was pretty freaked out" is fine, but not even really necessary.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:29 PM on March 16, 2010

Dude, this is a FAMILY LAW lawyer? You probably haven't even begun to scratch the SURFACE of the "emotional crap" he's dealt with from clients. The fact that it was via email versus someone breaking down in hysterics right in front of him probably made it a non-event in his world. :)

It doesn't hurt to apologize, but you shouldn't worry that you've scarred or shocked the man.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:36 PM on March 16, 2010

This reminds me of how my mortgage broker once called, basically just to ask how I was holding up with the ups and downs of the process. That was about three days after the real estate agent called to offer her services in helping me process around the decision. Smart people who make their living helping with stressful situations realize that helping with the emotions of the client are actually part of their job. (Within reason, of course.)
posted by slidell at 9:53 PM on March 16, 2010

I'm not a family lawyer, but yeah this is pretty par for the course for just about any attorney (and an emotional break down is far preferable than screaming from a client). This is one of those things they don't teach you about in law school....

That being said I think milarepa really nailed it, always nice to hear a client acknowledge when they've crossed a line (or really anyone!) and then he knows he doesn't have to be walking on eggshells around you, afraid you are going to lose it. But honestly, if the email wasn't directed at him and how he as an attorney was handling the case (as in basically accusing him of negligence or incompetence), it probably didn't phase him too much.

And yeah family law is hell from what I've heard. You are probably by no means his worst client, so don't be too hard on yourself. I'm sure he'll appreciate a quick apology and be more than happy to just move on like it never happened. And if you don't even want to extend a quick apology and just pretend like it never happened that is probably fine too.
posted by whoaali at 9:54 PM on March 16, 2010

I worked for a family lawyer who would have clients call like 10x per day demanding to talk to one of the two attorneys and just generally freaking out. Sometimes they were abusive to the staff (like me). Sometimes they managed to get the home or cell number of the attorneys and call them after hours. A ranty email is the least of their problems with clients when it comes to family law.
Also, unless you're doing some kind of flat fee arrangement, which I doubt, you're probably being billed for the time the attorney spends reading and responding to these emails anyway.
posted by ishotjr at 10:36 PM on March 16, 2010

Stop emailing your lawyer. Call him on the phone.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer, and I don't practice family law (largely because the emotional issues involved are too fraught for my sensibilities). This is not legal advice.

As prior posters have pointed out, your lawyer has almost certainly seen clients get more emotional than you have. A quick and professional email, or preferably a telephone call or voicemail, apologizing and asking your lawyer's forgiveness for your outburst (which I'd categorize as a minor sin, if that), without going overboard about it, will almost certainly get the result you need--if you are on the appropriate terms, then for extra credit, you could also offer to take him out to lunch, at your expense, near his offices. I have not met the lawyer who does not appreciate a good lunch, but then again, I practice in San Francisco, where folks are pretty serious about their food. But honestly, I think it is a hard-wired matter of human nature that we will appreciate a hearty meal.

Good luck.
posted by tellumo at 11:16 PM on March 16, 2010

Next time you feel a tirade coming on, try writing it out long hand. Promise yourself that you will rewrite it as email it in the morning if you still feel it expresses what you want to say.
posted by Cranberry at 11:22 PM on March 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Stop emailing your lawyer. Call him on the phone.

No, DO email your lawyer. Ex-family lawyer here. Most family lawyers are crazily busy, because it's a crisis-led branch of the law. You have to prioritise the needs of clients so you can provide a service to all clients, not just a few. It is absolutely true that in family law 80% of the working day is taken up by just 10% of the clients - the ones who make 10 phone calls a day, or who turn up unannounced, or who lurch from crisis to crisis and need urgent action taken.

It takes five minutes to read a ranty emal from a client, at the lawyer's convenience. Phone conversations take much longer, and except in an urgent situation, I would always call clients (or have them call me) at pre-arranged times so I knew we would have enough time set aside to talk about the issues we needed to cover.

Emails are better than ad hoc phone calls when (a) your lawyer might not even be available or (b) might not be able to devote the time to the call if it's come in the middle of completing a task for another client. This is particularly so if the purpose of the call is simply to vent or to freak out a little.
posted by essexjan at 3:30 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yeah, sorry - probably essexjan is right. (And thinking on it, I have no idea why I bolded my answer. Sorry for shouting.)

I only meant: if forcing yourself to call every time will help you cut the crap and leave the ranting out of your communication, then do that. If the medium of email is what allows you to go on and on and on (and I know it does that for me) then just stop using email so much. But of course don't go calling him and ranting when you may as well just do this via email.

Also, seconding the essexjan and all the people who've pointed out that family lawyers deal with this stuff all the time, and you shouldn't feel terrible for it - it's pretty common. Divorce is hard; lawyers know it, and I'm sure yours would tell you if he really thought you were out of hand.
posted by koeselitz at 3:43 AM on March 17, 2010

I worked in a family law clinic for a while, and we got "long, somewhat rambling, slightly unhinged" voicemails and letters regularly (if not daily). Family law is emotional stuff. Apologize if it will make you feel better, but there's really no need -- your lawyer is no doubt used to this kind of thing.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 4:59 AM on March 17, 2010

I am a lawyer. The fact that what's being described here is so completely par for the course is why I've more or less sworn that I never want to do family law. Apologize for losing it and get on to the business at hand. I seriously doubt this is the worst he's had to deal with this week.

But realize that this is what we do for a living. A huge part of what being a lawyer is about is not getting to emotionally invested in your cases. It isn't for everyone, but like any other job, it can be done. Lawyers tend to deal with people, especially in family law, when they're at their absolute worst. The reason we're here is because our clients need someone to be able to cut out the personal and emotional tensions and do what needs to be done, as qualifications aside, that is often absolutely impossible for them on their own.

So apologize, but move on. This is what you're paying for.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Emotional outbursts might be "par for the course", but you might be shooting significantly over par if you already had one lawyer withdraw their services. Lawyers don't fire you, you pay them to work for you. Your lawyer quit because they rather not have to deal with you than have your money. Think about that.

Tone it down, way down. In your next e-mail; drop a quick note saying your sorry for the outburst then continue on with your issue. Next time you send an e-mail ask if it's about your case or your feelings. If it's the latter, talk with a friend or your therapist instead.
posted by spaltavian at 7:46 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

As everyone else already said, he's undoubtably used to it, no big deal. But one thing to consider before sending the next unhinged email, he will be billing you for reading whatever you send him. If you use your lawyer to also double as your therapist, it might be a good trade...but if you're trying to be budget minded about the situation, maybe take that into account before hitting send.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:50 AM on March 17, 2010

Another lawyer here, just weighing in that while this is common, an apology would likely be appreciated. Don't call, as it's not something that needs to be dealt with right away. Another (short!) e-mail is fine.

Also realize that this is taking your lawyer's time and you are being billed for it. Consider this before you send another e-mail. In my (limited) experience with family law, too many clients mistake their lawyers for therapists. It's not an efficient use of their time or your money.

posted by AV at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your lawyer's seen it before. Many times, and much worse. (And that goes double for lawyers who do any family law!)

The entire reason you HIRE a lawyer (well, aside from their expertise in the law!) is that they can remain calm and rational about issues YOU are very emotional about. You're buying his reasonableness because you are emotional. He knows it.

I think an apology would be very nice of you; personally I'd probably say, "I'm sorry, I know I'm really emotional ... and that's why I so much appreciate that you are so calm and rational because it's hard for me to be logical when it's my kid involved! I really do appreciate all the work you're doing." Something like that. Show him you value him and his role when you apologize.

That isn't legal advice, it's just human being advice. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:36 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your post oozes stress. Take yourself a biiiiig deep breath. I think you need to find yourself something on this earth that calms you down. I don't know whether that's a spa or a therapist or half a bottle of Merlot, but I urge you to find it.

What I'm zoning in on here is that you say your previous lawyer "fired" you. Alright, if you're pushing an attorney who's used to emotional outbursts to the point of "firing" you, that troubles me a bit (and I say this knowing the first attorney may have just had a short fuse or caseload overload and it may not really have been your demeanor that caused the firing). In any case, you're a parent who ostensibly wants the best for her child. So please make yourself understand that a stressed out parent isn't ideal for a child who is likely feeling her own stress in this situation. Just hearing that probably makes you feel even more stressed out.

But to be a good advocate for your child, you need to find a way of calming down. It seems you inadvertently tapped into something that helps you: writing. So channel your writing in a manner that's beneficial, e.g., a diary or an online support group or the handwritten technique someone suggested above.

I urge you to find a counselor so you can better serve not only your child's needs, but your own as well. You can even write your attorney and say, "Sorry I flipped out on you. Doing so made me realize I needed to find a counselor, and I did so." And leave it at that.

Good luck.
posted by December at 2:31 PM on March 17, 2010

I wouldn't apologize at all. Rather, I'd clarify that you're thankful you were able to vent in your last email, and that now that your emotions have stabilized, you would like to address some serious issues regarding the progress of your case.

Lawyers tend not to focus on the emotional side of their work, it tends to slide away and off of their minds. They try to focus more on "how can we move things forward" and "how can I be helpful to the client".

Also, apologizing is a sort of social/emotional act, and could be read as you continuing to be emotional and focused on your personal relationship with your lawyer rather than focused on your case or professional relationship with your lawyer.
posted by lorrer at 5:52 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

here's an update:

i sent him an apology of sorts. one-line, just like milarepa described. he responded "you don't ever need to apologize to me". still, the whole situation and my feelings pointed to the deeper issue that email communication was not really working for us. it works well for me, because i don't think well on my feet, but can express myself quite well in writing.

something pretty extreme happened. i emailed him about it and didn't feel at all like i got a satisfactory response. in fact, it felt like he didn't hear me. because of the flood of emails that he got from me in the past, this issue did get lost in the shuffle.

so, instead of dropping $50 per email, i stopped sending them and scheduled bi-weekly or monthly face-to-face appointments. my lawyer started paying attention, and we got our atty/client relationship on track in time for some major developments. i barely email him now. mostly, i use email for sending documents. when i have a problem, i call him or go to his office. the case demands this now and i see the difference.

and, for the record, i use a secure email account for all of my correspondence.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:07 PM on July 13, 2010

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