As an attorney practicing in Minnesota (and as a native Minnesotan), I am always bumping up against the ‘Minnesota Nice’ concept and a real difficulty delivering bad news to clients. If clients and attorneys cannot settle their divorce or custody disputes, these decisions are left up to judges. This means that at least one and probably both parties will not like the decision of the Judge. Their attorney is left with the task of sharing this bad news with the client.
There is an excellent guide to delivering bad news at http://www.happinessinthisworld.com/2012/12/02/delivering-bad-news-redux/#.UMHtgHciGa1. The article was written by Alex Lickerman, a Buddhist physician. As attorneys and mediators, we can learn from his method of delivering bad news so that we can go on to our next client. For example, if we receive an adverse judgment from the court, we have several options. I list them in order of preference.
1.) Send the result/decision to the client in the mail or via email with a detailed letter indicating what the next options are and move on to the next file.
2.) Call the client and leave a voicemail explaining the bad result and send the result/decision on to the client in the mail or via email.
3.) Call the client, arrange a meeting, explain the bad result over the phone and send the result/decision on to them in the mail or via email with a detailed letter indicating what the next options are. Ask the client to be prepared to discuss these options at the meeting.
Much of the time, the bad result is not because of bad advice; we may have done everything we could to get a client to settle, but either the offer on the table was very bad or the client was unable to see it. We also need to give ourselves permission to feel badly; not matter how expected the result, we, as attorneys, hate to lose. It’s important that the client see that you also feel badly. However, your job as a lawyer is to move them forward: Commiserate (to a point), then present options, outline costs, and ask what questions they have. Being prepared at the meeting with a list of several options is helpful. I have been known to print a ‘checklist’ of options for the client to review.
The idea is to get past ‘Minnesota Nice’ and move on to ‘Minnesota Business’, which means formulating an action (or reaction) plan that has both attorney and client feeling like they are moving ahead, despite bad news.