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Perspectives from the Periphery of Family Law: "Sending Clients Condolences After a Tragedy"

Posted By Anna Howard, Tuesday, December 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.

Tags:  balance  client outreach  crisis response  expressing sympathy  LCB  Perspectives from the Periphery of Family Law  sending condolence  solo firm 

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Kristin Beattie says...
Posted Tuesday, December 20, 2016
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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