For some time, I practiced in juvenile court representing child victims, and in my jurisdiction, an assignment representing the accused parent was inevitable. The first time I represented an alleged abuser in a child abuse and neglect case, we met at my office where I heard about chaos, violence, and the children. I learned what it felt like for a family to be invaded, judged, and separated. I was angry. I saw bias and misunderstanding. I yelled. Later I cried. Why was this family torn apart by the system? I vowed to fight and not rest until this family was safely reunited. It never was.
Despite my empathy and the best of intentions for my client and the family, I failed to do something essential in that initial meeting. I missed a crucial step that could have prevented needless court battles and avoided many sleepless nights. I failed to listen. Instead of patiently allowing the client to explain the whole story and determine the goals, I let my emotions fuel personal outrage. When I decided to fight, I actually stopped listening to the client’s story. As a result, it took me years to realize that this client did not really want the family reunited.