An Inconvenient Truth

I am active on the highly market-effective but (IMHO utterly toxic website Avvo every day. Yes, I climb it because it is there.

It is populated (I have been able to discover) by people who go looking for an answer to a legal question and up there due to heavy SEO action by the site. Their SEO really is that good. Some of the googlers could find the correct answer to their question if they were better researchers, but many (probably most) don’t know the words that fit their situation. But if it involves a family member they go to “Family Law’ and there they are in my feed.

If it is something I don’t know (The details of loss of parental rights, for example) I can always fin the answer in seconds using Google—but I know the magic words. Being a lawyer, I do. The public does not.

So for the vent portion of this blog I will point out that once I Avvo they are met with responses that in a majority of cases are self serving—lawyers are on there trolling for paying work. Their responses are not designed to provide service to the public. (Yes, Virginia lawyers are asked to provide our expertise “pro bono publico”). These responses are often simplistic—“file for a court hearing”—or wrong. (”Your judgment may have expired.”)

Others just don’t know anything but the few things they have picked up doing whatever they do. Litigated divorce, mostly. But family law brings in tax issues, real estate issues, bankruptcy issues, immigration issues (fraudulent marriage), collections (Family law judgments are “evergreen” and never expire) and many other areas of law.

Silly me, I have always made it a point to know stuff. Especially stuff that is relevant to the practice of family law—and any other area that keeps people out of court, like prenuptial agreements and trusts.

As I say—silly me.

But the one area I am still passionate about, although I have moved out if California and have VERY FEW paying clients is getting the word out that fighting a court battle is not helpful and that alternatives exist. (I have not seen a single other attorney inform the “asker” of this fact—EVER. Recently a few have chimed in after I did, bless them.)

So my new mission is to help the many people who find them selves entangled with what Bill Eddy, problem solver extraordinaire, calls the “High Conflict Personality.” These are the bane of courts and all around them,

A brief bio:
“William A. (“Bill”) Eddy IS CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF HIGH CONFLICT INSTITUTE, LLC, IN San Diego, California, AND Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California with over FIFTEEN years’ experience representing clients in family court. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

He is very clear that this—the “HCP” is a common obstacle to courts and litigants alike.
“An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
All-or-nothing thinking
Unmanaged emotions
Extreme behaviors
Blaming others

All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs tend to see conflicts in terms of one simple solution rather than taking time to analyze the situation, hear different points of view and consider several possible solutions. Compromise and flexibility seem impossible to them, as though they could not survive if things did not turn out absolutely their way. They often predict extreme outcomes if others do not handle things the way that they want. And if friends disagree on a minor issue, they may end their friendships on the spot – an all-or-nothing solution.”

But it gets better- he has tools for helping courts, ex-spouses and even governments deal with this pattern of behavior.

I downloaded and am internalizing his book “Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns [Kindle Edition]” available here:

BIFF is an acronym for Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm.” The trick to making headway with these people is to have, wait for it… empathetic listening skills. I full understand that most people who have been enmeshed with this conflict for what seem like forever will have a tough time with the empathy—I count myself prone to this myself. But the tools for communicating in the way Bill describes are learnable. And, in my opinion, this the only hope for the ex spouse and co-parent of such a person. (It also works with obnoxious friends and family too, of course.) It takes practice, as this review by a lawyer acknowledges: By David J. Spellman
This is an excellent book.
Bill Eddy, an experienced lawyer and LCSW, is an expert on “High Conflict People.” In fact, the chart on Axis II on page 15 is alone worth the price of the book! Bill advises that we respond to communications from High Conflict People with BIFF…a response that is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
I see the wisdom in Bill’s approach. But it is a challenge to my lawyerly instincts, because of the old legal maxim that “silence is assent” I tend to be sure to address and refute each allegation, point-by-point. But that just feeds into the dynamic of the High Conflict Person with whom I am communicating! This is a very wise and helpful book.

The hardest part (after mastering the tools) is that the system—courts—is do not yet begin to grasp that there is no hope that punishing these people will reform them. So I have Bill’s blessing to blog my heart out in hopes the PUBLIC will get the word.

Finding this quote yesterday inspired me to FINALLY write this first such blog:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained. “
o Mahatma Gandhi Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

You see, some lawyers are High Conflict People too. And one of those was my tipping point. He lives to insist I am wrong– it matter not what I say, it is wrong. He is blind to irony, humor or EVEN BEING AGREED WITH. He will find a point to argue. Happily for me another women lawyer has begun to call him out. (He is unfazed but it tickles me. But I digress..)
o
It is an error to think and act as though punishing an HCP will stop their flawed thinking and bad acting. (Reasoning also does not work.) Heaven help this lawyer’s clients.

But in any case, if you are wondering why your (ex) wife wants to make an issue of some book fines from school, even when you did nothing to incur them, or in any way bring them about—like a frustrated dad I spoke with via Avvo… this may restore your sanity.

I dare hope so.

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