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While most of us expect private matters like a trip to the OB-GYN to be between physician and patient, this isn't always the case with divorce clients. Many need to bring in back-up troops, or at least an aide-de- camp. Learn to deal with them instead of sending them away.

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Privacy Isn't Everything: Interviewing Clients with 3rd Parties Present
by jennifer j. rose

Forget the hard-and-fast rule about a private interview with your client in certain domestic relations cases. Not until a recent client told me he'd positioned his appointment in my office between a root canal and a visit to the proctologist did I realize my place in his world. The prospect of talking about his divorce mortified him.

While most of us expect private matters like a trip to the OB-GYN to be between physician and patient, this isn't always the case with divorce clients. Many need to bring in back-up troops, or at least an aide-de- camp. Learn to deal with them instead of sending them away.

Some clients simply won't talk without someone there to support them. Usually the very young, emotionally insecure, old, uneducated, and the handicapped require accompaniment to the office. When those clients bring a friend or parent with them to your private office, after greeting all, gauge the prospective client's ability to handle the interview without third-party assistance. Often the friend or parent can supply useful information or even bolster the client's commitment to following your advice. In other instances, the third party attempts to "call the shots."

Make clear to your client who's in charge. When you client insists that the boyfriend or relative knows everything anyway and that the client "has no secrets," have the client execute a waiver and release. That step will underscore your commitment to client confidentiality and stress the importance of the interview to the client as well as third parties. Tell the third party that they're certainly welcome, but their presence in your office during the interview may subject them to subpoenas by the adverse party later. There may be times when you'll need to exercise judgment and authority in demanding that client conferences take place between attorney and client only. Experience will enable you to develop a "sense" of when third parties are appropriate and helpful and when they're a hindrance, e.g. children, overinvolved paramours, or overbearing parents.

Don't get frustrated by the presence of "extras" during the initial interview. After you've established rapport with the client (and have been hired), use the second interview to enable the client to divulge the nitty-gritty of client confidences.

Often the third party will be your source of funds. Don't alienate third parties, but make certain they understand their role in the client's case. Handle appropriately, the third party can often be a source of new business. You're marketing yourself to the third party while serving the original client.
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jennifer j. rose practiced matrimonial law in Iowa and now lives in central Mexico as an eccentric recluse and legal consultant

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