Tips For First Appearances

The Adjective is the Banana Peel of the Parts of Speech (CP Fadiman)

Significant, overwhelming, bigger, contributions. Good grief.

Significant, overwhelming, bigger, contributions. Good grief.

Primary, sole, arduous homemaker contributions. Oh dear.

Disadvantaged, disparate, future needs. Help me please!

Significant, dependent relationship. Say what?

Ambit, unrealistic, unsustainable position. Oh really?

As a PDR practitioner I detest adjectives.  

Particularly the use, by lawyers, of hyperbolic adjectives to emphasis, underline, capitalize and marginalize certain primary elements of a client’s case. These can be readily seen in;

  • Affidavits (especially in property matters)
  • Mediation Summaries
  • Opening arguments
  • Private sessions with their own client. “My client made the overwhelming initial contributions. That is just an unrealistic offer.”

The other reason I despise hyperbolic adjectives is that most of them appear nowhere in the Family Law Act 1975 but that is an article for another day. My question; why does it matter?

The reality is that the overuse of hyperbolic adjectives in a mediation setting by most advocates is the knock on effect of those hyperbolic adjectives being used in a court setting. But if you are not in court, why use those same adjectives when the likely response is a barrage of opposing hyperbolic adjectives. If you want an opponent to get out of their trench and walk toward your position, surely you must cease fire at some stage?

There is some neuroscience behind the phrase “you catch more flies with honey”. The triune brain’s first level of course is the reptilian brain which controls our fight, flight or freeze responses. Humans are wired to be more sensitive to danger/fear than to reward/pleasure. Hyperbolic adjectives, I have observed, seem to stimulate that primal part of the brain.

Addressing your client’s interests before the mediation is imperative but if you want to be a better family law practitioner in a mediation setting. I also recommend genuinely and carefully considering what the other parties interests might be and then tailor your mediation summary, opening statement, first offer accordingly.

“My client would like to achieve an outcome where your client can retain the former matrimonial home for the stability of the children…” might be received better than “Because of the overwhelming contributions made by my they seek their interest in the former matrimonial home be paid out for $70,000.00”.

And as Mark Twain said “As to the adjective; when in doubt, strike it out.”

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