Non-Molestation of Counsel

Its not just the applicant for a non-molestation order who is harassed. Lawyers and other professionals are often subject to abuse, harassment and other upsetting conduct. It’s a feature of the job, and you learn to deal with it, but it can be highly stressful.

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It goes further than a disgruntled client taking their anger out on the lawyer giving unfavourable advice or the party on the other side verbally abusing or threatening ‘that bitch’ representing their ex.

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Particularly I think in family cases, things can take a different turn and can go beyond threatening or abusive behaviour at or in court. Some examples that other colleagues have experienced include heavy breathing or abusive phonecalls, abusive emails or correspondence, following a female colleague whilst out alone or otherwise approaching them to air a grievance whilst out in public. Some are on hate or hit lists drawn up by fathers rights groups or other campaigning bodies. (Some though are on lists of favoured counsel – it seems to be relatively arbitrary which one any given barrister appears on.) I know I am on at least one list of ‘enemies’ drawn up and published by one aggrieved parent (who I have never acted for or against). It’s concerning when you are the subject of intimidatory behaviour because you never know whether or not threats will be followed by action. Judges are most often the target of direct action, but barristers and solicitors too are at risk, and do not have the security enjoyed by the judiciary.

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Some of us are subject to malicious, repeated or vexatious complaints to chambers, to the Bar Standards Board, to the Ministry of Justice or whoever will listen. Some complaints are legitimate and grounded, others are not. By the time we have been in the job for a decade or so most of us have been subject to some form of complaint, even those will the highest standards of professional conduct, client care and the highest levels of judgment and skill. Everybody makes some mistakes, and everybody has clients who find it difficult to accept hard advice, or opponents who do not take challenge or defeat with good grace. Sometimes the lawyer becomes the focus of a litigants displaced ire and it can become obsessive and very unpleasant. I recall a senior member of the bar who I knew when I was first in practice and who was the subject of a complaint from a former client. It was unfounded, but it took a long time to resolve through the appropriate channels and the colleague in question suffered terribly at the uncertainty, and the self doubt that the allegations caused. I can think of other examples – clients who fabricate grievances or complain about conduct in order to avoid paying fees. Each complaint has to be investigated and properly dealt with. For professionals who take pride in what they do as I think 99% of barristers do, these things are hurtful and concerning because of the impact they could have on reputation if found to be made out. Even when not made out they can eat away at an advocate’s professional confidence and can distract them from the work at hand. It’s a thankless job at the best of times, and dealing with an unmeritorious complaint can really just tip the working week from bearable to awful.

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Occasionally other professionals can be inappropriate or abusive. Most often this is not the case, but some cases get under people’s skin and they say things they shouldn’t or fall into the same trap as the lay parties themselves often fall into: blaming the advocate for their client’s case or position, or for problems inherent in the system. Most of us can see when someone is having a bad day, and make allowances, most snappy remarks are promptly apologised for. A very few make a career out of being unpleasant. In my experience they don’t achieve better results, in fact this approach can make them less effective.

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Being the subject of a formal complaint can however help a barrister empathise with the agonising process that being a party to family litigation can be.  Most of us have never been a party to litigation ourselves, and it is easy to be blase, to be unsympathetic as to why a client is making such a song and dance about what is just a ‘straightforward’ case. It’s never straightforward when it’s your family on the line – and we should not forget that. Waiting, uncertainty about what will happen, criticism of your ability to do the things you are proudest of and that give you your sense of self – these are common to both client and advocate, albeit that in many other ways the two scenarios are incomparable. Although there are times when this job can seem too stressful, too depressing, too much hassle to be worth the candle – it is always worth remembering that for the client it can be even worse.

4 thoughts on “Non-Molestation of Counsel

  1. Children first, not parents

    – “Its not just the applicant for a non-molestation order who is harassed.” –

    – “or the party on the other side verbally abusing or threatening ‘that bitch’ representing their ex.” –

    Therein lies much of the inherent problems with the family law system and an example of those prevailing attitudes that work within it, which fail families and children in particular time and time again.

    An ‘applicant’ is merely that, no determination has been made by the Court as to the veracity of any application but immediately it is assumed there is a basis or even by some that it happened because an ‘application’ has been made by a woman.

    We know that ‘familoo’ is talking about women victims who are to be believed because she then goes on to talk about ‘that bitch’.

    • I think you read too much into what I have written. I refer to ‘that bitch’ because it is an example of the kind of verbal abuse I have from time to time been subjected to, and have heard used of other counsel. This was not a post about the validity of applications for non-molestation order (which, incidentally are also often made by men as well as women) and I had not intended anything I had written to convey the idea that all applications are to be considered valid (and I don’t agree that the words quoted do convey that impression). Of course some applications are false, exaggerated or do not represent the full picture. This is true of applications made by both men and women. Does the anonymous writer consider that any applications made by men must be true? Yours truly, the bitch.

  2. Familoo – long time reader – vvv rare poster. Just wanted to say thanks for this post, it sums up pretty much my experience as a family solicitor. Smile sweetly and then justify our work to our colleagues and masters!

    As for this apparent antimale conspiracy in the profession, I’m afraid I missed that lecture.

    Thanks for the blog – helps to keep me in touch with things in my former life!

    Oh and congrats on the gong!

    D

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