Empowering Clients

by Mark Weiss October 05, 2012


It all sounds so simple – we support and empower clients to resolve their own conflicts. Most of us probably have an innate sense that empowering our clients is important. Stanford University professor Frederic Luskin notes that in every conflict both parties feel disempowered and alienated from the other. If ever something was easier said than done, it would be that we empower our clients to resolve their own conflicts. Effectively, we are trying to defy a key characteristic of conflict by empowering those who almost by definition feel disempowered and alienated. Hence, the difficulty.


One of the challenges lies in the nature of the client-professional relationship itself. Clients seek out professional assistance precisely because they want help. Someone in conflict – who feels disempowered and alienated – would at some level feel like a “victim” and would likely perceive the professional to be a “rescuer.” But if the professional steps into that expected “rescuer” role, s/he only reinforces the victim’s view of self as a victim. The professional who steps into the rescuer role keeps the client in the victim mindset and thereby disempowered. Part of the challenge for Collaborative professionals is to empower the client without creating undue frustration from thwarting the client’s false expectation of having hired a rescuer.


Educating clients seems to be key to empowering them. Yet educating clients presents another obstacle. All professionals have expertise that comes through extensive education and experience. The professional eventually becomes so expert that complexities can appear to be simple. And when that happens, professionals can lose sight of all it took to gain their expertise and can place unrealistic expectations on clients. We might expect clients to quickly comprehend seemingly “simple” concepts that cannot be understood without extensive education. We can feel frustrated when a client does not understand. When that happens, have we momentarily forgotten that learning new matter takes time? Are we confusing the difference between providing information and educating clients?


If parties in conflict are disempowered, then empowering them would be critical to help them reach a resolution. Doing so may not be so simple.

Comments (2) -

kevin@scudderlaw.netUnited States
10/24/2012 10:04:52 PM #

Thanks for the post, Mark.  As a collaborative attorney one of my interests that I am exploring these days is what it means to advocate for our clients.  As advocates we empower our clients: we educate them so they have the information that they need to make decisions that will impact their lives.  I think you are right that we have a tendency to think that "this is clear to us, what is taking the client so long to get it?"

What I understand you saying is that with empowerment we risk entering the Drama Triangle.  

When we feel our client is not empowered we feel like the rescuer: Is the result in the ballpark?  Is my client selling himself/herself short?  Why can't the other Professionals see what I am seeing?      

When we act as a Rescuer and get some negative feedback, then we get to play the Victim:  The other Professionals are questioning whether I am being positional as I "advocate" for my client.  Nobody knows my client better than I do.  I know best!!!      

And when empowerment is missing we get to act as Persecutor:  The other party is stingy.  Positional.  Irrational.  This case would be done if they just gave a little bit.  Why are you sticking up for him/her?

What I learn from your post is that with Empowerment comes responsibility for the Professionals:

To make sure that our clients understand an issue, and not just telling us they understand (which we sometimes just want to hear so we can move on);

To not assume that the empowerment of our client, once experienced, is present for the rest of the case;

To respect that empowerment of a client can come from many sources, either attorney, a neutral, or even an source outside the collaborative team;

Before a final resolution is reached to question, as a Professional Team, whether each Professional deems a client empowered such that a resolution is within reach; and,

There is a direct relation between empowerment and the durability of a resolution reached by a couple.

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

awirtz@skirbuntlaw.comUnited States
11/6/2012 8:16:02 AM #

This is an interesting post. I believe there is an evolution to empowerment. At the first initial consult the professional meeting with the client begins the education process.  Educaiton and emotional guidance is what helps the client become empowered.  It is the whole team's resonsibility to help the client feel empowered/educated regarding the legal, financial and emotional issues that are at the center of their case. When the client is surrounded by a supportive team he/she will be more likely evolve into an empowred decision maker.

View my profile on www.collaborativepractice.com

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