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The Benefit of the Debrief
With clients focused
on their own case, most donít realize just how challenging a job lawyering
is. Truth is lawyers actually have a higher suicide rate than the general public
and high rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse problems. To add to
the mix, lawyers are a very reluctant bunch to admit their issues and seek help.
solution for the lawyer seeking to stay on top of their game and to lower the
risk of stress related mental health issues is the debrief.
A debrief is an
opportunity to examine an activity, meeting, case or trial after the fact.
The process of
examination allows the participant(s) to determine what went well; what didnít
go so well; what they could have done differently; and all with a view to
improving future performance. In the process, participants can also express how
they felt at any point and what, if anything they did or could have done to
manage the associated feelings.
Central to the debrief
is keeping the process aimed towards learning. There should be nothing about the
process that evokes blame or shame. The process should be informational and
Debriefs are common
when working in teams, particularly in collaborative family law as well as in
mental health. At the discretion of the team, the debrief can include the
clients or there can be two debriefs, one that includes the clients and one that
is for the professional members of the team.
Even in my clinical
practice, I will from time to time debrief a session with a client. Rather than
focusing on the client issues, the debrief focuses on if the session was helpful
and the clientís experience of me in the process. I will ask questions such
as, was todayís meeting helpful and if so, how so? Was there anything I could
have done differently that would have improved your experience? In asking these
and other questions, I seek to understand my performance and the experience of
it by the client. My clients seem to appreciate this process as it serves to
demonstrate my interest in helping as best I can and it demonstrates my
willingness to be introspective too.
Debriefing is common
among mental health practitioners but not so among family law lawyers.
opportunity to reflect on your cases, learn and thus improve performance while
increasing resiliency. At times the benefit of the debrief may just be the
opportunity to blow off steam about a challenging issue. In any case, lawyers
can benefit from this process too and may just find it to be the tonic in the
challenge of the profession.
Debriefing can come
through chatting with a colleague who knows and understands the debriefing
process and can help engage in a discussion on performance and performance
related issues. Debriefing can also take place in a group context, typically
with a facilitator and where there is some degree of trust between the
participants. Debriefing is distinguished from a performance review though,
where a performance review is to assess how one does ones job for the purposes
of salary, advancement, etc.
Lawyers need to not
only be on their game, but take care of themselves too.
If your group could
benefit from a debrief or learning to use this process, give me a call. It would
be my pleasure to be of service.
If you are the client
and want to make sure your lawyer is on top of their game, you can ask to
debrief your experience of the service provided. This can improve performance
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
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