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Finding the Right Attorney — Part Five: Two Types of Attorneys

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Jan 28, 2006 | 0 Comments

Here is the last installment in my series of posts on William A. Eddy‘s tips in helping hire the right attorney. Today, Mr. Eddy explains his thoughts on the two different types of attorneys. He believes that when looking for an attorney, it is helpful to consider common differences in their approaches – especially to cases involving difficult personalities.
As described throughout this booklet, anyone can be a Negative Advocate if they assist a Blamer in promoting their cognitive distortions and negative, often abusive behavior.

  • Some attorneys are habitual Negative Advocates. They try to take most of their cases to court. They represent whatever their client says as true, with little or no skepticism or investigation. Essentially, they are representing their client's cognitive distortions or “negative thoughts.” This is comparable to representing a drunk while they are still under the influence – and accepting what they say as true.
  • Negative Advocates focus their attention on the judge. They treat each issue as a win-lose contest, with the goal of winning the most at court. Time is spent primarily preparing for court, waiting at court and presenting (“arguing”) the case. They generally do not have close client relationships. They often impress their clients, especially at the beginning of the case with their tough talk and seeming support for their clients' allegations and excuses.
  • The methods of Negative Advocates are adversarial from the start. They are focused on advocating for their client's “position,” rather than understanding and solving their client's “problems.” They focus on gathering negative evidence about the other party because the negative usually weighs more in the adversarial process. Subpoenas are routinely issued, depositions routinely taken, and other forms of “discovery” pursued, often with no real goal to gather information. Intimidation tactics are common. They treat their client as “all good” and the other party as “all bad.” They often consider themselves as all good (or smart) and the other attorney as all bad (or stupid).
  • Negative Advocates seem to minimize contact or negotiations with the opposing attorney (or unrepresented party), as they prefer the threat of going to court. In court, their goal appears to be to split the parties into “good spouse” and “bad spouse” in the eyes of the judge. They will raise minor issues and make them sound highly negative. They will minimize major issues and make them sound insignificant or untrue. There is an appealing strength to their presentations and aggressive manners. They can be charming–or hostile and deceitful –to win a point. However, their tone, lack of empathy, and all-or-nothing manner may eventually be turned against their clients.

Client Relationship:

  • For Negative Advocates, the client appears to be a minor part of the process.
  • Client information may be obtained and used without question.
  • Clients may be minimally counseled about the law, how to help themselves, or how to reflect on their own behavior.
  • Clients may primarily meet with support staff.
  • Negative Advocates do not seem to encourage mediation or negotiation, although they may give lip service to these approaches.


  • Negative Advocates tend to cost the most because court takes so much time — preparing documents, numerous hearings, and waiting around. The more issues taken to court, the higher the cost and the more money made.


  • Negative Advocate attorneys appear to be about 10-20% of all attorneys. However, they appear in a much larger number of high conflict court cases. They seem to be the attorneys who often represent Blamers without question.
  • Negative Advocates can be some of the meanest people you will ever meet. However, sometimes they are the nicest people — perhaps too nice to their clients in accepting and advocating for their cognitive distortions.

The focus of attention for Problem Solvers appears to be that of solving problems rather than rigidly advocating for a position. Hearings may be set at court, but Problem Solver attorneys generally make a good attempt to settle issues first based on the legal standards.

  • Their goal is to gather information that will help solve the problems the parties are facing. They often counsel their clients to be reasonable and to tone down their negative views of their spouses. They encourage them to consider alternatives for possible settlement. There may be subpoenas, depositions, and other discovery. But often there is no discovery until the Problem Solver determines it is needed.
  • Secondly, the attorney makes an effort to negotiate with the other attorney (or party without an attorney) and attempts to settle issues along the standard laws and guidelines with some give and take. They do not try to intimidate, but rather persuade and find areas of compromise.
  • If negotiation efforts fail, then discovery may be pursued and the process becomes adversarial. Yet Problem Solvers can remain generally friendly and do not try to unnecessarily escalate problems. They tend to be sincere and interested in solving their client's legal problems.

Client Relationship:

  • Problem Solvers may educate their clients about legal standards and generally communicate more with their clients than Negative Advocates. They may support the use of mediation or negotiation outside of court.
  • Sometimes they may act as consulting attorneys for those who represent themselves. They expect their clients to act reasonably and give them feedback when they do not.


  • In most cases, Problem Solvers cost less than Negative Advocates because they settle many issues without a hearing. However, they can cost as much as Negative Advocates if negotiations fail and the adversarial process is pursued.

Collaborative Law:

  • Many Problem Solvers have adopted the philosophy of the Collaborative Law movement. I like this approach and attorneys using it fit into this category in my opinion.
  • However, since Collaborative Lawyers will not take a case to court by signed agreement, you need to evaluate whether to close the court option when a Borderline or Narcissist is involved. The chances are good that you will end up in court on some issue, at least once.

Counseling Knowledge:

  • Some attorneys have taken a mental health class or training program. They focus on solving their client's larger problems, which often include some need for mental health information or treatment as well as legal assistance.
  • By addressing the mental health issues, they help their clients resolve their legal issues. This can range from recognizing a substance abuse problem to helping them cope with a spouse with a personality disorder.
  • These attorneys generally educate their clients on how to help themselves and how to handle the legal problems and personal problems related to their case. They encourage mediation or negotiation. Court may still be used as needed–especially in cases needing control of abusive behavior.


  • Problem Solvers are the vast majority of attorneys. However, they do not get the attention that Negative Advocates seem to want and get.

While Negative Advocates seem to be very appealing, they often escalate their cases unnecessarily and costs can be very high.
Problem Solvers seem to be more concerned about their clients and resolving their problems. They can be highly assertive when necessary, but reasonable at the same time.
Ideally, find someone who feels comfortable and can work with you through all the ups and downs of your case.
Source: Excerpt from SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist byWilliam A. Eddy, LCSW, Esquire as published on BPD Central, a list of resources for people who care about someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

About the Author

J. Benjamin Stevens

Senior Partner


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