©2016 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Does it seem like high-conflict people are increasing in legal disputes to you? It does to me. Ten years ago the first edition of my first book, High Conflict People in Legal Disputes (2006), was published. Since then I have been giving trainings around the world on this topic, and judges, lawyers, mediators and counselors involved in court cases are telling me that they think high-conflict cases are up. So how do we deal with these high-conflict clients and opposing parties? And if you’re a law student, what do you need to know before you start your first cases?
High Conflict People in Legal Disputes (2nd Ed.) goes beyond what I said in the first edition. This new edition has updates related to the DSM-5, the manual of mental disorders that mental health professionals use around the world. (This manual has updated the estimates of personality disorders as approximately 15% of the United States population—more than in previous versions.) In my second edition, I explain that the DSM-5 no longer uses the Axis system that I explained in the first edition (personality disorders were previously known as Axis II disorders). But I still give the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders for background, with the cautionary note that I am not training the reader to diagnose these disorders.
I have added a new chapter with information about paranoid personalities, which were not included in the first edition. A new chapter has also been added which is very relevant today: Presenting Your Case. I discourage talking about personality disorders in a court case (unless there has been a formal diagnosis), and instead encourage lawyers and self-represented individuals to present the patterns of concerning behavior that have been occurring. You can use your knowledge to help you prepare and present those concerning patterns, without ever saying “He’s a narcissist, so…” Or: “She’s a borderline, so…”
Beyond the addition of these two chapters and information about the DSM-5, I have also added newer cases to demonstrate how the courts of appeal are dealing with the dynamics of personality disorders in their cases. However, I have not removed the prior content, except for minor edits. So you get more than ever before!
Here’s how it can benefit professionals and individuals:
Lawyers and Staff: This book was written primarily for lawyers, so that it has lots of tips for managing each of the five “high conflict” personalities we see so often in law practice: borderline, narcissist, antisocial, histrionic and paranoid. The charts and outlines can also be used by law office staff, to help them avoid responding negatively when these clients and family members start to blame them for everything.
Judges and Staff: I no longer have to convince judges that people with high conflict personalities dominate their caseloads, especially in family law cases. However, this book is for any judge with any type of case, family, civil or criminal. It is designed to help you understand the limitations of these clients for insight, and to focus more directly on what to do now. Judicial staff also bear the brunt of the anger and self-defeating tendencies of high conflict litigants, so that giving them this book may help them set limits while calming the parties who come to court.
Mediators: When I initially wrote High Conflict People in Legal Disputes, I had been doing mediation for several years as a social worker prior to becoming a lawyer in 1993. I have always believed that out-of-court methods are better than litigation in most legal cases. However, people used to say: “Well, you can’t mediate high conflict cases.” But I beg to differ. Over the past twenty years, we have seen most court systems encourage or require mediation before family and civil cases can go before a judge. Criminal cases also have significant plea bargaining before trials. Over 95% of civil cases are settled out of court (sometimes just outside of the courtroom), and some civil lawyers are saying over 97% are settled now. Therefore, I included many suggestions for mediators to use all along the way in both editions of this book.
Court Involved Counselors: Since I was a therapist before becoming a lawyer (a Licensed Clinical Social Worker) for about twelve years, I really want therapists to see how they can help (and not hurt) in high-conflict cases. Since judges and lawyers like to have psychological input nowadays, counselors often get drawn into legal cases more than they would like. However, from my experience as a therapist, high conflict people in legal disputes are very different and often don’t want to change themselves, but rather manipulate therapists to get an advantage (such as a letter or declaration from the therapist) that they can use in court. So it seems very important for counselors to be more aware of how personality disorders drive legal cases in an often-manipulative fashion. Therefore, I have tried to emphasize information for counselors in this book.
Law Students: This book originally grew out of course materials I wrote for a class on “Interviewing and Counseling Difficult Clients” for law students at the University of San Diego School of Law. The students actually suggested that I turn this into a book. Now, I teach two law school courses in this material using High Conflict People in Legal Disputes as a text: “Psychology of Conflict” at Pepperdine University School of Law near Los Angeles, and “Managing High Conflict People in Legal Disputes” once a year at Monash University Law Chambers in Melbourne, Australia. The feedback I get from the students is that they really appreciate learning about these personalities, for their personal lives as much as for their future professional lives. (I tell them to wait at least a year before making a big commitments in dating, such as getting married or having kids. It often takes that long for high conflict personalities to show themselves.)
As a new lawyer in 1993, I wish I had known a lot of what is now written in this book. In many ways, this book contains the lessons I learned by doing things wrong at the beginning of my law career.
EAPs and HR Managers: People who work with employees and managers in the workplace have also found this book helpful. It gives them general principles for dealing with potentially high conflict people, and also ideas for how to stay out of a legal dispute with a high-conflict employee.
Individuals in Legal Cases: More and more people represent themselves today in legal disputes. They may find this book very helpful, especially if they are dealing with someone with a high conflict personality.
In short, understanding the patterns of high conflict personality disorders will make your life less surprising and stressful. Learning how to manage them can make a significant difference in your work and personal life.
BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.