How To Navigate Law And Politics During The Holidays

How To Navigate Law And Politics During The HolidaysThis week we welcome back guest writer Hillary Vaillancourt to talk about managing some difficult topics at the holidays – including politics!

Several months ago I applied to work as a contract attorney for a bankruptcy firm. I needed to be admitted to a federal bankruptcy court, however, and another attorney in the firm offered to sponsor me for admission to the federal bankruptcy court. For over an hour, I chatted with this attorney, and we had a lovely conversation. He sponsored me for the court, and we said goodbye.

A few weeks after I was admitted to the bar, I had a legal question in this attorney’s jurisdiction. I called him, he took the time to talk with me and answer my question, and then out of the blue, he asked, “What’s your opinion on wearing masks?”

I had no idea what to say. Frankly, since Covid hit I have been working like mad to build my law practice, raise a toddler who was suddenly out of daycare, my home was in the middle of being renovated, and to top it all off, I was five months pregnant when courts shut down. To say whether or not wearing a mask was nowhere near the top of my concerns would honestly be an understatement.

Not to mention, I had no idea why this attorney was even asking me this question. I stumbled through some noncommittal answer that tried to be as neutral as possible. Turns out, this attorney was vehemently against being forced to wear masks and was interested in paying me to do research on legal precedent for challenging these policies. I never would have guessed this was how our conversation would turn out.

Whether you agree with mask mandates or not, whether you are a Trump supporter or staunchly voted blue with everything in your being hoping for a blue wave, it is likely that conversations during the holidays may include topics related to law and politics. While they may seem like a private or a public nuisance, you can navigate them without losing your cool or losing your mind. Here’s how:

How To Handle Legal Discussions Over The Holidays

One of my biggest pet peeves as a practicing attorney is when someone says, “I’m no lawyer, but as I read the language of this agreement…” I graduated law school over ten years ago, and I am still amazed by how many people (and clients) without any legal experience or education try to explain the law to me.

Sometimes, it takes most of my energy to resist saying, “Who is the lawyer here?” or “When did you get your law degree?” But, to be honest, being snarky in the moment isn’t my style. Rather, I prefer to respond with civility. My friends joke that when they hear me start calling someone “Hon,” they know I’m actually really annoyed with them. Perhaps it’s that old saying, “fake it ‘til you make it,” but sometimes, I purposely roll out the politeness red carpet and over compensate, because otherwise I would end up saying something borderline rude.

And, wonderfully, by the end of our conversation, the antagonizer usually seems extremely pleased and placated, and I feel like a successful lady boss for handling the situation with tact. You don’t have to pass the bar exam to expertly handle a situation that tries your patience.

How To Handle Controversial Political Comments

At a recent family dinner, a relative declared that he didn’t think Biden should win the presidential election, because “we don’t need more socialism.” Now, I know this relative well, and I was positive that this relative had no idea of the actual definition of socialism let alone how socialism relates to our current government or policies. I politely asked, “how would you define socialism?”

If you simply want to get out of these types of tense political discussions without being scathed or learning to dislike a relative you previously adored, employ your legal skills. Ask questions. When you ask the right questions you can either encourage someone (perhaps a witness, perhaps a relative over Thanksgiving dinner) to spill their guts or respond only with a yes or no answer. You can control the flow of the conversation.

The right questions can also help redirect the discussion. By asking about the definition of socialism, I steered the conversation slightly away from contemporary politics and onto political theory instead, a much more comfortable subject for me.

If you want to get out of the conversation, use strategic questions to redirect the discussion. If you’re really good at it, your relative may not even be aware of what you’re doing.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Everyone has their own style in how to handle these types of situations. I would challenge you to ask yourself, what outcome would bring you the most peace?” If being snarky or rude and putting someone in their place when you’re certain they absolutely deserve it would help you sleep better at night, then you should consider that. But, if you would rather exercise diplomacy, tact, or empathy in order to feel secure in your actions, then take that path.

The holidays can be stressful enough as it is, don’t let heated political or legal discussions steal your joy.


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About Hillary Vaillancourt

Hillary Vaillancourt is a lawyer and writer at The Vaillancourt Law Firm, LLC. She has experience in a wide variety of matters including food law, education law, real estate law, family law, criminal law, contracts, and estate planning. She earned her JD from New England Law|Boston and is licensed in Virginia.

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