Category Archives: Divorce Lawyer

What I Learned at Trial School

I just completed my first year as a faculty member at the ABA Divorce Trial Advocacy Institute. I was there with other superstar instructors from around the country.  Also on the faculty were nationally recognized psychologists and business evaluators helping teach students the nuances of dealing with mental health and business evaluation experts.

While I was there as an instructor, I was also a student. Richard Bach said that “we teach best what we most need to learn.” After 25 years of regular trial practice, it was a great  to focus on all of the fundamentals of the practice…evidence, foundations, trial technique and the like. No matter how many cases I have tried, it is always good to refocus on the  basics. Excellence is a never-ending process of improvement. But it all starts with the basics. The journey is undoubtedly circular.

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Filed under Divorce Lawyer, Uncategorized

The Daily Grind

A family-law practice is grueling. We deal with intense emotions on a daily basis. Highs are higher and lows are of course, lower.

The reward, however, is helping people, often miserable, improve their lives and circumstances post-divorce. And while we would love to think of ourselves as heroic (our clients often do), the truth is that it really is about hanging with it and just making it happen every day. True professionalism is just that–showing up and consistently performing under difficult and adverse circumstances.

As Winston Churchill said, “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.” True heroism is all about just being there when they need us.

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All Divorce Lawyers are not Created Equal

Many people seeking legal services incorrectly believe that all attorneys, by virtue of their law license, are equally capable.  The law and the profession, by their mystique, create this mistaken impression. But unfortunately, for an ill-informed public, this is not the case. Legal services  in family court are rarely commodities–uniform and routine. Especially now, in an economic climate where inexperienced lawyers are forced to handle divorce cases because of unavailable work in their area of expertise, the public needs to beware.  Sadly, and all too frequently, I have met with people who have lost custody because of bad  or unqualified lawyering.  And when they finally see me it is too late to do anything about it.  What are some of the warning signs?

  • lawyers who fail to return your phone calls. This is inexcusable and despite what they may tell you, inappropriate no matter how busy they are.
  • lawyers who don’t keep you informed about the progress of the case. You are entitled to know what is happening, if not contemporaneously, at least within a few days.  Lawyers have a duty to keep you reasonably informed and the failure to do so should be a warning.
  • lawyers who don’t clearly spell out their fees. You need to know up front what is expected. Lawyers who don’t clarify this are not acting appropriately. Along the same lines, lawyers that don’t send out regular bills are also acting inappropriately. You shouldn’t have to guess and if your lawyer does not clearly lay out your ongoing obligations, they should be fired.
  • lawyers that are chronically unprepared. We have all seen them; the lawyers who show up to court late and are rifling through their paperwork looking for crumpled pieces of paper to give to the judge. Do you think this will instill confidence in your lawyer by the judge?  Obviously not…nor should it by you.
  • lawyers that don’t care about you or are insensitive to your problems. If they don’t care about your dilema, do you really think you will get the result you deserve?
  • lawyers who never seem to get anywhere with the case. Some lawyers  always seem to be slogging through mud, getting nowhere and just getting you dirty in the process.  Consider those interminable statuses along with ever-increasing bills; and nothing ever seems to get done.  No progress is a sign of incompetent lawyering.
  • lawyers who continuously get pushed around by the other attorney.  If your lawyer doesn’t have the gumption or self-confidence to stand up and fight for you, you need to get another lawyer.
  • Irascible lawyers. Lawyers that are chronically crabby with you and everyone else for that matter, are not keepers. First you don’t deserve to be dressed down every time you speak. Handling cases is a collaboration, not a dictatorship. Next, you need to consider whether your case will end up being more contested, by virtue of your lawyers temperament. While you don’t want a pushover, a nasty provocateur does you no good either.
  • lawyers who don’t employ modern technology. What does the fact that they have no e-mail tell you about them?  While they don’t need to be IT specialists, they need to have some knowledge of  technology to  manage your case. Without it, things are not going to happen with any efficiency.
  • lawyers who make you uncomfortable. There may be no specific reason, it’s just that funny feeling you get. sometimes you just need to trust your intuition. It’s right more often than you think.

Switching lawyers can be expensive and cause delay. But not switching can be tragic. Which do you prefer?

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Ten Ways to Screw up Your Divorce Case

After practicing family law for nearly 25 years, Lex has seen a full -range of behavior in divorce court. Probably the most disconcerting  is witnessing people that are  self -destructive. The following is a compilation of the ten ways people ruin their lives in divorce cases:

1. Self pity.   Buck up and deal with it.  When people get mired in self-pity– they lose focus on resolving the conflict and instead focus on their perceived victimization.  If people drive their car looking in the rear-view mirror, instead of the front windshield, they ultimately crash. Same with a divorce.

2.  Ignore your lawyer’s advice. Why would someone hire a lawyer and ignore their advice? It sounds implausible, but it happens all the time.  Find the smartest and most mature lawyer available and  listen and follow their advice.  Lawyers are paid for their wisdom and experience–not to help satisfy client’s self destructive impulses. This is why it is so important to get competent representation.

3.  Play games with  your lawyer. If you aren’t honest with the lawyer, how can they help? Let a lawyer make representations that aren’t true and the lawyer won’t be around for very long. Or don’t cooperate when the lawyer asks for information. All of these behavioral problems just end up in a disastrous result.

4.  Transference of anger. Sometimes people transfer their anger at their spouse towards their lawyer. If you are hostile with your lawyer or his staff, how effective do you think they can be?  Get a counsellor and work  through the anger . The lawyer is not the enemy and should not be treated as such. They are there to help.  And if they aren’t helping–fire them and get one that can help.  In general, anger = trouble in divorce court.

5.  Understand the nature of the relationship. The attorney client relationship is a professional relationship. Treating the lawyer as a friend, therapist or the enemy (see above) is not particularly helpful. Boundaries benefit everyone. The lawyer must remain clinical and detached enough to help guide you through the tumult. Blurred boundaries help no one and actually become destuctive.

6.  Using your lawyer as a  therapist. Not helpful. Lawyers are not typically trained as therapists and frankly, using them as such will quickly exhaust a litigation budget.  Let the lawyer manage the domestic conflict and use a therapist or coach to help to manage the toxic emotions that need to be appropriately addressed.  

7. Pick a lawyer from the phone book. The two most important professionals you rely on are your divorce lawyer and doctor; neither of whom should be chosen based upon the size of their yellow page ad.  Get a referral and research the competence of your lawyer. A bad lawyer needs the bigger ad–not the better lawyer. Too much is a stake to pick a name at random. And for that matter, there is a reason why some lawyers cost significantly less than others. You get what you pay for.

8. Have unrealistice expectations.  If the bar is set too high, the crash landing is more painful. Unrealistic expectations prolong litigation and the pain to the family. In general,  avoid an egocentric world view.  Make your best deal and get on with it. People that get stuck on the litigation carousel sometimes never get off–a painful and miserable existence.

9. Relying on friends and family for advice. While they mean well, they sometimes are less objective than the person actually involved in the divorce. People that follow well-meaning family member’ s advice over their attorney’s ususally end up getting screwed by that advice–a poor choice.  The delicate world of divorce negotiations cannot and should not be impacted by angry  friends or relatives–too upset to understand the implications of their advice.

10. Maintain a sense of entitlement. Nobody is entitled to anything! If you dwell on the notion that you are owed–trying to fill an emotional void brought on betrayal–the end result will never compensate and will only cost.  While a trite idiom, life is indeed unfair sometimes. But to dwell on that instead of trying to figure a way forward will be hazardous and destructive.

 

 

 

 

      

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The Conflict Matrix

After reflecting on the role of  lawyers in  family law disputes, I have come to the conclusion that above all else, we are conflict managers.  Each conflict is unique, and the attorney’s mission must be to discover the most effective  (and efficient) way of resolving the dispute.  As family lawyers, we have a special responsibility to help protect  the family, that fragile  and vital social system, wherever possible.

The lawyer must creatively try to find the least conflictual alternative to resolving the dispute. In some cases, mediation will be the approriate alternative. In other cases, a collaboration may be beneficial. Yet in some cases, using the full power of the court may be the unfortunate, but necessarily preferred means of resolving the dispute. While litigation should be the last alternative, it is an appropriate way to bring a hopeless conflict to a halt.

Most people are grasping for civilized alternatives to resolving their disputes. Wherever possible,  less adversarial approaches need to be employed. As conflict increases, the costs–both economic and emotional– increase as well.  Unfortunately, lawyers that mindlessly churn  family law litigation are unnecessarily creating family conflict for generations to come.  Consumers of legal services need to be aware of their alternatives and seek counsel that can help them choose the least harmful alternative to their individual dilemma.

Wisdom, above all else, is the best service that a family lawyer can provide. The stakes are too high to allow anything else.

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Filed under Collaborative Divorce, Divorce Lawyer

The Friendly Divorce

Lex Familia has been seeing many articles recently concerning the advent of collaborative divorce, which is a system designed to civilize the divorce process. In collaborative divorce, the parties and their lawyers agree to work out the issues, relying on joint professionals such as accountants and social workers, to help them  “collaborate” on reaching an agreement. In the event the dialogue breaks down or the issues become irresolvable, the collaborating attorneys must agree to withdraw from the case thus prohibiting them from prosecuting any issues in court. This prohibition serves as an incentive for the lawyers to facilitate as opposed to interfering with a peaceful resolution of the divorce.

David Crary, in an Associated Press article writes, “Lawyers by the thousands want to be part of the trend. ‘Most of us had that moment where we realize the adversarial process is so damaging for the clients — and there’s a recognition that we can do better,’ said Talia Katz, executive director of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.”

Lex Familia thinks, as an aspirational goal, everyone getting along and playing nicely together is a great notion. However, the reality for the vast majority of people who feel betrayed, frightened, angry and rejected, is that they cannot realistically utilize such a process. Our experience is that great love eroded can’t be resolved by a sterile businesslike negotiation.

Of course divorce lawyers would like to avoid the sloppy and nasty aspect of their jobs that require us to deal with people in crisis; however, to deny the passion of the break up does our clients a disservice.

True legal professionalism requires conflict management, not conflict avoidance. Each case is different, with different emotional dynamics and unique facts and circumstances. Attempting to take all cases under the “let’s be friends” umbrella is as nonsensical as litigating every case as mortal enemies. Divorce lawyers should work to facilitate settlements. However, we need to recognize that sometimes it is in our client’s interests to have the opportunity to tell their story in a controlled setting like a courtroom, in order to avoid outbursts in less controlled settings like the dinner table.  We must validate but at the same time discourage the emotions of revenge and anger. To deny them ignores the very real human emotions incident to the death of a marriage.

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Filed under Collaborative Divorce, divorce, Divorce Lawyer, Uncategorized