Sunday, September 11, 2016

Be Our Guest


If you have read any of these posts, you know the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend has become a family tradition, beginning the year after we lost Office T and the year I lost my dad.  That first year was a blast.  Daughter and my Aunt Pebs joined me.  The crowds were there, but manageable.  The race was wonderful.  There were Disney characters at least every half mile, and I stopped for photos with all of them.  The lines for photos were longish, but not too long.  Then, the next year, Disney introduced the Glass Slipper Challenge (for those of you who don't know, that's a 10k on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday).  Registration exploded.  For the next four years, the crowds at the parks became progressively worse.  That's not all, however.  Every year, I've noticed fewer character stops.  Places where there were photo opportunities with the characters suddenly had none.  The goodies in the finish line goody bag also changed; it has really become not worth getting, and yet the number of sponsors for the race has grown.  What we have gotten more of is...water stops because the race is attracting people who don't know how to race.  But I digress.
This summer, without any announcement, Disney decided to stop allowing deferrals.  For those of you who don't race, a deferral is telling Disney that you are unable to run this year, but you'd like to run next year, so they guarantee your registration the next year - for a hefty fee, of course.  Every major race, even the Boston Marathon, allows deferrals.  Many even permit you to transfer your jersey.  Disney used to allow deferrals, until suddenly they didn't.  Now, if you break a leg, you forfeit your registration fee.  Just so we all understand what that means, it means that a race for which you had to sign up 9 months in advance and pay several hundred dollars (far more money than for any other race I run), tells you "tough tookies" if the unforeseeable happens, even if it happens 6 months before the race.  
Why am I telling you this?  The name "Disney" carries with it a certain set of expectations.  The biggest expectation is that its customers are treated as guests, not consumers.  For most, that means things are done first class, because that's how you treat a welcome guest. A Disney event has lots of Disney characters, because that's what their guests want.  A host does not tell a welcome guest that they don't care that they are sick or injured.  That's not the expectation.  The expectation is that the host puts themselves in the shoes of their guest and tries to see what the guest sees and anticipate what the guest wants.  Disney has forgotten that the people who come to their parks are guests.  They are focused solely on the bottom line.
Even though law offices are not Disney, we could take a lesson here.  So many times, a law office sets a client expectation at odds with reality.  The client meets with the named partner during the first interview, and then never sees them again.  The partner makes them feel safe and comfortable, but the person handling their case is someone else, and the client wasn't told that was going to happen.  The client is told that the lawyer will be there for them when they need them, but the lawyer never returns their call.  The lawyer talks about a retainer, but doesn't mention that retainer may not cover all of the legal fees.  The lawyer charges hundreds of dollars an hour, and also charges for every stamp, and $0.10 a page for copies.  The lawyer never sends to the client copies of pleadings and letters sent and received for the client.  The lawyer sends notices of hearings without any explanation.  Ditto for attending mediation.  I know these things all take time or otherwise affect the bottom line, but happy clients send us more of the same.  Did I mention registration is falling off for the Disney races this year?  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, August 29, 2016

10 Dos and Don't for Being a Better Client


There are weeks when I love my job; and there are weeks when it takes an entire weekend to recover. As you all know, I love reading blogs.  I must have 25-30 I read on a regular basis.  Some of them are law related, and some are not.  The law management related ones periodically list things that lawyers ought to do to maintain client satisfaction.  I try to follow those; although I am not always successful, I keep plugging away, because I would like to be my clients' bright spot in their divorce journey.

What I realize as I read blog after blog, is that there are plenty of opportunities out there for clients to complain about lawyers, and there are tons of blogs as to how we can provide better customer service, but there are precious few blogs out there that help clients be better clients.  I periodically post my dos and don't, and lately, it feels like we need an update.  Here goes.

1.  Do be an active participant in your divorce.  Don't throw it in my lap and tell me to take care of it. Don't drop off the face of the earth.  Don't ignore me.  Without your input, I will negotiate for what works for me and that may not be what works for you.

2.  Don't treat me like the drive through at McDonalds/Burger King/Wendy's.  I can't drop everything every time you call or email.  At any one time, I have 20-30 active clients, all of whom need my help, but not all of whom have issues that are time sensitive.  After all of these years in the Trenches, I'm pretty good at figuring out what is and isn't an emergency.  I will get back to you in a timely manner, I promise, and rest assured, when you have an emergency, you are at the top of my list.  When everything is an emergency, eventually nothing is.  Do remember that.

3.  Do what I ask you to do.  When I ask you to do something, it's because I need you to do it in order for me to do my job.  I don't make up tasks simply to keep you busy.  When I don't hear from you, and don't receive anything from you when I've asked, I figure you're not doing what I've asked.  Don't then turn around and tell me I'm not doing my job when your inaction has made that impossible.

4.  Don't expect your failure to plan to become my emergency.  If you didn't realize Christmas was December 25, or July 4 was on....well, July 4, until the day before, don't think that I can work a miracle and save your holiday plans.  Similarly, if you refused to plan, refused to listen to my advice to plan, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket, don't think I can fix that in a New York minute either.

5.  Do make time for me.  I know you're busy living your life.  I don't really ask for much of your time, but when I need it, I need it. I need you to make time to prepare for mediation and to prepare for court.  Don't simply show up on the day of mediation and wonder why nothing gets accomplished; or come to trial unprepared and wonder why things don't go your way.

6.  Do come to terms with reality.  Even if you didn't want the divorce, if your spouse does, it is going to happen.  If you want to be friends with your ex and she doesn't, it's not going to happen.  Don't let your fantasy of getting back together or being that couple who remains friends after divorce get in the way of your making sure you will be OK post divorce.  Don't give away the farm so she doesn't get angry or refuse to make a decision so it will never end.  A good therapist is invaluable.

7.  Don't expect me to act out your revenge fantasy.  Yup, flip side of #6.  Your divorce is one of the hundreds I have handled.  It will be over and you will leave me.  My relationship with other attorneys and with the court will live on.  I've worked really, really hard to cultivate good relationships with all of them, and that is to your advantage.  If we all play nice in the sandbox, you get more of what you need because the other side is more motivated to work out a win/win with someone they like.  Judges also are more likely to believe an attorney whose arguments are grounded in reasonableness and who are trustworthy with the court.

8.  Do say "thank you" every once in a while.  I know we're doing our jobs, but we're people too.  We pour our hearts and souls into you and your case.  We lose sleep over what happens to you.  We work really hard for you, and not just because it's our jobs.  It feels good to be appreciated.

9.  I've also noticed that the clients who don't do #8, don't do this one.  Do pay me.  I know it's expensive.  I try hard to keep your costs down. I depend on your payment to pay my rent, my paralegals and for my Puppy Boy.  When I don't get paid, those expenses still need to be paid.  I know money can get tight, but at least call me.  Tell me what's going on.  Let me know when and how much you can pay me.  I'm human; we'll work it out.  When you don't pay me and don't call me to work it out, I figure you don't appreciate what I do and that you have no intention of paying me.  That's the surest way to lose your lawyer and get sued for fees.  So, do pick up the phone.

10.  Don't kill the messenger.  I didn't marry your spouse.  I didn't have children with them.  I didn't buy a house at the height of the market.  I didn't fail to save for retirement.  I can only work with the facts I'm given.  There's only so much I can do with them.

Thanks for listening  to me.  Here in the Trenches.

10 Dos and Don't for Being a Better Client


There are weeks when I love my job; and there are weeks when it takes an entire weekend to recover. As you all know, I love reading blogs.  I must have 25-30 I read on a regular basis.  Some of them are law related, and some are not.  The law management related ones periodically list things that lawyers ought to do to maintain client satisfaction.  I try to follow those; although I am not always successful, I keep plugging away, because I would like to be my clients' bright spot in their divorce journey.

What I realize as I read blog after blog, is that there are plenty of opportunities out there for clients to complain about lawyers, and there are tons of blogs as to how we can provide better customer service, but there are precious few blogs out there that help clients be better clients.  I periodically post my dos and don't, and lately, it feels like we need an update.  Here goes.

1.  Do be an active participant in your divorce.  Don't throw it in my lap and tell me to take care of it. Don't drop off the face of the earth.  Don't ignore me.  Without your input, I will negotiate for what works for me and that may not be what works for you.

2.  Don't treat me like the drive through at McDonalds/Burger King/Wendy's.  I can't drop everything every time you call or email.  At any one time, I have 20-30 active clients, all of whom need my help, but not all of whom have issues that are time sensitive.  After all of these years in the Trenches, I'm pretty good at figuring out what is and isn't an emergency.  I will get back to you in a timely manner, I promise, and rest assured, when you have an emergency, you are at the top of my list.  When everything is an emergency, eventually nothing is.  Do remember that.

3.  Do what I ask you to do.  When I ask you to do something, it's because I need you to do it in order for me to do my job.  I don't make up tasks simply to keep you busy.  When I don't hear from you, and don't receive anything from you when I've asked, I figure you're not doing what I've asked.  Don't then turn around and tell me I'm not doing my job when your inaction has made that impossible.

4.  Don't expect your failure to plan to become my emergency.  If you didn't realize Christmas was December 25, or July 4 was on....well, July 4, until the day before, don't think that I can work a miracle and save your holiday plans.  Similarly, if you refused to plan, refused to listen to my advice to plan, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket, don't think I can fix that in a New York minute either.

5.  Do make time for me.  I know you're busy living your life.  I don't really ask for much of your time, but when I need it, I need it. I need you to make time to prepare for mediation and to prepare for court.  Don't simply show up on the day of mediation and wonder why nothing gets accomplished; or come to trial unprepared and wonder why things don't go your way.

6.  Do come to terms with reality.  Even if you didn't want the divorce, if your spouse does, it is going to happen.  If you want to be friends with your ex and she doesn't, it's not going to happen.  Don't let your fantasy of getting back together or being that couple who remains friends after divorce get in the way of your making sure you will be OK post divorce.  Don't give away the farm so she doesn't get angry or refuse to make a decision so it will never end.  A good therapist is invaluable.

7.  Don't expect me to act out your revenge fantasy.  Yup, flip side of #6.  Your divorce is one of the hundreds I have handled.  It will be over and you will leave me.  My relationship with other attorneys and with the court will live on.  I've worked really, really hard to cultivate good relationships with all of them, and that is to your advantage.  If we all play nice in the sandbox, you get more of what you need because the other side is more motivated to work out a win/win with someone they like.  Judges also are more likely to believe an attorney whose arguments are grounded in reasonableness and who are trustworthy with the court.

8.  Do say "thank you" every once in a while.  I know we're doing our jobs, but we're people too.  We pour our hearts and souls into you and your case.  We lose sleep over what happens to you.  We work really hard for you, and not just because it's our jobs.  It feels good to be appreciated.

9.  I've also noticed that the clients who don't do #8, don't do this one.  Do pay me.  I know it's expensive.  I try hard to keep your costs down. I depend on your payment to pay my rent, my paralegals and for my Puppy Boy.  When I don't get paid, those expenses still need to be paid.  I know money can get tight, but at least call me.  Tell me what's going on.  Let me know when and how much you can pay me.  I'm human; we'll work it out.  When you don't pay me and don't call me to work it out, I figure you don't appreciate what I do and that you have no intention of paying me.  That's the surest way to lose your lawyer and get sued for fees.  So, do pick up the phone.

10.  Don't kill the messenger.  I didn't marry your spouse.  I didn't have children with them.  I didn't buy a house at the height of the market.  I didn't fail to save for retirement.  I can only work with the facts I'm given.  There's only so much I can do with them.

Thanks for listening  to me.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Taking Time to Grieve


When my father died, in a moment of intense emotion (all right, insanity is the more correct word), I announced that I would make quilts for 9 family members from Dad's old ties.  There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 of them.  I dutifully dragged all of them home, washed them, took them apart, ironed them, ironed stabilizer on them, and then burned out.  Just recently, I picked them up again and decided to take on quilt at a time.  Mom's, of course, is first, and so this weekend, I have been working hard on her quilt.  The top is almost finished.  I'm glad I took the time off, even if it was over a year.  It let me get past the burn out.  I've been having fun with the quilt, looking at the ties and remembering Dad wearing them, remembering the ones that held special meaning for him.  I also remember my Dad.  When I was preparing all of these ties for quilting, I felt overwhelmed and sad.  Now, I smile as I work, remembering him and anticipating the pleasure Mom is going to get from the quilt.

Divorce is like a death, just a bit different.  Certainly, people are sad at the end of a marriage.  They are also angry, hurt, and shamed.  Those last emotions can accomnpany a death as well, but they don't usually.  Even so, I wish more of my clients would treat their divorce like the death of a family member.  Why?  Lots of reasons, but here are five:

1.  They would accept that they need time to grieve, and that the sense of loss doesn't go away overnight.
2.  Even though this is part of #1, they wouldn't jump into a new, serious relationship right away, again, because grief takes time.
3.  They would find a support group or a therapist to help them work through the feelings they have about the end of their marriage and analyze what happened, so they don't end up in my office again.  Anyone who says they need no support group or a therapist during their divorce is kidding themselves.
4.  They wouldn't throw out every reminder of their marriage, especially if they have children.  Hear me out on this one.  Most marriages have some happy times, and there will be a time when they will be able to smile at them.  For those marriages that had no happy times, you need to keep something to remind you of where you've been, at least so you don't go back there again.
5.  They wouldn't make major changes in their lives, other than the obvious, for at least a year.  I can't tell you the number of people who have bought a new house during or right after their divorce, only to find it doesn't suit a year later.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Man and His Dog Walk Into a Hotel.....


Last week, I was visiting family in Ohio.  I happened to be in Canton around the time of the Hall of Fame induction.  I met a really interesting man who was in town for his buddy's induction.  (In case you're wondering, his buddy is Brett Favre). We started talking, and he showed me pictures and videos of his family (aren't smartphones amazing?) - a lovely wife, seven beautiful children and two dogs.  Yes, I said seven children - all 13 years old and younger.  The pictures he showed me were of a happy and close family group.  He told me proudly that they all sit in the front pew at church every Sunday, and they all behave beautifully.  He wanted to tell me how that was possible.  So, he told me about his dog.

You see, he had a dog from the time he was a junior in college, through the births of a number of his children.  When he first got the dog, he worked with a trainer.  The trainer told him that even though being strict with his dog would feel hard, providing the dog with rules and boundaries would allow him to feel safe and secure.  In point of fact, knowing the boundaries allowed his dog to relax and focus on just being a dog.  Positive reinforcement is a wonderful thing, and the dog and owner trained each other.  Fast forward to when his first son was two years old.  My acquaintance was out in the yard running football patterns with his dog and his son.  The football went into the street; the dog and the boy went after it.  The acquaintance yelled "stop."; the dog stopped, and the boy did not.  Don't worry, a pro football player is faster than a two year old, so his son was fine.  It started this young father thinking, however.  He decided to work on training his children, and establish firm boundaries and expectations just like he did with his dog.  He told me how he worked with them to gently and positively reinforce the behavior he expected.  He let them know the structure he and his wife built for them to live in would keep them safe.  Obviously, it worked.  His children know the boundaries, so they don't have to think about them.  They can concentrate instead on daring their father to try to do back flips on camera, and on dreaming the big dreams in life because they have a safe container from which to operate.

One of the hardest things we do here in the Trenches is to build a safe container for our clients.  Like my acquaintance, we educate our clients about the boundaries of the process they've chosen to resolve their dispute.  We let them know we will help guide them and will keep them moving forward within the process.  We build the trust that lets them know they are safe within those boundaries, and that we will support and advise them as they forge ahead.  If we do our jobs right, our clients trust that we will protect their process.  This frees them up do the hard work of  thinking about what they want to do, where they want to go, and how they might get there  They have the freedom to dream about what might be in their future and to work toward that goal because they know we have their back.  They feel safe - if we've done our job.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

High School Football and Yoga


My regular Sunday yoga class was joined today by 3 of our local high school football players.  My regular Sunday yoga class is comprised of 25 women and 3 or so men.   Of those 28 or so regulars, at least half have been attending this class for at least 5 years.  What that means for those high school boys is that approximately 14 people old enough (or older than) to be their parents could stretch farther and balance better than they could.  It was quite an education for them, huffing, puffing and grunting their way through class.  Will they be back?  Only time will tell.  High school boys, and as I recall, Daughter when she came to class with me, are not too excited about being shown up by a bunch of old folks.  Don't worry, we didn't rub it in their faces; in fact, quite the opposite.  We went out of our way to show them how we do things to prep for class, and what props to use to help them.  Our instructor was as solicitous as could be, and went above and beyond in educating them about the different positions.  We helped by showing them modification for poses as well.  As we wait until next Sunday to see who comes back, we can ponder whether these boys are interested in learning something new that will help them in their football, or whether they're invested in playing and preparing to play football the way they've always done it and think it ought to be done.

This past week, I had two clients with unrealistic expectations for what was going to happen, not only next, but all the way through the process.  (I know, I hear you saying "Only two?" ). With each of them, I drafted a very long email.  With each, I checked in to make sure I understood what they were saying and why I thought they were saying it.  Then, I went through a detailed explanation of the process from this point, and what they could expect each step of the way.  I compared what we were doing to what would happen in other processes.  The funny thing is that this is exactly what I do in my initial interview with a client.  I know, however, that most initial interviews contain too much information for the clients to retain: they are emotional and nervous, so retention is an issue.  Also, until they get into the process they choose, they have no point of comparison.

At any rate, one of those two clients, who was very overwrought, read my email and calmed down immediately.  She knew what to expect, and she also knew that if she needed more information, I would give it to her and educate her.  She very quickly switched from a nervous novice to a willing student.  The other client?  Haven't heard from the other client.  It makes me a little nervous.  We'll have to wait and see if she wants to learn. Kind of like waiting until next Sunday for the football players.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Do You Have a Pair of Rose Colored Glasses?


I have an absolutely awful, no good custody case, filled with bad actors, alienation, child protective services, police, the works.  There is definitely a good guy and a bad guy.  Yet, if you look at social media alone, you would think that the bad guy and the good guy were reversed.  I hear you asking how that can be.  It's all in the story and how you tell it.  It's in what facts you include, what ones you leave out, and what ones about which you outright lie.  It's also in only hearing one side of the story, and in having a personal relationship of any kind with the one telling the story you hear.  None of us likes to think we're bad judges of character; it's sort of like Lake Wobegon, where our children are always the ones who are above average.  Therefore, if we've decided someone is a good egg, we view everything they do through those glasses, and it takes a long time for us to believe that the "good egg" is really rotten.

I must let you in on a secret - lawyers are people too.  As I've always said, for a successful attorney and client relationship, the attorney and client have to have some mutual respect, if not liking.  Guess what?  Our clients usually only tell us their side of the story.  It is an extremely rare client who provides an evenhanded and accurate portrayal of the situation which brings them into the Trenches.  In fact, for most of us who have toiled in the Trenches for any length of time, we are so certain we are only getting part of the story that we withhold judgment on the veracity of our client's portrayal until we hear from the other side.  Still........, even when we hear the other side of the case, we discount it if we like our client.  That's right, even seasoned professionals can be a bit deluded.  It happens more often than you might think.

Does it matter in the end?  Actually, yes.  You pay us for our objectivity, not our emotional enmeshment.  Although it feels really good to have your attorney like you, make sure it's not blinding them to the unvarnished truth.  You want an attorney who recognizes they might be deluded, who tries like heck to counteract the feeling.  You do not want an attorney whose feelings for you get in the way of their impartial judgment on your behalf.  You do not want an attorney who cannot see how to help you resolve the issues in your family law matter because they're too concerned with your feelings to be honest with you.   You have friends.  What you need is a professional who can see all sides of the story, tell you the truth even when it's unpleasant, and be able to help you come up with solutions that meet your needs, but are not necessarily what you want.  After all, it's impossible for all of our children to be above average, whether or not we live in Lake Wobegon.  Here in the Trenches.