Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Divorces and the Election - The Number of Letters in the Words is Not the Only SImilarity


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  This quotation by George Santayana has taken many forms throughout the years and been attributed to many.  It feels particularly apropos right now.  No, this is not going to be a political commentary.  That's not what this blog is about.  This blog is about my personal observations and their relation to the Trenches.  I have to tell you that since the election, I've had a difficult time focusing on this blog, not because I didn't have anything to say, but rather because I could not order my thoughts in order to fit them into this blog.

The reason the opening quotation to this post is so apt is because the words are so subjective.  What is the past to which we refer?  Is it the past of slavery, segregation, Japanese internment camps, and concentration camps?  Is it the past where the only people with votes were white landowning males?  Is it the the past of abolition and of women's rights?  Is it the past of integration and civil rights?  Is it the past of non-partisan politics?  Is it the past of the forces which led to the Great Depression?  Is it the past of the creation of Social Security and Medicare/ Medicaid?  Is it the past of the nuclear family; or the demise of it?  Is it the rise of corporate farming and genetically engineered food; or the lack of sufficient food for all?  Is it the past of global inclusion or the past of isolationism?  Is it the conditions that led to climate change?  Is it the denial of global climate change?  Go out on the street corner and ask any ten people to define the "past" in the Santayana quotation, and I'll bet you'll get at least 5 different answers.

Here in the Trenches, everyone has their own version of the past.  Was the past when he cheated?  Or was the past when she criticized everything he did for years?  Was the past when she ran up the credit cards?  Or was it when he stopped putting enough money in the bank to pay for household expenses? Was the past when they agreed one of them would stay home to raise the kids?  Or was the past when the stay at home parent refused to go back to work?  In the end of any marriage, the spouses almost never agree on the defining moment for the beginning of that end.

This presidential election has caused a lot of people to question everything they thought they knew about America.  Those people are confused that the country in which they thought they were living isn't the country that the election results indicated.  The same kinds of feelings come with the end of a marriage.  Sure, there are some divorces in which both parties agree that they need to part and why.  With most, however, the behavior of one spouse leading up to their separation leaves the other wondering how they could have known their spouse so little.  I can't tell you how many times a client tells me that their marriage was great and the divorce came out of the blue.  I wish I had a nickel for every time a client told me that they didn't understand how their spouse could do "x", because it wasn't like them.

That other people in my society have different views than I about from which past we need to learn, which in turn leads to actions that are not in keeping with my belief about the tolerance and inclusion of the American people, is causing me a lot of stress.  The same is true of our clients who discover that the marriage that they thought they had and the spouse they thought they married are not in keeping with objective facts.  What I am describing is cognitive dissonance.  Humans don't like cognitive dissonance; it's stressful.  Our entire country in general and my clients in particular suffer from this stress.

What to do to reduce that stress? You can do any one of four things. You could change your cognition.  In my case, it would be to see America as it is and not how I thought it to be.  You could justify the cognition by changing the conflict.  In my case, again, it would be that people like me live in the America I see, and those who don't agree with me are simply not as educated.  You could justify the belief by adding new pieces to it.  Again, in my case, it would be to acknowledge that America isn't as I thought it to be, but come up with ways I could make it the way I thought it was.  Finally, you could ignore any information that conflicts with your belief.  I find that last one is really unhelpful, yet it seems to be the one many Americans and my clients choose.  Kind of like an ostrich sticking their head in the sand; the problem is still there when you emerge.  Which stress reduction method would you choose?  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Regaining Control


I moved into the Frederick office three years ago.  My contractor set up the office so I could install rope lighting in the soffit area of all the rooms in the office except the copy room and bathroom.  Then, he didn't install it.  A year ago, I installed the lighting in the conference room.  It looked great.  I ran the rope lighting in my office, but didn't finish it up.  So, for the last two years, the view from my desk was two coils of rope lighting and cords in my bookcase.  It annoyed me every day.  Today, we had office cleanup day. We closed and destroyed files, and installed the rope lighting in my office and the other office.  I am ridiculously happy.  I mean it - ridiculously happy.  Such a little thing, just an hour of work, and I am thrilled.  Now, about the hood emblem that was taken off my car.....

Life is all about what you will tolerate and what you won't.  Most people tolerate a lot of things in their marriage.  That's part of living with another person.  When the marriage is going well, it's no big deal to tolerate imperfections or different ways of doing things.  When a marriage is ending, all those little things are major annoyances.  Then, when a couple separates, things are usually not just as perfect as either of them wants - more tolerations.  

This is what I want you to do. Make a list of all the things that aren't as you want, but that you're tolerating.  It will be a very long list, trust me.  Some of them will be big and others will be small.  Now, get to work getting rid of them, one at a time.  When you're here in the Trenches, you have no control over whether you're getting a divorce, you may be in a process which gives you no control, and your life is changing in unexpected ways.  Here's a place you can exercise some control.  It will make you feel better, and make all the rest of the things you can't control tolerable.  Trust me.  Give it a try.  Here in the Trenches. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

If You Don't Know Where You're Going.....


A few weeks ago, I ran the Navy/Air Force Half Marathon.  I try to run one race besides the Disney Princess each year.  Why, you may ask?  For the time, of course.  Here's the deal.  Disney has a rolling start to its races.  They line you up by corrals A-P.  They corral you're in depends on the qualifying race time you submit.  I run Disney with Daughter.  As Daughter only runs two days per year, the Enchanted 10k and the Princess Half Marathon, and as she is not a runner, I know my times on those two races are not my fastest.  I always run the Princess with Daughter, so I know I'll be starting in her corral no matter what.  I like to see what I can do, and where my corral would be at my fastest, so I try to do one race during the year just for me.

Why don't I start in the corral for which I qualify on Princess weekend?  Because speed's not my purpose for running the Princess.  I run the Princess to spend time with Daughter (and Cousin).  I'm very clear that my purpose on Princess weekend is family and fun, not speed.  I run for speed at another time.  At the Princess, I have fun.

I run my races like I run my cases here in the Trenches.  There is nothing I do that doesn't have a purpose, and I'm clear about the purpose before I do anything.  I ask myself why I'm doing something and what I hope to accomplish before I take any action.  I think about whether my action will lead to my desired result, and consider if there is something else that could meet my end as well or better.  I don't just take a deposition because that's what lawyers do; I have a specific reason in mind before I note that date.  If a client tells me they want me to do something, I always ask why.  I know my purpose and it guides my actions.

I try to help my clients do the same.  If they don't have a purpose, then they're kind of like the colloquy in Alice in Wonderland between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

If the client doesn't know their purpose, then I don't know which process to suggest they use.  I don't know what information to gather, so I have to gather more than I need (which costs more money).  WHen the client doesn't know their purpose, we end up running in circles and that takes a lot of time, and time in the Trenches is money.  It's why I spend a lot of time with my clients talking to them about their purpose, their goals and their needs.  Spending that time now saves them time and money later, and it obtains a result with which the client can be satisfied.  Purpose determines process; process determines outcome.  Here in the Trenches.

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.