Thursday, January 23, 2020

Rethinking a Fall

Once a winter, like clockwork, I let my concentration lag while running, hit a crack in the sidewalk and go down.  That day was Tuesday.  Luckily, I had time to twist to the side, so I hit grass.  Unluckily, I twisted the opposite hamstring while doing it.  Never mind that I rolled, popped up and announced to my staring neighbor that I was great.  I was not.  I limped home. I’m still limping, which means I’m not running.

I have a race in a month.  Between my sinus surgery, my bronchitis in December, and now my pulled hamstring, I know I will not meet my goal of out-kicking Daughter down the final stretch.  After my 10K in October, where I almost broke an hour, I was really looking forward to continued improvement.  I was stoked to out-kick Daughter next month.  I am disappointed that goal won’t be met.  I could take my running shoes and go home. I could decide it’s not worth running if I can’t meet my goal.  If you know me, you know that’s not what I’m doing.  I’m rethinking my goal.  My new goal is finishing strong.  I’ve told my coaches that needs to be the new goal.  I’m regrouping.  Let’s be clear, regrouping is not giving up. Even though I can’t meet my original goal, I can reach a goal.  My original goal is still there for next year.  

The people who come to me here in the Trenches had goals.  Their goals were to be happily married until death us do part.  Their goals were to be successful coparents in the same house until their children were grown.  Their goals were to be that couple that’s always in sync.  They had lots of goals related to a lifelong marriage or relationship.  That they’re in my office means they didn’t meet those goals.  The reason they didn’t meet them doesn’t matter.  What matters is that those goals are now unattainable.  It’s OK for them to be disappointed.  It’s not OK for them to be stuck.  

People think that all that those of us do here in the Trenches is resolve the legal issues of divorce.  That’s what some of us do.  Most of us, however, work really hard to help our clients see past their time in the Trenches.  We help them create new goals and visions for their future lives.  We help them see what goals are possible and what are not.  Their happily ever after isn’t there the day they walk into our offices.  If we’re doing our jobs, though, our clients have vision for new goals and how to attain them when they walk out.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Coffee Cuddles Revisited

Last week I posted on Instagram about my morning grounding ritual with my puppy.  If you didn't see it, I said that every morning when I get up, the first thing I do is get my cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with my puppy for morning cuddles.  It's that quiet time where Puppy and I share some love and have a few moments to collect our thoughts before we start the day.  No matter how crazy the ensuing day becomes, I have these few moments of calm reflection to anchor and sustain me.  I asked my followers what they did to ground themselves for the day.  Daughter and one other person answered.  So I thought that's that.  Except it wasn't.

I went to a meeting last night with my friends here in the Trenches.  Three of them came up to me and told me that they read my post and that have their own versions of coffee cuddles. Two did it with their dogs and one with her dogs and kids.  You should have seen the looks on their faces as they talked about their coffee cuddles.  They smiled.  Their eyes lit up.  They got that wistful tone to their voices.  Coffee cuddles was an important part of all of their lives.  It seems like such a little thing, but it's not.

There's stress in the Trenches, whether you work here or are just visiting.  Self care is important in either case, and it is especially necessary when you're life is otherwise out of control.  If you're visiting the Trenches, it's essential you find something that grounds you and makes you smile.  I know it's hard, but it doesn't need to be something big, just something for you.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Simpler, the Better

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best.  I had a problem.  Every time I would try to work out, b darling puppy, Max, would use it as an opportunity to give my ear a "Wet Willy", wash my glasses and jump on my legs.  To distract him, I bought dog chews which didn't interest him long enough, and intricate dog puzzles which did not keep him busy long enough.  I despaired of getting through my exercises without his help for the rest of his long life.  Then I found "the ball." It is a simple contraption in which you insert treats, and as he rolls the ball along the floor, the treats eventually drop into a chamber and then as the rolling continues, onto the floor, where he eats them.  $12 and my problem is solved.  He loves it and can chase it around the floor for up to an hour.  It's magic. Why didn't I think of it in the first place?  Because I thought it was just too easy and that the solution had to be more complicated.

A lot of times here in the Trenches, folks think the solution has to be something really involved or complicated.  Heck, sometimes those of us who work here think that as well.  They think of complicated ways to share access with their children and convoluted ways of dividing assets or expenses. Sometimes, like I said, they drag the professionals with them. Sometimes the professionals do the dragging.  Then, at the end of the day, someone is brave enough to say "Let's back this up."  They throw everything out and look at the situation with fresh eyes.  Then, the solution usually becomes clear and it is almost always simpler that with what they started. Sometimes that moment doesn't come until there have been years of struggle, but hopefully it happens early on. I only struggled with my puppy's help exercising for a couple of months.  Life is complicated enough; navigating it shouldn't be too.  Here in the Trenches

Sunday, December 29, 2019

How Litigation Compares to Mediation and Collaborative Law

We have had some massive rainfall here in South Florida.  Not only is this much rain out of season, but it is also much more water than the saturated ground can handle.  The above is a picture from one of the neighborhoods I run through while I’m down visiting Mom.  Running long distances gives me time to think, and as I ran by all this water, I thought of the Trenches.  Specifically, I thought about how all of this water relates to choosing a process for your divorce.

Divorce is a time when people are flooded with emotion.  The flood is unexpected and unwanted because the emotions are largely negative.  Yet, folks are expected to make decisions which will govern the rest of their lives while all of these feelings swirl in their minds.  I don’t know if you can see it in the picture, but there’s a car in the driveway to the left.  I’m imagining the driver coming out of the house to go somewhere NOW, and being faced with driving through all of that standing water to get out.  The driver doesn’t know what’s under the water, whether it’s safe, whether the car will be swamped.  What they do know is that they have to be somewhere now and they have to use that car to get there.  That’s what litigation feels like.  It feels like having to make huge, important decisions under the pressure of time and without the luxury of gathering any last minute information necessary to make an informed decision, and often without having any control over the outcome.  Settlements often occur on the eve of trial, or a person in a black robe makes the decision instead.  

What if, instead, the driver knew about the water and knew that in a few hour’s or a few day’s time, they had had to be somewhere?  They could wait and see if the water subsided.  They could build a ramp or a bridge over the water.  They could call a friend for a ride.  They could call an Uber, Lyft or taxi.  They could walk.  They could postpone their appointment.  They could call an engineer to advise them.  They could do a lot of things because they would have the time to gather the necessary information, process it and make an informed decision.  That’s what mediation and Collaboration feel like.  They feel like having the time to reflect on what’s important. They feel like spending as much time as necessary to get the answer that’s right for the family.  They feel like being able to ask that one last question to get the one piece of information that will make all the difference to the outcome.  They feel like having the freedom to ask the person with the most pertinent knowledge their opinion. They feel like reality testing possible solutions until they find the one that makes the most sense.

If it were you, what would you rather do?  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Beware of Black Ice

I went out early for a long run.  As I went down the road, I saw police lights and then a car that had crossed onto the road divide and hit a tree.  We had rain the day before, and even though it had stopped, a little water remained on the roads which promptly froze when the temperatures dipped to freezing.  Obviously, this car rode over one of those patches in the dark.  Maybe the driver was going too fast, but probably she wasn’t.  Maybe she didn’t see the black ice, or maybe she discounted it.  She simply wasn’t prepared for that road condition.  Don’t worry, she seemed to be unharmed.  The car was another matter.

Here in the Trenches, life is a lot like driving a car.  When emotions are raw and the case is heated it’s like driving in the snow or pouring rain.  People know to be careful.  They worry about moving too fast into another relationship.  They are prepared to have some emotional issues around the holidays.  They worry about how their children are going to cope.  All of those things are at the forefront of their minds.  When the case settles and the emotionality wanes, it looks like blue skies and dry roads. The problem is, that it’s really like the road I saw yesterday - mostly clear with largely invisible ice patches that trip up those who don’t expect them.  The holidays tend to be one of those icy patches.  Family traditions change, but the memory of them remains, and not just for the divorcing couple, but also for their children and extended family.  Often, the holidays are a time when people feel that loss keenly.  Sadness is OK.  Depression is not.

The holiday season can be a huge trap for folks who have ever been in the Trenches.  Everyone, including you, expects to be happy.  Sometimes, the loss is overwhelming and it comes out at unexpected times.  It catches you unaware.  Then, when you feel the loss, you also worry that your children feel it every bit as deeply.  Some tips to make it through the next few weeks:

1.  Cut yourself a break.  No one is happy all the time.
2.  Find some quiet time to do something for you.  For me, it’s watching a holiday movie or going on a run.  For others, it could be taking a hot bath, a long walk in the woods, or simply reading a book.
3.  Create a new holiday tradition.  Have you been meaning to go see that new light display or drive the neighborhood looking at the house lights?
4.  Do something not holiday related.  People laugh when I say a Jewish Christmas tradition is going out for Chinese food, but for many families, it’s a tradition that’s fun and not holiday related.   Do it.
5.  Do something for others less fortunate.  Give the to Salvation Army, the Rescue Mission.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Really put some thought into Toys for Tots.
6.  DO NOT immerse yourself in alcohol or drugs; they just make you feel worse in the end.
7.  If you feel like you’ll never be happy again or think of self harm, please get help.  Call the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) or your therapist, or go to the nearest emergency room.

Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Dog and the Coyote

I came home from work early the other day and decided to take my puppy for a long walk.  As we walked around our local lake, we came across an animal ahead of us who looked like a dog.  There was no owner, and as I looked more carefully, I recognized the coyote who lives in the woods near our home.  The coyote had been coming toward us, but when he saw us, he stopped and turned the other way.  He walked about 20 yards up the path and then stopped again, turned and looked at us.  We, of course, stopped as well.  Then he turned and walked another 20 yards up the path, and repeated his behavior.  Puppy and I decided that we would be brave another day, and turned around and walked the other way.  Had we continued on our chosen path, we didn't know what the coyote would do.  He could have been sizing us up as a threat, or looking at my pup for some lunch.  We decided not to find out because we had the option to turn around and go another way and the time to  take it.  We still had a lovely walk, just not the one we thought we would have.

Many times here in the Trenches, clients walk along the path to separation or divorce and come across obstacles.  Some obstacles are easily identified as harmless or harmful.  Others are not. Often there is another path that avoids the obstacle.  The problem when you're in the Trenches is that emotions often rule.  Some people are so anxious to get out of the Trenches that they don't realize that they have time for a different path. Some people just can't see the other path because of anger, fear or anxiety.  Others don't want to take the other path because they don't want to be inconvenienced or because they are unable to see the other path is acceptable.  Some people take the other path.  Whichever path a client takes will ultimately get them to the end and out of the Trenches, but the result and the feeling about that result may be entirely different depending on the path taken.  Remember there's almost always another path; the question is whether you want to take it.  Here in the Trenches.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

An Informed Consumer : The Successful DIvorce Client

What kind of car do you own?  Is it a Kia?  Is it a Hyundai?  Maybe a Mercedes?  What about a Tesla?  Why does any of this matter? They're all just cars, right?  Wrong.  You may think you're just buying a car, but you're not.  You're buying a statement of who you are.  You are buying an experience.  It just happens to look like a car.  The people who think Kias are cool cars are not the people who would always buy a Mercedes.  The folks who drive Teslas are not the ones who buy Hyundais. Mercedes screams luxury and wealth.  Tesla says you're cutting edge as well as environmentally friendly.  Kias are cute but utilitarian cars.  Hyundais are for folks who want a little luxury but not the luxury price tag.  Sales people know this.  They sell the image and the experience that goes with it.  Check out the showrooms for the different car brands if you don't believe me.

Lawyers think they sell legal knowledge.  They think they sell legal expertise.  They think they sell their courtroom experience.  They're wrong.  They sell the process itself.

Most clients assume competence.  You heard me, they assume competence.  That means all the things lawyers think clients are looking for, they assume we already have.  They come into our offices assuming that we know how to solve their problem.  They trust that we know the best way to do that. Here’s what they don’t know.

There are 5 possible processes that a client can use to resolve their problems in the Trenches:  kitchen table negotiations, mediation, collaborative practice, lawyer-to-lawyer negotiation and litigation.  As lawyers, we have an ethical duty to make sure our clients exercise informed consent over which process works for them.  That means we have to describe in detail all 5 processes.  The difficulty is that every lawyer has a preference for process.  Just like the Tesla dealer isn’t going to tell the customer that a Prius is also environmentally friendly at a much lower price tag, or a Mercedes dealer won’t talk about how luxurious a Hyundai Genesis is, so a lawyer who likes to litigate is going to skew toward emphasizing litigation over mediation.  Those same lawyers will downplay the value of collaborative practice.  Likewise, lawyers who love collaborative practice will emphasize the benefits of that process over litigation or mediation.  Clients trust us, so they follow our lead about the choice of process and rarely ask questions.  That might be a mistake, because process determines outcome.  Each of these processes has a different result in terms of experience, cost, future relationship, and even outcome.  Just like there is a type of car for every type of person, there is a type of process that is appropriate for every family.

What does all of this mean for clients?  It means that, just as with everything else, clients need to be well-informed consumers.  Lawyers need to be in less of a rush to suggest process, and educate clients of their process options.  Clients need to insist on being fully informed on the choice of process, which includes the pros and the cons in an even-handed way.  Often, lawyers are afraid to spend an entire appointment doing this important education piece because they don’t think a client would find value in a meeting in which they do not come away with “legal advice” about their problem.  To be sure, there are clients who simply want a solution to their problem and aren’t interested in process choice.  Most of those folks don’t read this blog.  Most clients are completely unaware that their choice of process determines their outcome; once they do, once they know they have a choice as to how they move forward, these clients see that a discussion of process choice is the most important discussion they will have in their family law case.  For them, a discussion of process choice is legal advice.  Most clients are thrilled to know they are not forced to fit their experience into one type of process because they want at least some control over their future.

What kinds of questions should the client ask for each process?  Here are a few:

1.  How much control would I have over the outcome?  Who makes the ultimate decisions?
2.  How much would I be required to participate?
3.  What is the lawyer’s role?  Are there differences in confidentiality and information sharing in the processes?
4.  What if I have trouble communicating to the other party?
5.  How do we gather necessary information?  How can we be sure we have it all?
6.  What happens if the other party isn’t being honest?
7.  Why would I choose one process over another?
8.  What might happen after the end of our case?  What is the likelihood of future issues?  What is the likelihood of resolving future issues?
9.  How does this process help me reach my goals for the future?
10.  What is the lawyer’s preferred method of dispute resolution?  Do they practice all of the processes, or just some?  Why is that - what is their philosophy?  How comfortable are they in each method?
11.  How quickly can each process resolve our issues?
12.  What is the range of costs for each process?  What drives the cost for each process?
13.  How are decisions made in each process?

Know what you’re buying and be an informed consumer.  Here in the Trenches.