Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Horses and Zebras

Let's talk about assumptions.  We all make them.  In the family law arena, we assume that our clients are emotional, and that their autonomic nervous system is driving the train, making them react instead of act.  We also assume that they are needy and maybe somewhat unreasonable.  As a result, when presented with someone who is emotionally unstable, volatile and reactive, we see one of our normal clients.  What if, just what if, what we are really seeing is someone who is having a real physical issue, like Alzheimer's or Pick's, or MS?  Do we still see the normal client, albeit an extreme one, or do we notice the difference?  To use an analogy, do we see horses when what's in front of us is a zebra?  The answer is, it depends.  It depends if we care enough to really get to know our clients.  It depends if we pay enough attention to normal human behavior so we can see the difference.  It depends on whether we're brave enough to upset the client further by telling them what we see and taking a risk that we could be wrong.  Let's do the hard work and put our assumptions on the shelf and take a hard look at our clients as people.  It could, literally, save their lives.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Without stupid people....

Sometimes you just can't save people from themselves.  Sure, you can try; but ultimately, people who are bent on self-destruction will succeed.  Take today for example.  We had an agreement in place concerning child access.  The parents agreed to a psychological evaluation, followed by a hearing to determine a change, if any, in access.  The evaluation did not turn out well for one of the parents, and as a result, the child's attorney was going to recommend that parent's access be curtailed until the merits trial in 2 months.  The attorney for that parent knew: 1) A mutually agreed up evaluation carries a lot of weight; 2) The position of the child's attorney is given a lot of deference; 3) Everyone would agree to the status quo, and it would buy time for his client to be rehabilitated.  What did he do as a result?  Advocated that the status quo remain for the next two months, and that the parent will do what was recommended by the evaluator in the meantime.  The right call; the right position to take.  So, what happened?  Both parents agreed on the record, were questioned, ad nauseum about their understanding of the agreement and their agreement.  Sounds good, right?  That's because you don't know what happened next.  Not 3 minutes after putting that agreement on the record, the parent whose evaluation did not turn out too well attempted to reneg on the agreement and launched into a diatribe about why the other parent's access should be curtailed.    Did I mention all of this was being recorded?  The custody case for that parent - finished.  All because that parent didn't listen to their attorney.
Why hire an attorney if you aren't going to follow our advice?  This is what we do for a living.  It's what our education and training prepare us to do.  It's not our lives, so we are able to retain a certain level of detachment, and therefore, analyze and strategize the situation.  Part of our job is to save you from yourself at a time when you're too emotional to think straight.  That's why you hired us.  Follow the advice, or fire the attorney, but don't freelance on the day of trial.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Perfect Fit

I bet you didn't know there are as many ways to practice family law as there are family law attorneys.  Most people think that one attorney is just like another, that there really is no difference between us.  They're wrong.  There are as many different types of attorneys as there are clients.  There are also as many types of family law practices as there are attorneys.
This is not a post about dogs and their owners.  This is about doing what works for you.  A very good friend drove that home to me last week, while I was looking for office space.  She is quite successful by anybody's standards - she has two associates in addition to herself.  As a result, she spends a lot of her time not practicing law, but administering an office and marketing her practice.  She has a lot less time, and probably inclination, to become intimately involved in her clients' story.  It works for her, and most importantly, it works for her clients.  It wouldn't work for me - in fact, it would make me miserable.  I have little desire to manage associates (the idea terrifies doesn't appeal to me).  I'm not a big joiner or a group person, more like a one-on-one kind of girl.  Being small lets me (and my wonderfully intrepid office staff) enter into our client's story in a way that wouldn't be possible if we were bigger, and help them the way our clients need to be helped.  They're not the same kinds of clients as my friend's, but then again, I'm not the same kind of attorney.  That's OK.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Lots of Decisions to Make, Not All of Them Easy

Resolution of One of Our Most Difficult Cases

Have A Happy Weekend


Looked at the larger space with a critical eye and a rational mind.  Thought about how I really practice law.  Pondered how Frederick County feels about collaborative law today.  Decided:
1)  Larger space was a dump not in the best of conditions, not laid out for the way I work, and the taxes would eat me alive.
2)  I'm not the leveraging type.  I love the one on one contact with my clients, even though some days it doesn't feel that way.  Growing would mean more administering and less lawyering.  I don't think I want that.
3)  Fredercik County isn't ready, and won't be ready for a long time, for a collaborative law center.

There is this cute little house, just my size (and price range) up the street....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

At the Crossroads

Back in 1998, I opened my office out here in Olney because that's where my kids were.  I wanted to be available if they needed to come home or stay home from school.  As they got older, I wanted to be near by if they wanted to grab a snack, stop in for a minute, and have a talk.  Now one child is a teacher himself, and the baby is in college.  As much as I love my 2 minute commute, I've come to the conclusion that the success of my business depends on being closer to a courthouse.  First, the question was primary office in Rockville with a second office in Frederick; or a primary office in Frederick with a second office in Rockville.  Once I figured that out (Frederick), then I've had to decide whether to keep my practice the same size or plan for growth.  Growth is scary.  It's a bigger expenditure, a bigger risk.  Staying small is safe.  If I plan small, then there's no chance of expanding, of following my dream of a Collaborative Divorce Practice and Training Center.  I need to follow my heart.  Gulp!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Love and Food

Love is a lot like food.  Not everybody likes everything.  Some people like it spicy; others like it mild.  Some love strawberries; others are allergic to them.  Everyone has a favorite taste and a favorite food.  The interesting thing is that favorite foods and tastes change periodically, based on a number of factors.  Age changes taste:  some things you hated as a child, you love as an adult, and then don't like them again when you're elderly.  Sometimes, illness changes taste:  foods that used to agree with you, suddenly don't; chemo can make things you love not taste so good or sit so well.  Some people adapt to dietary changes better than others.  Same thing with love.  Relationships, like fine wine and cheese, change with age.  Some folks don't adapt well to the change.  Aged wines and aged cheeses are acquired tastes, after all.  It's the relationship's and the individuals's in it desire and ability to adapt to what life throws at it that enables it to survive....or to die.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Gotta Know When to Hold Em.....

The Art of the Game
Being a family law attorney and doing it well means knowing when to push and when to back off.  You have to know the spouse as well as you know your client, and understand how they process information.  Pushing someone who hasn't had a chance to mull the information and the options over is a recipe for disaster.  You may settle the case, but they will have a huge case of buyer's remorse, or a repeat case in six months.  Everyone processes information differently:  the art is knowing what people perceive, how they perceive it and what modality is best for them to really understand.  Sometimes pushing gets it done, and sometimes backing off is what is necessary.  There's an art to negotiating, and it has nothing to do with the facts of the case. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lady Macbeth

Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil.

Thus states Lady Macbeth when her husband brings back incriminating evidence after killing the king.  Lady Macbeth is remembered for being a cold, calculating female, who would do anything and everything to gain advantage.  Until today, I thought she didn't exist in real life.  I was wrong.  My client, a lovely but lonely elderly gentleman.  Her? A twice divorced woman of my age.  She has done just about anything and everything she can possibly do to make sure he does not protect his assets and income, while simultaneously ensuring that all of hers is shielded from him.  She thought she won the end game today, but she was wrong.  He managed, at the eleventh hour to accomplish his original goal.  To her, I say:

How now, my lord, why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what's done, is done.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


       Saturday is the full moon.  As I said in yesterday's post, it's also the closest the moon will be to the earth. It's being called a "Supermoon."  I wonder what kind of effect it will have on the Trenches.  Already this week, an attorney who is usually nothing but nasty and uncooperative was friendly and helpful.  The full moon, or personality change?  I hope the latter, but I'm guessing the former.  Either way, I'm OK with it.  I only hope this "Supermoon" has a similar effect on all of my clients and opposing counsel.  For once, the anticipation of the full moon is pleasant.

      Turning to a more mundane issue, let's talk about what people hear and what they perceive.  Perception is the process by which beings process and interpret sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world.  Every person interprets and processes differently.  It's tempting to think that when we explain things fully, they are understood the way we meant them to be.  It wouldn't be true, however.  Perception is affected by so many factors: nature, nurture, mood, culture, age and cognitive function.   Just because someone says "I understand," doesn't mean they understand what you want them to know.   Our perceptions and those of our clients are constantly changing, and we need to be vigilant and aware that they are, and check in to make sure our clients understand what we've advised.  Gentle questioning and reflective listening are vital to informed choices and decisions.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Monday!

I know, Mondays are usually really difficult.  Weekend visits that didn't go well, lots of opportunities for unpleasant interactions between divorcing spouses - all of these things usually rear their ugly heads on Monday.  Especially a Monday that is the day before a full moon, and a full moon that is the closest ever to the earth.    Yet, it was a good day.   No emergencies.  A lot of opportunity to get work that needed to be done......done.  Here's to tomorrow?

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Friday!

Happy 90th Birthday to my Dad
A Visit with the Office Testosterone
The Launch of the Collaborative Law Section of
the Bar Association of Montgomery County!
Two Days of Rest.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Sometimes, it's the little things that make a difference.  Today was no different than yesterday, except perhaps that the weather was gloomier....and rainier.  Yet, today felt miles better than yesterday.  Why?  I really can't say.  It could be that significant other came home from out of town last night, or it could be that the temperature while I was sleeping was just right.  Maybe it was because Chrissie was down and we were all together.  Maybe it was because we had lunch and a good visit with Office Testosterone (who, although a bit thin, looks good).  Maybe it was because nobody yelled today, or that we had no fires to put out and could actually get work done.  Or, just maybe it was all of it.  Sometimes, it's not the big things that make a difference, but a whole lot of little things....and sometimes it isn't the things at all.

BTW, Office Testosterone has another round of chemo next week.  Positive thoughts,please.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's Hear it For the Boys (and Girls)

Most of the best of us in the Trenches are here because we want to help people.  That's our basic motivation and the reason we chose family law over any other type of law.  The problem with being in a helping profession, which is what being a family law attorney is, is that the daily exposure to our clients' pain affects us.  For every client we help overcome the trauma of their divorce, we soak up some of their pain.  It affects us.  Therapists call this "vicarious trauma," and it's normal.  It's a cost of caring.  It causes burn out and depression.
How do we, as professionals, avoid vicarious trauma?  By making sure that we follow the caring cycle through to its conclusion.  Unfortunately, most of us stop after the first two phases and never proceed to the third, most important phase.  Most of us are really good at forming an empathic engagement with our clients - we know their pain, their stress and invest ourselves in their struggle.  After this empathic engagement, we as professionals become actively involved in helping our clients resolve the issues related to their divorce - economic and emotional.  We attach to the client in much the same way a parent attaches to a child , and in fact the longer the relationship, the greater the chance of attachment, ad therein lies the danger.  The greater the attachment, the harder the next phase of the cycle....separation, the process of terminating the professional relationship. We don't deal with separation well because we don't recognize it as a necessary part of the cycle of caring or attach to it the importance to us as professionals of ending the relationship well and meaningfully.
We also need to make sure we take care of ourselves.  Balance in our lives is critical to dealing with our clients' trauma on a daily basis.  Taking care of ourselves is the only way to continue to take care of others.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ten Commandments of Collaborative Practice

  1.   Clients forgive if they know you care.
  2.   Most people simply want to be heard - really heard.
  3.   Remain genuinely curious.
  4.   Let go of the outcome.
  5.   Always circle back and be true to the process anchors:  transparency, full disclosure, self determination, no unilateral actions
  6.   Always play nice in the sandbox.  No taking advantage of another’s mistakes.
  7.   Provide the client all the information they need to make a decision.
  8. Never do a case with a professional you can’t stand.
  9.   Always try to have one professional who has never done a case with you on the team.
  10.   Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Today ended the three day collaborative law training I was teaching.  I'm full of mixed emotions.  First, I'm
that so many lawyers want to learn about collaborative practice;
that they all "got" it
for the future of family law
after 10 months of planning and 3, 8 hour days of training.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taking a Break....

Well, I'm busy teaching a 3 day interdisciplinary team collaborative training.  It's long days, and just too much to post here on top of it.  So, I'm going to take a break for a few days.  See you all soon.