Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Tiger and Elin Can Teach Us

Tiger Woods and his former wife, Elin Nordegren, provide those of us in the Trenches with many teaching opportunities.  The latest of those is Ms. Nordegren’s new relationship.  The internet is active with postings concerning the man in Ms. Nordegren’s life, Jamie Dingman.  It seems he has quite a reputation as a womanizer.  There have already been allegations that he is cheating on Ms. Nordegren.  Yet, she continues to date him.  We here in the Trenches are not surprised that Ms. Nordegren’s new love sounds remarkably like her ex-husband.  We have lots of clients who married or had children with someone obviously ill-suited to them.  Here in the Trenches, we try to help clients not only extricate themselves from the relationship, but also move on with their lives in a healthy manner.  One of the ways we do this is to encourage the client to enter into counseling with a qualified therapist so they can learn why they are attracted to people who are not suited to them so they can avoid the same mistakes in the future.  Unfortunately, it’s human nature to believe that there is no pattern to relationships, that things will be different simply by getting out of the bad relationship in which they find themselves.  It’s human nature not to want to do the hard work, but take the easy road, and besides, it’s simply unromantic to turn an analytical eye to love.  So, most clients don’t get into therapy, even though they should.  Of course, they continue to make the same mistakes in love over and over again, which is bad for them but good for business  here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Gift of Fear and My Dogs

To a large extent, my social life revolves around my dogs.  I walk them every day.  Most every day, we run into other dogs.  Some are our friends, some are not.  Of the ones who aren't, to some we are simply indifferent, while others are enemies.  The funny thing is that even from a distance, the dogs have always known which was which.  They didn't need to see wagging tails or bared teeth.  They didn't need to sniff the other dogs.  Heck, sometimes they didn't even have to be in smelling or visual range - they just knew.  They've never been wrong.    Have you ever tried to convince a dog that they're wrong about another dog?  They'll have none of it, and try to run the other way or bare their teeth at you if you push it.  Obviously, dogs sense something about each other's basic nature and they follow their instinct.
People are animals too.  We have instincts about people.  We get that feeling in the pit of our stomach, sense that things don't feel right, and what do we do?  Do we act like my dogs, and go the other way?  Some of us do, but a lot of us figure our senses must be wrong, that we're overreacting.  We over think and override what our senses are telling us.  It gets us into trouble, into relationships that are toxic, into situations that cause us harm.  We need to act more like my dogs, get back in touch with our instincts, listen to our fear.  Get back in touch with your canine instincts - save your life.  Read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear and learn how.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Steve Jobs

By now, the entire world knows that Steven Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple.  It was a really sad day for computer geeks, but an even sadder day for those of us who aren't.  I don't know about you, and maybe I'm showing my age, but I was in high school when computers were new.  In fact, I even had a class in high school to learn how to write dos commands and programs.  It was the one class I almost failed.  None of the programming language made any sense to me.  It wasn't until I was in law school that computers started to become common in the workplace, and a few years after that before people started to have them in their homes.  Computers were useful, but they weren't fun.  Frankly, they intimidated me, just like they had in high school.  Until Steven Jobs.  He made computing fun.  No longer did you have to understand how the darn machine worked in order to use it.  His computers freed us all to explore the online world, while he went on to open up the world of online music to us all.  Then tablet computing and now streaming TV.  Even my father, who can't turn on a computer, uses an iPad - and enjoys it.  Steven Jobs revolutionized computing for us all.  Thank you, Steve, and G_d bless.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Erin created our office Facebook page
(Thank you, Erin!)

The Collaborative Girls met for cocktails
Waiting for Hurricane Irene

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's All a Matter of Perspective

Don't you remember your parents telling you that what you saw was a matter of how you looked at it?  Mine sure did.  Did you see the glass half empty or half full?  Was it a flat tire or an ability to learn how to change a tire?  This week, here in Maryland, there's been a lot of talk about perspective.  You see, we had an earthquake - 5.8 on the Richter Scale.  For everyone who lives out West, that's a big nothing; for those of us here, it was massive.  The last time an earthquake even approached that intensity out here was over 100 years ago.  We were scared, we didn't know what to do, and it felt unsettling.  Now, we're waiting for Hurricane Irene, a category 3 storm.  Folks are freaking out up here - water and toilet paper flying off the shelves like there's no tomorrow.  Well, heck folks, I'm from coastal South Florida.  A category 3 when you're well inland is a nothing, a speed bump.
What does all this mean for those of us in the Trenches?  It's a teaching moment for us.  First, the reactions to these natural disasters teach us that, like the frog in the gradually heating pan of water, when you get used to something, it doesn't seem so bad.  We need to remember that when we're dealing with our domestic abuse clients and wondering why they stayed.  To them, it was a category 3 storm in Florida, not in Maryland.  We need to remember it also when our divorce clients overreact (at least it seems to us) to normal divorcing spouse bad behavior.  To us, it's business as usual; to them it's an earthquake in Maryland.
Second, just as the sun came up today, the day after the earthquake, and will come up the morning after the hurricane, even bad weather passes and the days are sunny again.  It's hard for our clients to remember this when all they feel is pain and turmoil.  Sometimes, we need to remind them and help them gain a little perspective.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Price a Dedicated Military?

Here in the Trenches, we handle a fair number of divorces for members of our Armed Forces.  Sometimes we represent the servicemember, and sometimes their spouse.  For these families, sometimes the only asset they have of any value is the military pension.  Now, I'm not going to get into a debate about whether that pension should be divided upon divorce (I think it should, and I know that can be a controversial position). That's not what this post is about.  There is a move afoot to abolish the military pension as we know it in favor of a defined contribution type of plan (that's a plan like a 401k or IRA).  This would be a cost saving measure for the military, and it would provide for those individuals who do not stay in the military until retirement some retirement savings for their military service.  It's an interesting debate.  On the one hand, the reason our military personnel are paid less than the general public, like our federal government civil servants, is that they have a pension waiting for them at the end of their 20 years.  That way, while these folks are still relatively young, they can collect a pension that supplements the lesser earnings they will command coming into the civilian workforce for the first time.  It also ensures our military retains experienced soldiers by shackling them with golden handcuffs.  Without that pension, most enlisted personnel, at least, wouldn't stay in the military for their full 20 years.  On the other hand, there are a lot of soldiers, who for whatever reason, don't stay in the full 20 years.  As the system is now, they get nothing toward retirement for their service, and for the most part, they don't earn enough to put anything aside on their own.  Is that really fair, considering everyone else, including civil servants, have some form of retirement savings, especially as they risk their lives to keep us safe?  We'll be following this debate carefully here in the Trenches.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Monday Riddle

How is life in the Trenches like training for a marathon?  It's not, you say?  Well, you'd be wrong.  In so many ways, it is exactly the same, both for those of us working in the Trenches and for our clients.  You see, when you train for a marathon, you work backward from the race date to organize your training.  Your taper runs are a week or two before the race, and your mileage increases until it reaches the maximum right before the taper starts.   When you prepare for trial, everything is calculated back from the trial date.  Discovery closes a month or so before trial, custody evaluators start to work 90 days pre-trial, giving their reports 3 weeks pretrial, and court ordered settlement conferences are also just after discovery closes.  The trial is the marathon, and everything is calculated to lead up to that moment.
Clients also have to deal with the marathon timetable.  Most of them are first time marathoners, so they are working up their mileage without any prior experience of what it takes to train for the race, much less run it.  Training for a marathon takes place over a long period of time, at least 3 months, if the runner is used to running, longer if the runner is inexperienced.  Most divorce clients are inexperienced runners, so training, the period leading up to trial, takes longer than they realize.  It's also much harder.  There is always a time during any period of marathon training where you're tired, when all of a sudden, even running a medium run is difficult.  It's the time when the inexperienced runner begins to wonder whether they'll be able to make it the distance.  And so it is with the family law client.  There is always a point in the case where nothing is moving forward, when it feels like the pain will not end, that the divorce/custody/support trial will never come, much less be finished.   That moment, however, is usually the turning point, from which the training/preparation builds steam.  The client doesn't know this, however, and despairs, and without an experienced attorney/trainer to guide them, might give up.  Those of us in the Trenches not only provide legal advice and representation, but also the voice of experience that helps our clients get through to the finish line and on with their lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Humour is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility (James Thurber)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you might have guessed that I deal with a lot of high conflict people on a daily basis.  Some of them are my clients, some of them are their spouses, some of them are opposing counsel, and some of them are friends and loved ones.  The fact is that we all deal with high conflict people regularly.  I have a confession - as much as these folks are in my life, I struggle with the best ways to deal with them.  A large part of that struggle is keeping up the energy level.  It takes a lot of work and thought to interact with the high conflict folks.  To do it successfully means that you are constantly paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues, both theirs and yours, and watching what you say and how you say it.  Any unguarded moment or communication can undo weeks of careful work to build rapport.  It's physically tiring, emotionally draining and intellectually taxing. 
All of these high conflict folks would pull us under water here in the Trenches - if we let them.  We don't.  Sometimes it's hard, because they do get to us.  What we have to remember is to respect our own boundaries, take time for ourselves, remember that it's not about us, and find the humour.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Attorneys who are so out of line
Friends who answer the phone when you need advice
Clients we like!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

High Conflict People - The Prequel

If you're not a psychological professional, how do you spot a High Conflict Personality before you marry one?  Mind you, marrying one is not necessarily the problem, although it can be.  Divorcing them triggers every insecurity they have, put their all or nothing thinking into high gear, and makes extreme conflict all but unavoidable.  The guru of High Conflict People, Bill Eddy (one of my personal heroes), sets forth 7 characteristics for which to watch:
1.  Are they excessively charming, showering you with compliments, gifts, or trips?  Until you really get to know them, HCP can be mesmerizing.  They seem too good to be true - and they probably are.
2.  Does something seem a little bit off?  Pay attention to your gut.
3.  Is the sex absolutely amazing?  Sure, most of us want great sex, but remember that sex releases hormones into your system that are as powerful as any narcotic and can accelerate your falling in love.  Hopefully, it's just great sex, but remember #1 on this list.
4.  Are they rushing you for a commitment, to move the relationship to the next level?  HCPs do this for a couple of reasons, the most important to you is that they want you to commit before they can't maintain #1 on this list any more and their "real" personality comes out.  It's much harder to get out of a relationship then to simply not get into one.
5.  Is their thinking totally black and white, all or nothing?  Are there no shades of grey?  Is it always someone else's fault?  Are they always the victim?
6.  Are they completely self absorbed?  Is it all about them?  Do they not ask you about your interests or your day?  Do you and what you want only matter as it relates to them?
7.  What are their patterns in their relationships with other people?  Were there any patterns in their relationships growing up?  How do they relate to their parents?  HCPs do not become that way overnight; they develop over a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

High Conflict People

We often joke here in the Trenches that without high conflict people, we would be out of work.  OK, it's really not a joke.  I'm not a mental health professional, but the folks we call "high conflict," they call Axis II.  For those of you who don't read the DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual for psychological professionals) for pleasure, the Axis II people are the ones with personality disorders.  A disproportionate number of family law clients either have or should have an Axis II diagnosis, or they are married to someone who fits that description.  What makes these people so difficult?  To start with, it is NEVER their fault:  it doesn't matter what "it" is; it's not their fault.  Well then, whose fault is it?  Probably yours, if you're interacting with them.    Their target of blame could be anyone.  In family law disputes, it's usually their spouse, or their attorney.
I know what you're thinking - that people with a personality order are mentally ill, and that means they're crazy.  Although it's true that personality disorders are mental disorders, the truth of the matter is that probably 12-15% of the population probably has them, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, in some contexts, it's what makes people successful at what they do.  Would you want the CEO of a major corporation not to think he/she is the absolute best at what they do?  How about an actor or actress who doesn't want people to pay attention to them?  Maybe you'd like a soldier who doesn't think everyone is out to get him?  Of course, what makes Mr. I'm better than you, Ms. look at me and Colonel there are enemies in every camp, good at what they do for a living, doesn't necessarily make them good spouses.  They make for high conflict, however, and that conflict is what keeps us busy in the Trenches.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Macbeth Revisited - Again

.....or let's take our ball and go home.  Some people should not be lawyers.  Who, you might ask?  Those people whose skin is so thin that someone else playing by the rules is seen as a personal attack.  Back to the attorney from Macbeth Revisted.  He sent his documents, both of them.  When I sent him a letter telling him we needed more than just two pieces of paper, he responded by setting my client's deposition.  He didn't discuss it with his client first, and actually had the nerve to tell his client he set the deposition because of my demands.   Notice, he didn't tell his client he had any kind of purpose that would further the client's case.  So, retaliation or defense?  He'll tell his client it's defense, but we all know it's retaliation.  The most awful part of this?  He's charging his client to vent his spleen.
     Discovery is the process by which lawyers make sure everyone in a case can know all of the relevant information necessary to resolve a dispute.  It is meant to ensure that there are no surprises or ambushes at trial, and that the judge can have all of the relevant facts before him or her when making a decision.  Whether that actually happens depends on the knowledge of the client about the other side, and the investigative skill of the attorney.  No matter what, discovery is about gathering information. That information could be financial, it could be to find out what parenting plan a party desires, or it could be to find out how a party or a witness will behave under questioning   It should never be about the lawyer's personal feelings.

Friday, August 5, 2011


The workload....

Our philosophy
10 miles to run tomorrow.  Longest run in almost 3 years!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soooo....What Have You Done For Me lately?

I tell clients that the shelf life of guilt is short.  A person who feels guilty will do the "right thing," or perhaps do even more than the right thing to assuage the guilt.   The shelf life of the gratitude of a client is like guilt - really short.  I've talked about this in prior posts.  When you help a client obtain a good result, whether by negotiation or litigation, they think you're great.  They will tell you how grateful they are, and what a great job you did.  They know you've gone months and months without payment but kept working.  They promise to pay you.  They tell you they will have the cash to pay your bill, maybe they even got attorney's fees in their settlement.  They tell you they don't have the money, but they can make substantial payments.  You say OK, after all, you're in a helping profession and you know their finances better than anyone.  Then......nothing.  They have other bills to pay, other goals in life, other uses for that money.  They ask you to accept payments that will take many years to pay off the bill.  You're done with the job for them, so they don't need you any more. You did a great job, they will remember that, but they won't pay you.  They get upset when you send them to collection.  How could you do this to me?  I was your client.  You're supposed to take care of me.  I can't believe you want me to delay my dream to pay you for your services.  Clients want to know why our retainers are so high, why we want so much of our fees up front.  Blame the shelf life of the gratitude of their predecessors.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How Important is Genius?

What is genius?  Webster's says it is "extraordinary intellectual power, especially as manifested in creative activity."  Genius is rare, which is why it is so celebrated.  As I'm taking a break from the Trenches to go see the Alexander McQueen exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art today, I'm thinking a lot about genius.  Alexander McQueen was one, as were Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Vincent Van Gogh, Aristotle, Edgar Allen Poe, Marie Currie, Agatha Christie, and Mother Teresa.  These were extraordinary people, all of whom left indelible marks on all of our lives and on mankind in general.  Not everyone can effect the extreme change left by these individuals on mankind.  Does that mean only geniuses leave their mark on the world?  Of course not.  Every parent who does their best in raising their children, every teacher who reaches a child and changes their life, every doctor who successfully delivers a healthy baby, or cures someone of disease, every lawyer who obtains an acquittal for an innocent client, and every soldier that does his or her duty make a difference and leave their mark on the world.  They are the silent heroes of our world.  The world celebrates great genius, beauty and wealth.  People who toil to make a difference don't think they're heroes or geniuses.  One of my colleagues, who I (and the United State Military) consider a hero, said the following:

 "Most medals were issued for good cause, but many, many veterans have never been acknowledged for their sacrifice or deeds; ( the inscription on the Iwo Jima memorial relates that uncommon valor was a common virtue)
    In many cases, much of what is referred to as heroism is nothing more then self defense and self preservation;
    I received a couple of emails in response to the story and the individuals had been in the military and both of them stated that they were only desk jockey's or supply guys and apologized for their status while thanking me for my heroism  - made me feel bad - their contributions were just as important;
    I am not a hero - just a guy who did his job and served his country -     like hundred of thousands of other men and women; combat was humbling and taught me among other things -- humility."

We need genius.  Radical change needs genius.  While we praise and celebrate genius, and mourn its loss, let's not forget our everyday heroes.  They are the change we need in the world.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I was thinking about change today and decided to do a little research on the web.  What an education.  Shocking as it may seem, many people think change is a bad thing, that it's something that only happens when you have to adapt to the unforeseen or unwanted, or it's what happens to ruin something good that you are experiencing.  Wow.
I love change.  OK, not big changes like moving or becoming a blond.  I do like change, however.  Doing the same thing every day becomes monotonous.  It's hard to work up enthusiasm to greet the day when every day is the same.  The same exercise routine, the same breakfast, the same types of clients presenting the same types of issues.  When the enthusiasm goes away, in a lot of cases, so do the results.  Exercise gurus say that you need to change your exercise routine every once in a while or your body gets used to the  routine and you stop seeing results.  Change from hammer curls to concentration curls, and you're still exercising the same bicep muscle, but it feels different.  Increase your running mileage and change the terrain and it feels different (and not just because it's farther).  You really feel like you're working your muscles, and face it, it feels good, not just physically, but mentally.  You're excited again to work out, to see what your body can do.
Give me a new and complicated issue in a case, a challenge that has to be resolved, and I am energized.  I remember what it was like in law school to learn new concepts, to be excited at the novelty.  What's really funny, is that energy and excitement flow over into all my other cases.  A little change brings big results.  What can you change today?