Monday, January 30, 2012

What Really Matters

(That's Office Testosterone with his sister)

Office Testosterone is still fighting for his life.  Starting this week, he begins intense preparation for a bone marrow transplant.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have a full match on the bone marrow, so his dad will be a half match.  Also, his liver function is too compromised for what they call a maxi transplant, so he can only have a mini.  The good news is that he can have any kind of a transplant at all, which is a BIG change from  December.  That's the medical update.  We continue to ask that you keep him and his recovery in the forefront of your thoughts.  He's important to all of us, we don't want to lose him, and I'm a huge believer in positive energy.
For the first time, Office Testosterone wrote his own journal update on CaringBridge.  In his P.S., this is what he had to say:

"P.S. I would also just like to take a second to really say thank you directly from me so far for all the support everyone has given me.  A man can only be as strong as the people around him.  Even during some pretty rough patches here and there you guys have always been cheering me on, never giving up, never wavering from telling me that i can do it.  I can't thank you for your support enough, i am truly blessed to have the people in my life that i do and i wouldn't give a single one of you up for the world, but i would give the world to keep everyone of you in my life."

He's 22 years old, and he understands what is important in life in a way that many of our clients here in the Trenches never will.  It's not the people who are in our lives when things are going well who matter.  It's the ones who stick with us when the chips are down, who keep cheering for us when there's not a lot for which to cheer, who do not let us give up EVER - those are the people without whom we would not survive.  So many of our clients waste precious time mourning the fair weather friends who abandoned them as their marriage crumbled, their children suffered, their lives as they knew it fell apart.  They discount the very few friends who stick with them when they are at their worst.  What those of us here in the Trenches want to do is shake them, hard, and tell them to wake up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and thank your lucky stars or whatever almighty power there might be out there that you have people in your life who care enough to stick with you when life sucks and you're at your worst.  These are the folks that matter.  Just ask Office Testosterone. 

Friday, January 27, 2012


One Trial Down
One to Go
Volunteered at the Pro Bono Clinic
Admire Their Full Time Lawyers
No Rest for the Weary

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Google Shares

The news today is that Google will be tracking users across all of its websites.  That means Google (obviously), YouTube, Gmail, and they can track what you do and what you search through your computer, tablet, and phone.  You can't opt out, so that means if you use some of the most popular websites, Google is gathering data on you.  Your only choice is to stay off the internet.  Kind of 1984-ish and really frightening in this new world of fluid boundaries and changing definitions of privacy.  Already, we can place a GPS tracker on your car (no right to privacy there- or is there?), check out your Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn pages and posts, download your texts, and the pages you visit, and now for what you search.  Google says it's so they can help optimize your search and maximize your experience.  For those of us in the Trenches, it's just another way to gather evidence.  You'd be amazed at what people put on the internet.  People still actually think that they can post something and it's private.  Wake up!  It's called the World Wide Web for a reason.  If your friends can see it, than it's possible we can too.  So, before you post that truly embarrassing picture, the photo shoot of you in next to no clothes, your underage children having a drinking party at your house or say that truly awful thing about your former spouse, STOP....and think whether you'd like it paraded into a court of law and the public record.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lies and Life

Would you mind if we revisited lying?   I know I talked a bit ago about lying to your lawyer, but what if the reason is that you're lying to yourself?  Then the "fib" you told to your lawyer, although untrue, isn't really a lie.  I know I was talking about substance abusers, because they are among the most blatant, both in lying to themselves and lying to others.  They tell themselves they really don't have a problem, they really don't drink or snort that much, they haven't had a "real" drink in months (they kind of forget about those little not real drinks because they didn't have more than one at a time, or it wasn't their usual alcohol of choice), they weren't too drunk or high to drive (the police officer just imagined that they ran the red light and almost took out a mailbox)....It really goes on and on.  The trouble is that they really believe the lies, and so getting help for the addiction is that much more difficult because they really don't think they have a problem.  It is not until they stop lying to themselves can they begin to recover.
In some ways, we all lie to ourselves.   Maybe our lies aren't as big or as potentially harmful to ourselves and others as the addict's, but we lie nevertheless.  We are the perfect spouse; our spouse is the one with the problem; so what do we say when our second and third marriages fail?  We saw all the warning signs that our marriage was in trouble, but when our spouse leaves us, it was "out of the blue" because we had a perfect marriage.  We tell ourselves we'll be happy if only we can lose 10 pounds, hire a maid, buy a sports car; then when any or all of those occur, we're puzzled because we feel no different than before. Again, it's not until we stop lying to ourselves, and admit that we have a part to play when things don't go right that our lives can change and we can stop repeating the same mistakes and change our future (and stop coming back to the Trenches for our second or third divorce).  What lies do you tell yourself?  Do you even know?  Isn't it time to figure it out?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cool It

This weekend I was at a retreat for the board of an organization of which I am a member.  The name or type of the organization doesn't matter.  For me, it feels like Groundhog Day, or maybe Fifty First Dates.  I feel like that a lot, as you may have noticed from prior posts.  In both of those movies, the major characters get to go through the same day over and over, or at least think they do.  So, we sit down in the meeting, we start talking about the organization's plans for the future, the ambitious plans for the future are being thrown out hot and heavy.....and I point out the weaknesses in the plans, the worry that we're biting off more than we can chew - in short, I'm the bucket of cold water.  There are plenty of other buckets with ice, but I seem to throw mine first - always.  What's funny is that I am not by nature a pessimist.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  So why is this my role in every organization?   I really don't know.  It doesn't make me popular, that's for sure.  I guess it's because I'm a worrier.  (Didn't see that one coming, did you?)  I love grand plans, but I hate forging ahead without knowing the terrain and the pitfalls.  I like knowing what could go wrong, so I can plan so it won't.  I don't like being disappointed, so planning for the worst when I know it probably won't happen means I am usually pleasantly surprised.  I guess I want everyone else to be prepared as well.  Just wish they understood that's what I'm doing.  Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.  At least that way, you're not caught off-guard.  I know that attitude helps us and our clients be prepared here in the Trenches; it just doesn't make us a lot of friends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Didn't Think They'd Find Out

I say it to every family law client:  don't lie to me.  I don't think it's that hard to understand.  If it's important, I need to know, especially if it's something that will hurt you in court.  I don't want to find out what you've done wrong from opposing counsel, and I especially don't want to find out at trial.  It's not that difficult a concept, and for the most part, clients get it.  Once a year or so, we get the client who figures they can scoot something damaging by us.  We find out; we always do. What those clients don't understand is that actions have consequences; if we know the secret, we can probably control the consequences.  If we don't, we're caught completely off guard, and although we think quickly on our feet, there's only so much we can do at the eleventh hour.  What lying to us also does is make us wonder what else we don't know, and what other surprises are in store. Perhaps most importantly, it makes us question the strength of the attorney/client relationship.  This last point is potentially the most damaging, as a strong attorney/client fit flows and has an energy of its own that permeates the case and the representation.  The lawyer and client work together toward a common goal of representation.  A weak one can undermine even a strong case; it looks and feels "off,"  because when a client lies about something important, it distracts their lawyer from the business at hand while they spend valuable time double and triple checking everything the client says.  It's not comfortable and its not easy and it can hurt the client's case.  So, don't lie.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Money, Actually - A Rant

Dear Client;

Contrary to popular opinion, all lawyers are not rich.  Yes, we charge a lot of money per hour.  You hired us for our knowledge, our analytical skills, our experience, our negotiation and litigation skills, among other things.  We work hard for what we earn:  we analyze, review, negotiate, prepare, draft, position, and worry.  Yes, worry about you.  We think about your case when we wake up, when we're in the shower, when we drive to work, when we go to sleep. Sometimes your case stops us from getting any sleep.  In some cases, we care about your case more than do you (even though we tell ourselves we won't).  All we ask is that you do what we ask you to do, and that you pay us.  That's right, pay us.  It's not the reason we do the job (and those of you who read this blog regularly know that), but we can't pay our staff, all the expenses of our office and our mortgages if you don't.  We don't have that many clients.  The ones we have take up all of our billable time a month.  Some of them struggle mightily to pay us, and when they struggle, we work with them to pay.  Unfortunately, some of you who have the money to pay us for our expertise seem to think it's OK not to pay us in full, that even though you have the money in the bank, we should be your free banker.   You're also the same folks who can't understand why I drive a 10 year old car, because heaven knows, you pay us enough money.  I drive a 10 year old car because I have to pay all of my office expenses and my staff before I pay me, and then I need to pay to keep a roof over my head and food on my table before I buy a new vehicle.  When folks don't pay me in full, a new car is a luxury I can't afford.   Working with those clients who really struggle to pay us (but nevertheless pay us regularly) also becomes something we can't afford.   Funny thing is, it's the people who can't stop fighting with each other who do this, not the folks who really want to move forward with their lives.  They're the ones who keep on fighting, but don't want to pay for it, as if somehow their fight is our financial responsibility.  Really?   Thank goodness most of our clients are decent, honest, hard working people who see the value in what we do, appreciate the financial breaks we give them, and pay us, even if they have to find alternative funding sources.  It's the few bad apples that just frost our cadoozle.  Rant over.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Reason for the Day not the cause, but the Man.  Certainly, the cause was just, but it is the man we honor today.  Unfortunately, many people take that literally, and trot out Dr. King's all too human failings.  The debate about those failings detracts from the reason we honor the Man, with a capital "M".  Don't get me wrong, as a human being, Dr. King had weaknesses and character lapses shared by many of us. Why we celebrate the man is the same reason we celebrate Washington and Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa.  All of these Men (and Women) saw injustice, knew it was wrong, and took a stand.  Their stands weren't popular, and in fact, they were downright dangerous, but they took them anyway because their consciences would not allow them to stand idly by.  Had they not succeeded, we would still honor them for their courage.
Here in the Trenches, 20 years ago, mediation was considered radical.  Litigation was the only way to resolve disputes, even those involving families.  Mediators were considered tree-hugging radicals who sat around singing "Kumbaya" because everyone knew angry spouses couldn't mediate.  The battle lines were drawn and the mediating minority hung in.   Today mediation is ordered, in one form or another in every family law case.  When collaborative practice started to gain ground around 10 years ago, the naysayers said the same thing about collaborative practitioners.   The collaborators, like the mediators before them, are convinced that the old ways are not the only way to settle disputes.  When I see the battle lines being drawn again, I think of Dr. King:

 “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

Friday, January 13, 2012


Finally Came Up For Air
Settled a Case, 
Knowing It Will Begin Again
As We Enjoy Our Day Off Work on Monday
Remember the Reason

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year's Resolution?

For a lot of folks, January means resolutions and new beginnings.  There's something about a fresh start and a clean slate that energizes.  It's probably why so many resolutions deal with getting organized.  I don't do resolutions anymore, but I love when things are organized.  Unfortunately, since Erin left the Trenches to work at the court, the Trenches have felt anything but.  It's truly not our fault, just a lot of circumstances and emergencies conspiring so that we've had no chance to play "catch up."  It makes me edgy and the sight of the untidy desk is slightly overwhelming.   Today, I finally had time to do the mail when it came in, catch up on my legal reading, and finish all the projects that have needed finishing since before the Christmas craziness.  I can actually see my desk.  It feels so good and so virtuous, and having everything in its place energizes me.  My focus is sharp and I feel like I can do anything.

What about our clients?  Their lives are perpetually like this year's "Christmas craziness."  Nothing is as it was.  Everything is unfamiliar.  There is no routine.  They feel off balance, out of kilter and confused.  Their heads are full of new thoughts, powerful emotions and strange situations.  Their lives are one big, cluttered desk.  Once they have had some time to adjust to their post divorce life, some calm in which to think, the desk will seem a bit less overwhelming.  If they have professional "organizers" like lawyers, coaches, therapists and financial folks, to help them organize the chaos and work through it all bit by bit, then slowly but surely order reemerges.  The chaos and the whooshing noises in their heads recede, and our clients can move forward in a healthy way.  That's our job here in the Trenches - to make order out of chaos for our clients, so they can organize their internal desks and move on with their lives.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Where Are You?

I really enjoy reading Seth Godin's blog.  I even loaded it on my new Droid tablet.  Some of his posts are long, and others are short, but to the point.  A case in point was yesterday's post:

One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you're in the room...

Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not.
The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.
I am on a lot of boards and committees.  It seems like at every meeting, people are competing to be heard.  They're not really adding anything to the discussion, just making sure they get heard (and in the process making the meeting much longer than it needs to be!).   When you're lucky, however, there's one person in the room who sits quietly and finally makes just one comment, but it's the perfect comment.  My mom's mother was like that; in fact, you always wanted to sit closely to her so you could hear what she had to say.
I hear you, you're thinking that this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with the Trenches?  Plenty, actually.  Let's talk again about the client from yesterday.  One of her complaints is that when her now 20 year old daughter testified against her a year and a half ago, I didn't do a "Perry Mason", or for you younger folks out there, a "Law and Order" moment, and rip her limb from limb.  It would have made an impression had I done that, to be sure, but not a good one, nor would it have served any purpose.  What I did is ask her one question.  Her answer to that question won the case and was cited specifically by the judge in her opinion.  I didn't make noise; I made a difference.   Do you think the client would have been happy if I'd have just made noise and she'd lost her case?  
Seth Godin's blog also provides another teaching moment for our clients in the Trenches.  No one wants to be invivisble.  Most of the clients here in the Trenches are afraid if they don't tell their side of the story loudly enough, if they don't give ALL the facts, if they don't talk long (and loudly) enough, then they won't be seen or understood or vindicated.  Really?   What I get from them when they act that way is a headache.  So does the judge.  The people who think and speak deliberately make a far better impression, and have more impact.  When they talk, people listen and pay attention.  
Sometimes I think I want to be heard.  Mostly, I want to be missed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Right Jab And A Left Uppercut

So, let's see.....I've compared family law attorneys to therapists, AA sponsors, and firefighters.  How about punching bags?  I received an email from a client today.  She was venting, and part of that venting was at me.  When clients do that often enough, it makes you second-guess what you do, the advice you give, and why in heavens name you still do this work.  Luckily, the feeling is usually quickly transitory, and easily dispelled with a quick call to another friend in the Trenches.  Unfortunately, the moon and the stars must have been in alignment, because the first words out of her mouth were "Do you think anyone would notice if I went home, pulled the blinds and crawled back in bed?"  Guess it was going around.  Must be the full moon (last night, by the way).  We had a laugh, felt better that it wasn't just each of us, but both of us, and were able to go back and take the punches again and fight the good fight.  That client?  She wasn't happy, but she understood my request and did what I asked.  Life isn't fair, but when it's not, you work to even the playing field.... and punch your lawyer (figuratively, please!)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Technology Upgrade

I love gadgets.  I'm not particularly tech savvy, but I love anything that lets me work on the road.  As you may know, my main office is in Olney, Maryland and I rent office space in Frederick, Maryland.  My physical office is in Olney, so that means when I am in Frederick, I am virtual.  I have a MacBook that I love, and although it is compact, fast and really easy to use.  It is, however, somewhat bulky (Such a silly thing to say, as it only weights 5.3 lbs), and when you are carrying files, and maybe a small printer, every pound counts.  So, long story short, I had a mobile hotspot that I used with the MacBook, but I lost it (yes, the woman who loses nothing, not even pens and sunglasses, lost her mobile hotspot).  It turns out that to replace the hotspot, I would have to increase my data plan by $20 a month.  Over the course of 24 months, that would be as much as a........tablet with the old data plan.  I am now the proud owner of a Droid tablet.   I love it.  It weighs just 1.3 pounds, a full 4 pounds lighter than the MacBook, it's no bigger than a small stack of paper, and it does everything I wanted it to do do.  I love it.  Today, I went to court, and before I left, I loaded a first draft of a proposed order on the Droid.  At court, we negotiated, I edited, then sent it off to a printer, and there you are - done.  Plus, if I want to use my MacBook, it's still a mobile hotspot.  I'm still exploring, as I've only had it a week, but so far I have lots of apps useful to the Trenches loaded on it (and maybe a few games to play while I'm waiting for a judge).

Let's contrast this to my opposing counsel from today.  He jokingly refers to me as the high tech lawyer, with my bluetooth headset and lap top computer (heaven only knows what he would do if he saw some of my truly techie colleagues!)  He almost never uses email.  He also has a Droid, one he has had a few months longer than I have.  While I was typing the Order, he was playing on his Droid ( he said he was typing his version of the Order, but as he doesn't know how to type, I doubt it was a successful venture). I emailed the Order to him for review, and he.....called his secretary at the office to open my email, download the attachment, print it out and walk it over to the courthouse to him.  Really?  It took over 45 minutes for that to occur.  At $295 an hour, that's $221.25 of billable time spent waiting for the delivery person.  Over in my camp, I was working on a letter for another client so I didn't have to bill my client for waiting.

Technology can be real boon to our clients here in the Trenches.  Today, it saved our clients from having to come back to court at least two more times, because we had the ability to memorialize their agreement and affix their signatures.  It also saved my client from paying me to wait on the other attorney's secretary.  Other times, we can access a client's court files, or do legal research on an important issue.  Life moves fast here in the Trenches.  Business as usual isn't what it used to be, and we need to keep up in order to keep our clients satisfied.  Technology can be fun and it can be a useful tool; here in the Trenches, it needs to be both.  Otherwise, it's just an expensive toy.

Friday, January 6, 2012


When I Suggested Therapy, this is NOT What I Meant!
Thank goodness the chiropractor cleared me to start running!
Some Renewed Hope For
Office Testosterone

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gentle Slumber

As you all know, this Christmas season just past was a stressful one here in the Trenches.  The drama of the holidays did not resolve to any acceptable degree until yesterday.  Last night, I had my first night of uninterrupted sleep in two weeks.  Contrary to popular belief, a lot of lawyers do lose sleep over their clients.  We worry that they will do something stupid not smart.  We worry that they won't do what we've instructed them to do.  We worry about what will happen when we get to court with them.  We worry about the evidence the other side might present.  We worry that our arguments in our clients' favor won't be eloquent or forceful enough.  OK, we just plain worry.  A lot of time, we worry more than our clients.  That's probably because we understand the complexities of the legal process and the capriciousness of judicial decision-making.  We instruct our clients in the shadow of that knowledge.  Unfortunately, we also know, human nature being what it is, that there are a good number of our clients who will not heed our advice.  We know who some of them are, and that there will be others who surprise us.  And so we worry, and lose sleep.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

And That's Why He's the Judge

Today, I had a hearing in front of one of my favorite judges (and people).  Luckily, we settled the case, with a little guidance from the judge concerning his view of the matter.  What struck me was what he said at the end.  For those of you who haven't been in the Trenches, any time an agreement is placed on the record in open court, the judge voir dires (literally, latin for "to speak the truth."  It is the preliminary examination made by a judge) the parties to determine that they understood the agreement, agreed with the agreement of their own free will, had all of their questions answered by their lawyers or the court, and were satisfied with the explanations.  When he questioned my client, she said she agreed "with reservations."  What she meant (and we found out from further questioning), is that she really didn't understand all the procedural stuff that went on in a court case,and found it very confusing, even though she understood the terms of the agreement.  That started the judge talking about what it is we do in the Trenches.  What he said was that because clients don't understand the procedural aspects of what it is lawyers do in court, they think it's really difficult.  Lawyers know that even though it requires a lot of effort to get things ready, it is one of the easier things we do; we gather the information, put it in front of the judge in an understandable manner and let the chips fall where they may.  We have no investment in the outcome, other than hoping the judge sees our client's side of the case. What the judge then went on to say that the real skill of a lawyer is in settling a case.  To settle a case, lawyer must understand not only their side, but also the other side of the case, know the law, understand the people and the options and have a ton of creativity.  It requires a lot of thinking on your feet and seeing all the moving parts.  It's the hard part of the job, and one clients don't often appreciate, but as the judge said correctly, it is the hardest part of the job.  Any lawyer who can read the statutes and the rules can try a case (albeit with varying levels of proficiency and success); it takes a true advocate and counselor at law to settle a case.  Thank you Judge.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lawyer and AA Sponsor?

It has been just over a year since I started writing this blog.  One of my first postings wasWhy Can't My Lawyer Be More Like My Therapist.  Today, my post is Why Is My Lawyer Acting Like My AA Sponsor?  They are surprisingly similar.  Your therapist wants you to take responsibility for your own actions, to own the consequences that flow from what you do.  While you're gathering the strength, your therapist provides you with support you need.  An AA sponsor does a lot of the same.  They help you move through the 12 steps, and as you take responsibility for your past and present actions, they provide the support you need to do the steps and stay sober.  Like the therapist, the AA sponsor doesn't let you engage in magical thinking, doesn't let you kid yourself about the severity of your addiction and the hold alcohol has on your life.  You need your sponsor, just like your therapist, and just like your lawyer.  Because they hold you accountable, however, they're not always popular, and they're not always easy to have around.  When you need them most is when you like them least.

Let's talk about the 12 steps for a minute.  You may or may not know them, and if you don't, here they are:

The 12 Steps

  • Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
  • Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
 I don't know whether you believe in G-d or a higher being, and really, for this purpose, it doesn't matter.  What the 12 steps does is take you back to the beginning - realizing that you don't know everything, and actually, probably don't know as much about anything than you think.  From there, you question your belief system, search your soul, analyze your life, and in the cold light of day, assess what you have done well and poorly, and make amends.  Even though the steps stress what you have done wrong, they also direct you to focus on what you have done right.  You rebuild your life, step by step, with the help of your sponsor and other members of the AA community.  This is hard work, and some people can't do it, some people can and most who try succeed and fail before they succeed again.  Here in the Trenches, we try to help our clients do the same thing.  The problem is that clients want us to solve their problems, even though they have the only key, and then they blame us when their lives don't change post divorce.  Divorce, like admitting an addiction, can be life changing.  The key is how hard you want to work to change, not how hard those around you toil on your behalf.  At the end of the day, it all comes back to you.