Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Happy Sadie Hawkins Day! Thanks to cartoonist Al Capp for giving the holiday its American name. The Sadie Hawkins tradition is a British one, in which women could propose to men only on February 29th. It was considered bad form for the man to refuse, at least in the thirteenth century. Here in America, Sadie Hawkins was the ugliest woman in Dogpatch (a creation of Al Capp). In order to avoid being saddled with providing for his daughter into old age, Sadie's father organized a race. Whomever Sadie caught had to marry her. The female residents of Dogpatch liked it so well, that they made the race a yearly event, and whatever male a single woman dragged over the finish line had to marry her. That Al Capp's race was on November 15 (beginning in 1937) made no difference to American women, who used the British date and the American tradition. So ladies, have your eye on anyone?
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Today's post is a little off-topic. I've just spent the first of what will sure to be many long weekend trips to my parents' home. It's definitely not a hardship to head to Florida in February, but the reason for the trip is difficult. As you saw last year, my parents have been married for 51 years, and you also saw that my Dad is much older than my Mom. Well, Dad's years are catching up to him, and he requires that Mom become a full-time caregiver. This change came on rather quickly and Mom needed family to come and help her change gears and arrange for outside help. So, we all converged on home this weekend. Although it's really tough watching a parent age and their health decline, as I've said before, Mom is happy that this stage in their lives waited until Dad was almost 91 years old. She feels really fortunate, as do I. They have lived life fully, gone everywhere in the world they wanted, and experienced everything they needed to be physically healthy in order to do together.
Which brings me to the topic du jour. We spend a lot of time here in the Trenches dealing with people whose lives are at a low point. Divorce and all its attendant issues are really difficult. Even apart from all the legal wrangling, there's getting used to a new lifestyle, making new friends (after you've figured out who were your real friends), and developing interests outside of those you enjoyed as a couple. Some people adjust easily, and some never do. I know this has been a constant message here in the Trenches, but "For what are you waiting?" Do the moon and the stars have to be in perfect alignment before you can get out there and live? There will never be a perfect time, and sometimes the perfect time is the time you least feel like making the effort. We all have regrets, we have situations we wish we could have handled differently; they are not excuses for not moving on. If you suddenly were no longer mobile, are there things you would regret not doing? If so, make a list and concentrate checking them off as you experience them. This has been a public service message from Here in the Trenches.
Monday, February 27, 2012
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I urge everyone who is reading this to rush out and get the March 2012 edition of Allure magazine (No, I do not own stock in Conde Nast publications and am not receiving renumeration for this plug). Once you own it, turn to page 150. There is an article by Judy Bachrach, who may just become our new best friend here in the Trenches. The article is entitled "Closing Arguments," and it is about how what you wear to court has an effect on the results you receive. Fact finders, consciously or not, use the visual cues in front of them to shape their decisions. Sometimes the cues are even olfactory, which is why I tell clients who smoke to have their clothes professionally cleaned before they come to court and not to smoke in them (stale cigarette smoke gives precisely the wrong impression no matter what you are asking from the court). Most clients listen to our advice; the ones who don't, do so at their peril. What our clients need to understand is that we here in the Trenches create a theory of the case, a story to relay to the judge. Everything we do furthers that theory, every motion we file, every letter we send. The way our client appears to the court can either help that theory or sink it lower than Davey Jones' locker because it disconnects with what we're telling the court. Is it dishonest to counsel clients to change their style? I don't think so, any more than it's dishonest to counsel people on what is appropriate to wear to church, to a job interview, to a speaking engagement, or to a first meeting with potential in-laws. The point is that appearance is a powerful medium by which people relay non-verbal information. What we're doing here in the Trenches is ensuring all of our clients' messages are congruent. Clients can either help us and themselves by dressing in a way that furthers their cause, or make our jobs more difficult. Which do you think we prefer?
Friday, February 24, 2012
A few thoughts on the necessary ingredients for happiness from Carl Jung (while I'm feeling introspective):
1. Good physical and mental health.
2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Sometimes, you're wrong. When you are, you just need to admit it. We're not always right here in the Trenches. We advise our clients the best we can, based on the law, the judges, and therefore, the probable outcome. Usually, we're right, but occasionally, we're not. Recently, I had a relocation case. Now, those of us here in the Trenches know that relocation cases are some of the hardest cases to win. They represent change for the children, and when the children are doing well, why change it? There needs to be a compelling reason to move with the children. In this case, there was, but I wasn't at all certain the court would agree. The child's attorney didn't think the move was a good idea, so we were going into court with the child's attorney and the other parent against us, in a case where the court is reluctant to allow a move. I thought there was a really good chance we would lose. I told my client. I advised her to settle. She thanked me for my advice and told me settlement was not an option. So, I shifted gears and poured everything I had into presenting the best case possible for her, setting forth the most compelling argument for a move, all the while telling her not to get her hopes up. Well......you guessed it - we won. Yes, we won. I still pinch myself. I apologized to my client for being wrong, for urging her to settle. Then she said (and this is why she is one of my favorite clients), it's OK. You gave me the best advice you could have under the circumstances, and I took a risk not taking it. Then she thanked me for hearing her, embracing her cause and barrelling in there like a bull in a china shop to win her case, for putting aside that I did not agree with her and advocating for her cause as if it were the only right position. That's my job, it's what my clients deserve and it's what we do here in the Trenches.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
First, do no harm. That is the Hippocratic oath for doctors. It should be the oath for all of us. As some of you may know, I am not only a lawyer but also a trained mediator and parent coordinator. I started my first parenting coordination this week. Both parents have highly capable attorneys. They had already been to mediation, with a highly trained mediator. When they came to me, I expected two people who couldn't agree on anything. What I found was that one of the lawyers told his client not to talk to his spouse. Then, at mediation, the wife asked for an explanation behind the reasoning for the husband's offer, and the mediator refused to ask, telling her that she just needed to make a counteroffer. They had each taken the other one's actions and made assumptions of the rationale behind them. They distrusted each other completely. Then they came to me. They started talking and found that all of their interpretations were wrong. All of their assumptions were false. They discovered that they weren't as far apart as they thought. All because they took the time to hear the other and try to understand. We made a lot of progress, but we would have made more, and faster, had the professionals involved had not made things worse. The professionals acted as if the case were litigation as usual, instead of a dispute between two people who needed to have a relationship together as parents for the rest of their lives. Their divorce will set the stage for all of their interactions in the future. First, do no harm. Sounds good.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
If you're lucky, there comes into your life at least one person who touches your heart and etches themselves into your soul. My first boss, Richard Lapidus, was that person in my life. He was irascible and volatile to some: to me, he was passionate and exacting. From him, I learned how to practice law. I learned how to research and write compelling arguments. I learned to never stop working on a case until the judge makes their decision or the ink is dry on the agreement. I learned to never take "it can't be done" as an answer. That's not why I loved him.
He was a man passionate about his clients. He gave them his all. He never gave them his life, however. Dick knew that his family came first, his Wife and two daughters. They were the light of his life. He knew that life without friends and humor is not a life worth living, even when the joke was on him. He indulged himself with the things he loved - running, scuba diving and environmentalism. He was secure enough to see legal talent and nurture it, to hope that one day it would surpass his. He took an insecure young lawyer and helped her see what she could do and be. Richard died on February 19, 2012. His loss leaves a gaping hole in my life. Thank you Dick, for shaping my life and my work. You made the Trenches possible and I love you for it.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
We have had a great week here in the Trenches. On Valentine's Day, my new lovely six year old client showed up on my doorstep at 5:30pm (with his mom), to say "Hi" and to show me his latest artwork. He was so excited that I was still in. Beyond cute.
Then, today, in the mail, I received a.....thank you note for writing this blog. I went out to get the mail, and in it was an envelope from Vermont. I didn't know anyone in Vermont (but I do now), but I love mail (real mail, not bills and pleadings). This was real mail like it was meant to be. It seems a lovely woman in Vermont was searching for information about divorce and custody and she came across this blog. She read it. She internalized what I put down here. Some of it scared her, but most of it helped her - to become a better client and to understand what we do here in the Trenches and why (she also said it made her a better person, but I'm guessing that she was a pretty great person before reading this blog. I mean, she took the time and effort to write me a fabulous Thank You note). Do I need to say the note made my day/week/month? Didn't think so. Thank you for reading(and writing) and I'm glad you find it helpful.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
One of my "absolutely won't miss" activities here in the Trenches is yoga class. Not only is it great for staving off arthritis, but it is a fabulous stress reducer. No matter how much stress there is here in the Trenches, yoga class makes me feel so much better and calmer. In fact, without yoga, I'm not sure I could continue what I do and how I do it. Sure, as you all know, I run and swim on a regular basis, but without yoga..... All of this stress concerns someone else's life (not that I don't have plenty of it in my personal life, but that's not the subject of this blog), but what about when it is your life? When you're stressed, you feel tired, and when you feel tired, you don't want to go and do the things that reduce your stress because they require energy. Sometimes I feel that way about yoga, but I know that it is especially when I feel that way that I need to take care of myself and do the things that make me feel better. I don't mean drinking to excess or abusing drugs. I mean doing the things that you enjoy when you're not stressed. Maybe that's reading a book, sitting in front of a fire, watching a really dumb movie, quilting, running,....or doing yoga. The important thing is to do something. Life in the Trenches, especially when it's your life with which we're dealing here in the Trenches, is massively stressful. It can affect your health and your sanity. From our point of view, it affects your ability to think clearly and to make the important decisions that are necessary in order to have a successful life after you leave us. That's right, for us in the Tenches, making sure you take care of yourself is important for two reasons: first, because we care about you; and second, because you're no good to us if you're too stressed to assess options and make decisions. Take care of yourself so we can take care of you. Namaste.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
What, you don't think that here in the Trenches, we would like Valentine's Day? We're romantics, just like anyone else. Really. This Valentine's Day, if you're here in the Trenches with us, know that things will get better. If you're not here with us, go give your Honey a hug and appreciate what drew you together in the first place. Enough said.
Monday, February 13, 2012
I ran into a former client today while walking the puppies. He was walking his puppies too. We recognized each other, and.....I waited to see whether he acknowledged knowing me. You see, not only are my conversations with clients confidential, but so is even admitting they are my client (unless of course, I have filed my appearance with the court). In the Trenches, that means I really can't even let on that I know them unless they want me to do so. Some clients don't want others to know they have used a lawyer, or even that they know one by name (too many questions to answer). And so, when I see them I wait to see what they do. Today, he greeted me. We let the puppies greet each other. My honey thought he was part of the neighborhood puppy owner network. Then we went on our way. It isn't always that way, and in fact, sometimes it's kind of awkward to watch the client pretend not to know me and get nervous that I will greet him. It's all part of life. Here in the Trenches.
Friday, February 10, 2012
OK, so this Thursday post is a few hours late. Don't worry, there'll still be a TGIF post later. It has been one heck of a week, and the weeks after a big trial always are, because we put everything else on the back burner until it's over. We have a few new cases here in the Trenches. One of them is a Best Interest Attorney case. A Best Interest Attorney here in Maryland is an attorney appointed by the court to represent a minor child's best interest in a custody dispute between his or her parents. They are, obviously, very highly conflictual cases, because a BIA is only appointed when the court feels there is a really high probability that one or both parents are so caught up in their conflict over their child that they can no longer accurately view their child's best interest. Here in the Trenches, we love this role. For the most part, our BIA clients do not have a dog in the fight, and they don't want to be caught in the middle (even though they are). They haven't lived long enough to learn the subtleties of lying well, so they don't. They are thrilled someone is listening to them and taking the pressure off of their backs (if you're in a high conflict case and think your children don't know and don't feel the pressure to choose, think again). Witnesses love talking to the BIA once they learn about the role, because the BIA is there for the child. Usually, one parent is not thrilled with the BIA at the end, but you can't please everyone all the time, and BIAs just need to please the Court with their thoroughness and look out for the best interest of their child client. It is one of the truly collaborative (small "c") roles in litigation, as the BIA works with the child and the therapist and the school and the child's support network, to make recommendations that will help keep the child out of the middle and allow them to flourish. It's a tough job, but the rewards are large too. Here in the Tenches.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
I spent the entire day in depositions today. I wasn't taking the deposition, I was defending. What does it mean to defend a deposition? Well, some lawyers think it means that you sit there, bored, while the other lawyer barrages your client with questions. As the other lawyer is allowed to ask any question that is likely to lead to the discovery of relevant information, they have a lot of latitude, and the defender doesn't have a lot to which to object. That's why most lawyers find defending depositions boring. I love defending. Not having to think of questions or follow up questions, frees me up to observe the room. I can see how my client reacts to questioning in general, and to specific questions. I can see how she handles herself under questioning, whether she has any processing difficulties, what gets a rise out of her. I can also observe the other spouse, if they're there. I can see the emotion under the surface, what she says that gets under his skin, how invested he is in her deposition, the line of questioning, in making her squirm. I can see how he handles himself when the spotlight isn't on him. I can also watch my opponent and see how he questions, what he thinks is important to his case, and how he relates to my client. Defending a deposition, boring? Never!
Monday, February 6, 2012
On Saturday, our Erin (hey, she may be working at the courthouse now, but she'll always be "our" Erin) lost her horse, Poltergeist (known to his friends as Polie). He was in the field with his herd and suffered an injury to his leg. What most people don't know about horses is that of the 205 bones in a horse's body, almost half of them are in their legs. That means that those bones are not all that big. Horses also bear most of their weight on that structure of fairly small bones. Unlike humans, horses can't lie down and keep the bone immobile while it heals. Their anatomical structure requires them to keep upright and keep moving the majority of the time or suffer respiratory and circulatory problems. That's the reason serious leg injuries kill a horse more often than not. Polie was Erin's faithful companion, and she (as well as all of us who knew him in all his splendor and goofiness) mourns his loss.
So, what does this have to do with the Trenches? Plenty, actually. Polie was a magnificent horse, large and powerful, yet graceful (when he wasn't spooking at his own shadow or a random tree!). People are always surprised that animals who look as strong as a horse can be so fragile. Some marriages are like that too. Look at Seal and Heidi Klum or Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. To all outward appearances, those were two of the strongest marriages in Hollywood. Seal and Heidi Klum renewed their vows every year on their anniversary. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were Hollywood's power couple. Yet, it turns out that beneath the visible exterior, there were deep cracks. Like poor Polie's injury, the cracks weren't caused by anything extraordinary: time and distance apart. Just like Polie's injury, the continuing time apart compounded upon itself to create a marriage ending injury. Most of the time, it isn't anything major that ends a marriage; it's the little things that add up to reveal and widen stresses and cracks that cause separations and divorces. If we need a reminder to pay attention to the little things because they take care of the big things, this is probably it. Here in the Trenches.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Tackle one thing at a time. Did your mother tell you this? Mine did. What she meant was to break things down into manageable pieces and tackle them one at a time. You feel less overwhelmed, and more able to focus on the task at hand. Well, my apologies to Mom, but in the Trenches, that advice may very well come back to haunt you. Many of our clients are emotionally overwhelmed when they are going through a divorce or separation, and it is very tempting to listen to Mom and just handle what they have to now, and put off other things for later, when emotions have cooled and they can think more clearly. That may be a mistake. What clients don't understand is that once the court makes a decision or people reach an agreement which is incorporated in a court order, everything from the past is done and over. That court decision or order becomes the new starting point. That he was a lousy father before doesn't matter if now he's a paragon of virtue; her fiscal irresponsibility is as nothing in the face of her new pecuniary accountability. They simply don't matter except as a bit of historical perspective. So, although it may seem like too heavy a load to bear, and too difficult a task, if a client wants to move back to their home state with the children, or thinks they should have indefinite rather than rehabilitative alimony, they need to bite off more than they can chew (to quote Mom again), and ask for it before that first order is entered. Waiting until the time is right may be too late.