Monday, April 30, 2012

Sitting in the Catbird Seat

I awoke this morning to the sound of my puppies' tails madly thumping against something.  Except the sound wasn't my puppies and it wasn't a tail.  It was a catbird pecking at my living room window.  Now, it's late afternoon, we shooed the catbird away, and....he's pecking at my neighbor's living room mirror.  It's mating season, and the catbird sees what he thinks is another male catbird in his reflection in the window.  This is his territory, so he's anxious to run the interloper off, hence the pecking at the reflection. If anything was going to remind me of the Trenches, the catbird would be it, on a couple of different levels.
First, that darn bird has been out here all day.  He has been engaging in the exact same behavior for the last 8 hours.  It wasn't successful when he started (that darn bird is still there!), but he figures that if he just keeps at it long enough, eventually, he'll be successful.  Here in the Trenches, we see that kind of behavior all the time.  We see it in the spouse who was told their spouse wants to end the marriage, and figures if they just do more of "X", their spouse will change his or her mind.  Unfortunately for them, "X" is usually the behavior that drove their spouse to divorce in the first place.  Sometimes we see it when the spouse figures that if they just tell their spouse's attorney all of that person's failings in the marriage, the attorney will come to realize their client is "wrong," and urge them to make the changes that will allow the marriage to continue (really, this has actually happened, and more than once.).  These folks have about as much success as our catbird friend.
Second, that darn bird has been out here all day (yes, I know I'm repeating myself).  His behavior has been completely unsuccessful.  He doesn't care.  He doesn't stop and reflect about why it has been unsuccessful.  He doesn't try to change his behavior.  He just figures that persistence will pay off.  So, when we chase him away from our house, he goes to another.  Some of our clients are like that.  They made mistakes in their relationships that led them into the Trenches.  Rather than thinking about what they could do differently in the future, and what got them to where they are, they just figure it was the other person's fault, and go blithely on their way.  These folks come back to see us because nothing's changed, like the bird in the window.

Friday, April 27, 2012


You Just Can't Help Some People
Sometimes a House is Not
Just a Money Pit
We're a Law Office,
We're Not McDonald's

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Some clients get it and others don't.  What is "it"?  "It" are the risks and benefits of going forward with a contested hearing.  Just this week, I was faced with two different clients who were facing a litigated hearing.  One decided to settle the matter without going to a hearing, and the other decided to go to a hearing.  What was the difference between them?  First, one of them was a client of the Trenches, and one was not.  That's important, because here in the Trenches we know that the most we promise our clients is that we will do our best for them, that we will present the facts and the law in the most favorable light to them.  What the court does with that is anybody's guess.  That little fact was driven home in a conversation we had yesterday with another attorney.  You see, we here in the Trenches won a very big relocation case about a month ago.  This other attorney was in the courtroom when the decision was announced.  He had a relocation case before the same judge the next week.  He was defending against the relocation, and had told his client that the other parent was probably not going to be able to relocate with the children.  He told me yesterday that he really rethought that advice and had to go back to his client and tell him that he might have been wrong.  That story is why we here in the Trenches never tell a client what the outcome will be if they go to court, because you never know.  What we can tell them is what we've seen, what the judges have historically done and how good we think their chances are of prevailing.  We also tell them what could happen if everything goes wrong.  How else can a client make an informed decision about what course to take?  Back to those two clients from this week.  The one who is not our client was told there is no way he'll lose in court, so he had nothing to gain from settling, except perhaps a better relationship with the other parent (which obviously wasn't that important a consideration).  Our client was told the pros and the cons.  She decided that even if she had to accept a little bit less than what she thought she'd get, she saved legal fees and avoided the very real potentiality of receiving less than half of the amount for which she settled.  She's happy because because she weighed everything against her tolerance for risk, her desire for a quick resolution and money in her pocket.  I hope that other client will be that happy after trial.  Just another day, here in the Trenches./

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Just One More Rep...

In an incredibly weird piece of timing, two days before I was to go to South Florida for the ABA Family Law Section meeting and to visit Mom and Dad, Dad fell and broke his pelvis.  (Don't worry, he's doing pretty well, and I am more than a little impressed with Hollywood Memorial Hospital's rehabilitation ward - they are amazing!)  I spent my time in South Florida going between the conference and the hospital.  During some of my time with Dad, I got to participate in his physical therapy wth him.  Of course, doing that reminded me of, you guessed it, the Trenches.  As you might expect, physical therapy with a broken pelvis is incredibly painful, but it is vital if Dad wants to remain ambulatory.  Every little bit of progress hurts, but Dad keeps powering through, because he knows the pain now is necessary for him to have a full life later.  It's the same with our clients here in the Trenches.  Their time here hurts - a lot.  The people who make the effort to work through the pain, and by that I mean take our advice and take care of themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally, come out of the Trenches able to move on with their lives in meaningful, productive ways.  The people for whom the pain is a signal to stop until it goes away are the folks we see time and again.  We know it hurts, it pains us to see the hurt, but we know that only by facing the pain and working through it will life be good again. So, like Dad's physical therapist, we push and ask for just a bit more progress each day.  We want our clients to walk out of our lives with their heads up high, able to take on any challenges that come their way.  Then,we know we've succeeded - here in the Trenches.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This is a Public Service Announcement

With all of the events of the last few weeks reminding us here in the Trenches of how short life can be, I whipped out my trusty Appointment of Health Care Agent, Advance Directive and Last Will and Testament to review the information.  I realized, in light of all that has happened recently, that they need updates.  How about all of you?  When was the last time you reviewed those documents?  Do they even exist in your life?  If they don't exist or haven't been reviewed in a while, get to it.  You don't want to wait until they're needed to  do them, because then it's too late.  So, hop to it.  Today is as good a day as any - here in the Trenches.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The ABA - Why Is It Important

I've been here at the ABA Family Law Section for the past few days.  I've picked up a few tidits of legal knowledge and practice information to directly help our clients here in the Trenches.  This ABA Section has its finger on the pulse of family law around the country.  We share that information at formal continuing education seminars, and also through informal conversations among the Section's members.  In fact, a lot of the value we here in the Trenches receive from these meetings comes from our interactions from other folks who do what we do.  We make personal connections in order to help our clients and colleagues locate competent counsel in other jurisdictions. We share practice tips so we can improve how we serve our clients, how we advise them and how we share information.  We also find out that we're not alone, that the struggles we face in helping our clients are shared by our colleagues, and we help each other address those issues and support each other.  All of this benefits our clients - here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The ABA Family Law Section and Me

Well, I'm off to Florida tomorrow, both to visit Mom and Dad, and to attend the ABA Family Law Section semi-annual continuing education conference (what a mouthful!).  I have't been for a while, and I miss it.  I miss seeing my friends and colleagues from around the country.  I miss the education programs.  I miss the time away from the office.  Most of all, however, I miss how I feel while I'm there and how I feel when I come home.  There's something about being with other folks who do what we do here in Trenches, who love it as much as we do, who care about their clients like we do....I always come home feeling rejuvenated.  I feel my love for this work come alive in a way I didn't think was possible.  My enthusiasm is rekindled and I feel a new dedication to our work.  My clients can only benefit, so it's a win-win for everyone.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Not About the Money

I don't know how usual or unusual we are here in the Trenches, but we really care about our clients.  By "really care," I mean that we worry about them and their children, anguish about the effect their case will have on their lives, and  go above and beyond for them.  How do we do that?  Well, let's see, we've gone to a client's home to make sure they were all right, gone with them on the weekend to file for protection from domestic violence, taken phone calls and emails on vacation, driven them home from the hospital, arranged for babysitting during court - all without charge.  Here's where it gets complicated.  Every one of those people for whom we went so far above and beyond, told us how much they appreciated what we did for them, how much it meant to them that we cared and worked so hard for them, and then each and every one of them stiffed us.  That's right, stiffed us.  Not a couple of hundred dollars here and there, but thousands and tens of thousands of dollars in fees.  Not even apologetic about it; didn't even call us prior to bankrupting our fees.  Did I forget to mention that we've kept our hourly rate lower than most of our contemporaries?  Do we learn our lesson?  Not really, because it's how we are.  We're more careful with who we choose as clients and how much money we get up front, but we can't change how we are.  It just hurts not to be appreciated.  Sometimes it's not the money.  Here in the Trenches.

Friday, April 13, 2012


We're posting at 7:00pm, and still in the Trenches, so TGIF!
We said Goodbye to
Office Testosterone

Is it us,
or is it the waning moon?

Settled our case for Monday,
so "Hello Weekend!"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Unbridled Emotion

Hysteria.  I hate it.  Can't reason with it.  Can't talk to it.  Probably the worst emotion with which we deal here in the Trenches.  The worst thing is that the folks who become hysterical never see the precipitating event coming.  They minimize their bad behavior.  They never suffer consequences commensurate with their actions.  That's why, when the consequences of bad behavior finally come home to roost, they become hysterical.  If those folks only learned from their mistakes, we could handle the hysteria, but they usually don't. We wish they would, because they're not bad people, just folks who never learned appropriate boundaries.  Too bad it sometimes takes a tragedy or a court decision to help them learn.  It's the school of hard knocks, and they are its main pupils. Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It's Not My Fault That I Didn't Lose

Here in the Trenches, we're very used to self-sabotage; it happens all the time.  The most interesting thing about it is that the ones who get in their own way have no clue that's what they're doing.  Even when we point it out to them, they don't see it.  As I watched yet another person undermine himself today, I thought about why.  As my thoughts coalesced, they fell into a few different categories.  There are the people, out high conflict folks, who really think that what they're doing is well reasoned and designed to help them reach their stated goals.  Then, there are the people who are afraid, afraid of the conflict being over, afraid of not getting what they want, or afraid of getting what they want.  With these folks, the closer the conflict comes to being at an end, the more anxious they become, and the worse their behavior.  Usually, that behavior is only marginally related to the conflict, but it serves to destroy any hope of a successful resolution. That way, when things go to hell in a hand basket, which almost always happens, it's because the world is unfair, no one really heard them, or there is no justice.  In short, self sabotage allows the folks who practice it to never reach their goals and to blame it on outside forces.  A win-win for a lose-lose, so to speak.  Because they didn't actually lose on the merits of their cause, it leaves them free to fight again another day and to be able to say with a straight face that they have never lost.  People are interesting - here in the Trenches.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thank You Mr. & Mrs. McIntyre

Dear Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre,
Thank you for giving us the use of your son, Curtis.   He was, and shall always be, our Office Testosterone.  He was the eye of our storm, the calm in the squall.  He brought us peace and calm...and humor.  We took things less seriously when he was with us.  We stressed less but got more done.  Nothing was too much to ask of him, and no job was too small.  He was our finder of things put in safe places, some of which we will now never locate.  He thought we taught him a work ethic, which is completely untrue, as he worked as hard as anyone else from the moment he walked through the door.  He gave us love, and his leaving breaks our hearts and leaves a hole in our lives we can never fill.  You gave us your greatest gift, your son, and we thank you more than words can express.

With love,
The Trenches

Friday, April 6, 2012


We mourn the loss of our friend,
Curtis McIntyre
(aka Office Testosterone)
We wish Chrystal as
happy a birthday as she can have,
under the circumstances
Enough Said

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Sometimes people want to know how we manage to work in the Trenches, day in and day out, and not burn out.  Truth is, it's not always easy, and some days are easier than others.  Doing this work requires your full attention, and our own lives can get in the way.  After all, those of us who work in the Trenches are only human after all.   Do people do the strangest things?  You bet, we could write volumes.  My volume today, and maybe for the week, is the difference between those who do something because they can't control themselves, and those who act the same way because they think its effective.  Yesterday's "loud and angry" is but one example.  Today's is self sabotage.
You know what I'm talking about.  It is the action that is obvious to every onlooker that someone either should or should not do, and the person does exactly the opposite.  It's the person who knows they're being followed, yet still meets the paramour.  It's the person who knows their drinking is being monitored and goes out and has multiple drinks at the bar or puts the empties out in the recycling.  It's the person whose ability to cooperate with the other parent is at issue, and does something so antagonistic as to be breathtaking.   Part of our job here in the Trenches is to determine why our clients do some of the things they do.  Are they too emotional to think clearly?  Do they feel guilty?  Do they think that what they are doing is helpful to their cause?  Do they simply not care?  We need to understand before we can truly help them.   To help them sometimes we engage in damage control; sometimes in education; sometimes we send them to treatment.  It can be exhausting, but it's what we do.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Loud and Angry

My favorite blogger, Seth Godin, posted the following as one of nine ideas that need a blog post:  "Loud and angry doesn't make you right.  It just means that you are loud and angry."  Admit it, don't you sometimes fantasize that you're Howard Beale in the movie Network, and you "get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' ?"  In your fantasy (I know it's in mine), everyone stops what they're doing, looks at you, and says "You're right about X.  How could we not have seen it before?"  The problem is that Network is a motion picture, and your fantasy is simply that.  In real life, everyone looks at you like you've lost your mind completely, or they shake their heads at what a jerk you're acting.  Being loud and angry never makes others think that you're right; it only makes them shake their heads.  That being the case, why do it?  
Believe me, we see more than our share of loud and angry here in the Trenches.  Of those we've seen, they fall into two categories:  those who simply can't control themselves; and those who delude themselves into thinking it's effective.  I don't think we need to go into those who can't help themselves in more detail than we have in prior posts.  Time in the Trenches is emotional and overwhelming.  For all but a few, it is completely foreign territory with no known rules.  Sometimes the pressure gets to clients and they let off steam, or they become frustrated and yell.  We don't take it personally, and we sort of ignore it because we see it for what it is - emotion with no place else to go.  
Of more concern to us here in the Trenches are those who think being loud and angry is an effective tool.  For most of them, it has not gotten them what they wanted most of the time.  The problem is that some of the time, it has.  For these folks, that sometimes is all it takes to reinforce the behavior.  Most people would recognize that something that works less than ten percent of the time isn't really worth repeating, but not these people.  For them, that small return validates the anger.  They fail to see that they probably got what they wanted, not because they were right, but because others were either afraid of their behavior or just wanted them to go away, and it was easier or safer to give in than to argue with someone who was being loud and angry.  These loud and angry people are the definition of high conflict people.  They are the folks with whom you can't reason, who cannot be convinced, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, that loud and angry is not an effective persuasive technique.  Here in the Trenches, these are often the people who cannot settle the case in litigation, and who need a judge to make the decision for them.  Believe it or not, in collaborative practice, very often these same individuals can settle the case, not because they cease being loud and angry, but because they are supported and coached to resolve a particular dispute in a way that is not loud and angry.  Does it change their behavior forever?  No.  These loud and angry people will always be loud and angry, because they cannot be convinced that that it is not effective, but if we can help them act differently even once, we can make a difference for them and their family.  Here in the Trenches.