Clients in the Trenches are incredibly short sighted when they first enter the Trenches. It's understandable, actually. Our clients are flooded with emotion. They are overwhelmed with unfamiliar feelings, navigating unknown territory. Their lives are turned upside down. They don't understand what comes next and what the future will bring. They are focused on the here and now. The future is something of which they catch a fleeting glance, and sometimes can touch. Usually, however, clients new to the Trenches find it hard to map a course for the rest of their lives. That's where we come in. Those of us who toil in the Trenches are the cartographers for our clients, looking into their futures and mapping a course to get them there. Like all cartographers, we are drawing something most people can't see but must trust that the cartographer charts the map accurately. Lawyers in the Trenches help our clients plot a course from A to B; even though the clients don't know if the map is accurate, they need to trust the skill of the cartographer and follow its course until they can see the path clearly for themselves. If they don't, they need a new map and a new cartographer. Here in the Trenches.
Well, it's done. My friend and I made our plane reservations, reserved our room, and arranged for airport transportation for the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Even though we both registered a few months ago, until today it was always in the back of our minds that we could quit. Sure, we would lose the registration fee, but that wasn't much money. No more. Now, we have put up the big bucks, but more than that, we have taken an irrevocable (at least it seems to us) step toward running the race. It's no longer if we run, but when we run. It's a small difference in words, with a huge distinction in meaning. We've reached the tipping point of our Princess experience. Of course, there are so many things about today that remind me of the Trenches, not the least of which is that I met my friend while we both toiled there (on opposite sides of a case no less). I could talk about how our running the race is like our clients who think about leaving their spouses, but not until they take that first concrete step toward separating does it feel real. I could talk about how once our clients take that first step, all the other steps are easier and somehow smaller. I could discuss how the journey toward a new stage in our clients' lives usually begins with some seemingly innocuous (to us) action which has deep meaning to them. I could talk about all those things, but I won't. What I want to talk about is the place of fun and whimsy in all of our lives. My friend has had a particularly tough couple of years in her personal life (when I say "particularly," I mean "extremely"). It has been one loss after another. As you know from this blog, the last year or so in my life has also been pretty difficult emotionally. My woes are nowhere nearly as serious as my friend's, but they have been hard to bear, nevertheless. The Princess Half represents, for both of us, a chance to test ourselves and to challenge the limits we've placed upon ourselves. It is also a chance for two grown up princesses to enjoy Disney without children and to soak in the experience of such a unique race. It's a chance to be a little silly (running in costume definitely qualifies), and to just have fun. The race has given us something to which to look forward, and the anticipation is half of the fun. Just making those reservations buoyed our spirits and put a spring in our steps. So often, those of us who work here in the Trenches and our clients who find themselves here, get stuck. We live with the emotional pain, the feeling of loss and the fear for the future that is so much a part of divorce. Sometimes, it's difficult to remember a different kind of life, because the pain is ever present. Planning something fun, even if it's just a little something, reminds us all that being in the Trenches is temporary and that there is still a place for joy and fun in our lives. A bit of whimsy is what we all need to renew our spirits so we can make the changes necessary to move forward in life and for our clients, out of the Trenches.
First day back after a whole week away. That's right, one whole week. Almost no blogging, no emails, and only one phone call to Chrystal (OK, maybe 2 phone calls). Spent some time with daughter, lots of time with mom and dad. A ton of time doing absolutely nothing. Except watch westerns, old westerns, the kind with John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood and Kirk Douglas. I loved them, and all old movies, as a kid, and daddy loves them now. So, we watch them, along with Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Have Gun Will Travel. There's a ton of action, but it moves slowly enough for the eyes to focus and the mind to register. There's a lot of dialogue, with the words enunciated slowly and clearly. Are the plots somewhat predictable? Yes, but that doesn't make the movies any less enjoyable. Westerns harken back to a life that was slower, easier, more predictable. It was a time when it was not unusual for someone to take a week's vacation without calling the office. Heck, my parents took three, and not once, during any of those times when daddy was out of touch with the office, did the world end. In fact, the world went on just fine. Daddy came back raring to go, ready to conquer new cases in different courtrooms (What, you thought my daddy wasn't a lawyer? Really?) He was refreshed. He took a break. Daddy also wasn't checking emails in the evenings and on weekends. Even though he came home late, when he was home, he was really home. Studies say this generation won't live as long or as well as our parents. Looking at how thrilled I was to take just a week off, I believe it. The Trenches are hard. When one client's problems resolve, another one's are just beginning. It is a never-ending cycle - if you let it. Life is too short not to experience. Grab some popcorn, an old movie and just slow down. Even if it's just for those few hours. This is a public service announcement - Here in the Trenches.
I don't usually do movie reviews. Heck, truth be told, I don't even go to that many movies. Today, not only did I see a movie, I'm reviewing it here. Mom and I went to see Hope Springs, with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it's a movie about a middle aged couple whose children are grown. Their marriage has fallen into the same routine of many long term marriages, where the partners co-exist in a relationship of benign neglect that has sentenced them to live parallel lives without intimate connection. For many of our clients here in the Trenches, such a state causes them to feel like Kay, Meryl Streep's character, when she says she's not sure whether she would be happier being alone in her marriage or just alone. Those who become our clients choose being alone as the preferable state. Kay does not, and the movie is about her and Arnold's (Tommy Lee Jones) struggle to attempt to regain and discover intimacy in their marriage. It is an excellent movie, funny and poignant by turns. It should be required viewing for folks before they decide their boring but otherwise solid marriage needs to end. Maybe it would change a few of their minds before they come seek our services. We could handle a few less clients - happily. Here in the Trenches.
I'm down here visiting with my parents, and bless you all, I'm reminded of the Trenches. There have been a lot of changes down here. My parents have a new dog. My mom needs the dog to go out right before mom goes to bed. Well, no one told the dog to get with the program. The dog goes out when she wants, and she doesn't like the dark, so she won't go out before bed. Forcing her to do what she doesn't want to do is massively frustrating for everyone, and ultimately, unproductive. Isn't that kind of like life here in the Trenches? Those of us who toil here know the schedule, we know what needs to happen next, and if we're in a traditional legal model, when it needs to happen. The problem is that sometimes our clients, like the dog, aren't ready or willing to abide by our schedule. They're not emotionally ready for the marriage to be over. They don't have enough information to resolve the issues. They don't process quickly enough to understand when or what we need them to understand. That means the divorce process is frustrating for everyone involved and any resolution is unsatisfactory to at least one side of the divorcing couple. Divorce is a huge, life-changing event, and everyone reacts to it differently. Ideally, we need to move at the pace of the slowest client. We need to help them understand the importance of moving forward, the situation with which they are presented, and provide them the information necessary to help them make decisions in a manner which makes sense to them. All of the foregoing we do in collaborative practice, which is why I love it. Now, if we can only convince the dog to go out after sunset....Here in the Trenches.
The Trenches may be many things, but it's never boring. We started off today with a spouse who had to vent her spleen at an uncontested divorce. Then, we barreled on to our usual conferences and phone conferences with clients, two of whom kept apologizing for not understanding or being comfortable with how the legal process works. Heavens! If clients were conversant and comfortable with the law and the legal process, they wouldn't need us here in the Trenches, would they? It's kind of like apologizing to the surgeon because you don't understand exactly how they are going to perform the operation, or the engineer because you don't understand the details of why the bridge doesn't collapse. We here in the Trenches don't expect clients to understand how we do what we do, the law behind what we do and the judicial procedures. Actually, we don't even expect that most clients care, just so long as their pain stops, they get what they want/need and can move on with their lives and away from the Trenches. I'm thrilled when clients want to know the mechanics behind our helping them. After all, it's their lives and.... an educated consumer is my best customer. Here in the Trenches.
Once a month, a few lawyers, a few more mental health professionals, a divorce support group leader, and this month, a financial professional, get together over coffee, yogurt, fruit and chocolate chip banana bread and talk about books. Not just any books, but books that relate to collaborative practice. Some of them deal with how to practice collaboratively, some of them deal with subjects that help us as professionals understand our clients and the issues they present, and some of them are books our clients might read to help them through their divorce. Today's book was Money Harmony by Olivia Mellon. It's a little dated in it's gender roles (it was written in 1994), but what it talks about is every bit as valid today as it was when it was written. Besides learning how each of us relates to money and why, thanks to our mental health professionals, we also gained a bit more insight into our clients. When opposites attract, they do so on many levels, and money is one of the biggest areas. What's really interesting is that even if opposites don't attract, even when the two spouses are people who view money the same way, one of them will always start to deal with money in a somewhat different way in order to maintain balance in the relationship. How cool (and true - think of couples you know) is that? Then, of course, we need to talk about how we all reenact how our family of origin dealt with money, how they thought about it and how they talked (or didn't talk) about it. All of this information and insight into how our clients relate to money helps us understand them and aids us in helping them reach a financial settlement that resonates with their attitude toward it. It's just another demonstration of the lengths we go to to serve our clients - here in the Trenches.
I'm sitting here watching the Olympics (as I have been for almost two weeks), and I've noticed a common theme. Every sport has a story about an athlete who suffered a devastating loss at the last Olympics or World Championship, and used that defeat as inspiration and impetus for improvement. That defeat inspired these athletes to redouble their efforts, reinvent themselves and improve their skills. They have come back having learned from their loss and determined not to let it happen again. Lots of these folks have also endured personal tragedy, but used the tragedy as inspiration to succeed. These people have suffered public, in many cases humiliating, defeat. They have had their personal tragedies broadcast to the public at large. Yet, they persevere and flourish. There is a huge lesson here for the Trenches. Yes, divorce is a gut-wrenching, grief-ridden experience. It is stressful, and at times, embarrassing and humiliating. It is a tragic loss. For most people, it is the nadir of their lives. The million dollar question is what do these people do with that experience? Do they quit, or do they redouble their efforts and say "I'll be damned if I let this miserable experience define who I am for the rest of my life?" Had they simply given up in the face of loss, Felix Sanchez would not have won Gold in the 400m hurdles, Ryan Lochte would not have won the Gold in the 400m medley, and Ellis Coleman wouldn't have been at the Olympics. Their stories are an inspiration to all of us, but should be especially meaningful to our clients in the Trenches. Read some of their stories. If they can come back to win, so can our clients. Remember, living well is the best revenge. Here in the Trenches.
Did you read the news that Bronze medalists are happier than Silver medalists? Who'd have thought that coming in third would make you happier than coming in second? The reason is all a matter of perspective. Silver medalists think about what if....they had only been slightly faster, or slightly more perfect. Bronze medalists, only the other hand, don't have the "what if." They may not be first, but they still won, and everyone after them didn't. It's the difference between winning it all and winning something. Here in the Trenches, so much is a matter of perspective. Is the divorce the end of life as the client knows it, or is it the beginning of the rest of their lives? Is it being "abandoned" by a spouse, or a chance to find someone who really appreciates the client's special qualities? Is it economic devastation or an opportunity to shape a new financial future? Is the glass half empty or is it half full? Ultimately, the client's reality is what they make of it. Kind of like being unhappy with Silver or thrilled with Bronze. Here in the Trenches.
I love the Olympics. It's a shame they come around only every four years. I love the national pride, the competition, the chance to watch sports I really love but which are never televised. I also love that so much of the Olympics provides fodder for the Trenches. The Olympics is the gathering of all of the best athletes in the world in a given sport. It's hard to remember that when you watch the competition on TV. Someone wins, and many lose. Some win by an awful lot; and some by just a nose or a point. The ones who don't win, however, are still elite athletes who could beat most people in the world in their sport on any given day. Every single one of them is a superstar, but when push comes to shove, someone has to win and someone has to lose. It all comes down to that one competition, that one moment in time. You can't say the losers aren't prepared; most of them prepare at least as well as the winners. Maybe you could say the winners have more innate talent, and for many of them, it's certainly true, but there has been many an "inferior" athlete who's won. Sometimes, what it comes down to is that the winner is having a better day physically, they woke up feeling stronger and faster than anyone else. Sometimes the external conditions favor one athlete's talents over another's. Sometimes, they're just plain lucky. Compare this to the Trenches (don't I always?). All of us here in the Trenches went to law school. Some of us did better than others in school. Some of us are just smarter than others. Some of us regularly continue our legal education and work on our advocacy and trial skills. Some of us perform better in the courtroom than others. We all work really hard to help our clients. We prepare their cases to the best of our abilities. We make sure all of the evidence is there to prove our case, that our witnesses are lined up to reinforce our points. Most of the folks who toil here in the Trenches on a regular basis are really good at what we do. On a given day, we are better than most at representing our family law clients. Still, sometimes we lose. When that happens, it's almost always the lawyer who gets blamed. Sometimes, that's true. Sometimes, however, the conditions and the facts favor our opponent in court. Sometimes, our client reminds the judge of his least favorite relative (that would be the unlucky part). At its most basic, court is a competition, and in any competition someone has to win and someone has to lose. A win/loss record is no measure of talent. Just like in the Olympics. Here in the Trenches.
Two notable things happened today: Michael Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal and the Irish Author Maeve Binchy died. Now, I happen to admire Phelps' accomplishments and love to read Binchy's novels, so it was a bittersweet day for me. I know, you're thinking, what does a 27 year old Olympic swimmer have in common with a 72 year old novelist (besides the fact that their ages have the same numbers)? Binchy's books are all about community, how everyone pulls together and supports each other through life's ups and downs, and about how people find themselves and their life's true path. In this Olympics, Michael Phelps is a real life character from one of Binchy's novels. Everything I've read says that Phelps is different in London than he has been in any other Olympics. He's less focused on himself and his performance, and has become a huge part of the American team. He's taken one for the team, and pulled one out of you-know-where for them. He's roused his teammates to win for America. Everyone's noticed the change. So, when Michael Phelps won his 19th medal today, making him the most decorated Olympian ever, it was like the last chapter of one of Maeve Binchy's books. All of America watched our hometown boy choke up during the National Anthem, and search out his Mom in the crowd, and we were proud of him. Not because he is, hands down, one of the best athletes ever (we knew that last Olympics), but because he is one of us, part of our community.
The parallels I can draw from Maeve Binchy and Michael Phelps and the Trenches are endless. Binchy's stories, like Michael Phelps at this Olympics, are all about rebirth and redemption. It's what we hope for our clients here in the Trenches. We hope that they take the experience that brought them to us and learn and grow from it, going on to reinvent their lives and their families after they leave us. We hope they have the support of their community, but what Binchy and Phelps showed us is as they change through experience, so do their communities. Maybe they find acceptance with a different community, or maybe they find comfort where they've always been but maybe didn't appreciate. Perhaps, like Phelps, they seem so alone but learn to reach out to others. For a while, we here in the Trenches are their community. We support them. listen to them, advise them in order for them to walk firmly and confidently down their path. We want their lives to be like the last chapters of a Binchy novel or Phelps winning his 19th medal. We want them to leave us and find their place in their world. It's because we care - here in the Trenches.