Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How Could I Be So Stupid?

There's a reason I don't keep my own calendar.  Clients, other attorneys and my doctors think it's funny when I say I'm not allowed to set my own appointments.  Sad thing is, that it's not a joke.   The reason I'm not allowed to set any appointments is that I can remember my client's children's names, the facts of their case, the other attorney and the applicable case law.  I can also walk and chew gum at the same time, and balance my own check book.  I can't, however, remember to write down (correctly) an appointment.  The result is that I tend to schedule myself in two places at once.  Now, we can add plane reservations to the list of things I can't schedule.   Months ago, I made reservations to go see daughter and parents.  I wrote down the date of the reservation.  Problem is, I wrote down the wrong day. Then, I set in a mediation for....(you got it) the same day I was supposed to fly out of here, and at the same time.  I didn't realize it until tonight when I checked my reservation.  Then I emailed everyone else to see if we can meet on other dates, and volunteered to change the flight.  Then... I realized I read the reservation wrong (it is late at night, after all), and my flight is at night, so there is no conflict.  So, I emailed everyone back to tell them to ignore my first email.  My mistake,  my fault, and I owned up to it immediately and directly.  It's hard admitting you made such a stupid mistake.  I'm the lawyer.  I fix problems; I don't make them.  I hate looking dumb and being wrong.
Isn't this just like our clients here in the Trenches?  When they are in the Trenches with us, our clients are at their most vulnerable.  They're in unfamiliar territory.  Every decision they make has repercussions for the rest of their lives.  The consequences of making a bad decision are huge.  Yet, we know also that our clients are not really thinking their most clearly while they're in the Trenches.  They are flooded with emotion and tend to react first and think later.  That means that, like me and my plane reservations, our clients sometimes make decisions without thinking things through or having all the facts.  Then, they have to admit they made a mistake and try to fix it.  How that works for them depends on a lot of factors.   What forum are they in - litigation or collaboration?  How antagonistic is their situation?  Can their attorney or coach help them disclose in a way that minimizes any damage and helps them save face?  It's not a fun situation, because no one likes to be wrong, but it has to be fixed.  Hopefully, we can make that happen in a constructive manner - here in the Trenches.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sweet Spot

There comes a moment in every collaborative case when at least one of the clients "gets it."  The funny thing is that it almost always happens in the same way.  The case has progressed to the brainstorming phase.  That's the point at which all of the information has been gathered, and the clients start to generate options for resolving the issues.  For them, it already felt hard being in the room with their spouse, it was excruciating negotiating the custody and access arrangements, and now they are coming down the home stretch.  The clients feel so many things at this point.  They are tired.  They're nervous.  Some of them are fearful and anxious about everything being resolved and "over."  They are sad.  It's at this point that one of them usually breaks down.  They leave the room.  They can't take it any more.  It's just too much.  Then.....they pull themselves together and go back to work.  I don't know what it is, but at that point, the clouds part and the angels sing.  That client, the one who was just about to leave the meeting, leave the process, and "just let a judge decide," sees how everything is supposed to fit together and understands the reason for the process.  They have hope, and are motivated and determined to find a solution.  You can see it in their faces, and it feels good that in the midst of all that pain and anguish, they find success and hope.  Here in the Trenches.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Is It Really Not Even Close to a Full Moon?

New Office is Getting Ready

Time for a Little Rest

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Toe and the Knee, Round 3

          Here we are with Round 3 of the toe and the knee.  For those of you who haven't been reading carefully, or who have missed a day here or there, here's where we are.  The saga started when I began running in an different model of shoe.  Next thing I know, my big toe on the right foot started to hurt - badly.  So did my knee.  I traded in the shoes with Joe at my favorite running store, Potomac River Running in Rockville, and went back to my old faithfuls (For more on this, see my blog on the subject).  Still, the toe, especially hurt.  So, Round 1, I went to see my friend the podiatrist.  He took an x-ray and said he thought it was the sagamoid joint.  I should take a course of ibuprophen for 10 days and I'd be fine.  Not a bad call (in hindsight), but still no relief for the knee.  So, onto Round 2, an appointment with an orthopedist, who barely touched my leg, but sent me for an MRI of my foot.  Even though the radiologist said he couldn't see anything, the orthopedist diagnosed arthritis in the toe and also IT band tendonitis.  He ordered physical therapy.  I finished the physical therapy, and didn't try to run again until just after Labor Day.  I hardly ran that week, but the pain can only be described as exquisite.  I decided to try a different orthopedist - Round 3.  Another round of tests, and he found no arthritis anywhere (I feel younger just saying that).  He manipulated my knee and my toe - a lot.  He thought sagamoid joint in the toe....until I told him about the podiatrist and the anti-inflammatory.  So, it wasn't that.  We both looked at the x-rays and talked about what they showed.  Then he was a bit stumped, but we talked about it.  Maybe a compressed nerve.  If so, 6 days of steroids should clear it up.  If not, I call and have a consult with his colleague who does feet and ankles (Hey, we all specialize).  I feel like it's a long journey to a diagnosis, and I don't know if it's the right one yet, but we'll see, because I AM running in the Disney Princess Half Marathon.
       So, what does all this have to do with the Trenches?  As usual, plenty.  Let's focus on just one aspect - the doctor.  I love my podiatrist, so he's not part of this discussion.  I'd like to talk about the two orthopedists.  I'm sure both orthopedists are competent doctors.  Why do I have more confidence in the second one?  Well, although I know many patients just want the doctor to pronounce what is wrong with them and come up with a diagnosis, I'm not one of them.  I like to discuss what's going on and feel like the doctor and I are working together to diagnose the problem and resolve it.  The second doctor might not be better than the first doctor, but he sure felt better to me.  I have confidence in him that I didn't have with the first doctor.  It all comes down to what feels right in the fit between the patient and doctor.
         It's the same with lawyers and their clients.  I might be the best lawyer in the world, but if there isn't a connection between me and my client, if it doesn't feel like a fit, then how good I am doesn't matter.  The client will not be happy.  I like to work with my clients the way I like my doctor to work with me.  It's their life, not mine, so I expect my clients to work with me to resolve their issues.  I expect them to do some of the heavy lifting.  After all, it doesn't seem right that I care more than they do about their lives.  Some clients really like that approach, and we have a great relationship.  Others, not so much or not at all.  Hopefully, either I or those clients realize it in time to send them to someone who can help in a way that resonates with them.  A good fit is the most important indicator of a satisfactory result - here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What if?

I received a call from a friend from the Trenches today.  She had a client for whom she did a really good job.  Was the client happy?  This is the Trenches, so of course she wasn't.  She thought she could do better.  She was offered a great deal, but .....It wasn't that she didn't trust my friend's judgment and think she was doing a good job....  Well, you know how it is. Her friend got this and another friend got that, neither of which this woman was offered.   Of course those women's cases were entirely different, but still, why didn't my friend ask for that?  The point is that this client was having a lot of buyer's remorse.  You know, it's like when you buy a car and as you drive it off the lot you start to think that maybe you could have gotten a better deal.  It's not that you didn't get a good deal, but maybe if you'd just asked for a bit more....  It's perfectly normal.  What's also normal is my friend's reaction. What if the client was right?  What if she should have held out for more... or different?  Did she do something wrong?  Is there something she missed?  (The answer, by the way, is that she did a great job and got the client a really good deal)  What did my friend do?  She did exactly what her client did - she called a friend.  The difference is that she didn't call a friend who would simply tell her what she wanted to hear, but what she needed to hear (Yes, I would have told her if I thought she should do something else).  She didn't call a friend who would feed into her paranoia, but who would snap her out of it with a reality check.  She didn't call a friend who would just jump on what she said, but who would ask about all the facts so she could be truly helpful.  Maybe her friend wouldn't have had the best advice, but at least it would have been thoughtful and not driven by emotion, and that makes it valuable.  It's a lesson for our clients.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Balance in All Things

"I often see people getting so immersed and involved in their children’s happiness, 
that they seem to lose sight of their own." 

 I had a chance to visit with an acquaintance I see periodically, but not often.  I first met him when he was married and his son was a small child.  Over the years, he divorced, and his son grew into a man.  When we talked recently, he said that he never missed a day or even an hour of time with his son.  Not only did he never miss a ball game or a school play, but he also never went out on a date or out with friends when his son was with him.  His son was with him a lot.  Now, his son is grown and he's alone. He doesn't regret a moment he spent with his son, but he's mighty lonely.  His son has a life, but he doesn't.   As divorced parents, we miss so much of our children's lives when they're with the other parent.  It's natural not to want to lose even one moment they're with us.  I wonder, however, if we're doing ourselves or our children any favors.  Our children learn they're the center of our existences, sure, but I think they know it anyway.  What I worry about is teaching them that they are the only people who matter to us, and that they never have to share our attentions.   I worry that it teaches them that its OK to expect to have our undivided attention 24/7, and what effect that lesson will have on their ability to form healthy adult relationships, especially after they have their own children.  I also worry about their parents, and their loneliness as they age and their children move on to lives of their own.  Will the children remember their parents' sacrifice for them?  I hope so, but I don't think they can, really.  Balance in everything.  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Facebook Revisited

Every once in a while I feel a need to talk about Facebook.  I love Facebook, really I do.  I love the ability to keep up with old friends, family and classmates.  When Office T was so ill, it was a great place for everyone to touch base and to express our sorrow when he died.  So, I really do love Facebook....used judiciously.  Facebook always has the ability to come back and bite you.  I am not talking about the inappropriate pictures (so, do you really think photos of you in lingerie won't impact your custody case?), or nasty messages about your ex (right, like there's no one out there who won't tell your ex what you said).  I'm talking about the things you really don't think are harmful, but turn out to be.  I'm talking about the person who says that they're unemployed, and then posts that they started a new business, or the person who says they're broke and then posts a picture of their new car.  Then, there's the person whose support hinges on being too chronically ill to work, and sincerely trying to help others, posts about the things they did that helped them be symptom free for years (only to have one of their "friends" give those posts to the former spouse in a fight to terminate alimony).  The point is that even the most innocuous, well meaning posts can be harmful in the wrong hands.  Please, think long and hard about what you post on Facebook.  If you must send something that reveals private information, don't do it on a wall post.  We here in the Trenches will thank you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What You're Proud Of is Who You Are

         Tonight was a leadership summit of all of the leaders in the collaborative practice movement in Maryland.  These folks are the heavy hitters of collaborative practice.  They are all heavily involved in different organizations, and have all held different leadership positions.  As part of the evening, we went around the room and introduced ourselves.  You know the drill - say our names, where we're from, and a little about ourselves.  Usually, I'm thinking about what I'm going to say when it's my turn. (Oh, admit it, we all do that).  Tonight, I really listened to what everyone else had to say.  What I found really fascinating was what each person chose to say about themselves.  It was a real glimpse into what was important to each of these people tonight.  For some of them, what was important was that everyone knew how important they were.  For some of them, what was important was saying as little as they could say and then sitting down.  I'm not talking about those folks.
          I'm talking about people like my two friends who actually read this blog.  One of them emphasized that he is a member of a faculty that trains other people to practice collaboratively.  Now, this friend is also a pioneer in collaborative practice in our area and a former president of our local practice group.  He could have emphasized that, but for him, teaching was what resonated.  He's accomplished a lot with his teaching, he's reached a lot of people and done a lot of good work.  I can understand why he's proud of that work.  Another friend emphasized that she started the Maryland state umbrella group for all collaborative practitioners.   Let's see, she also was a practice group leader, and the moving force behind the founding of that practice group.  She was on radio and quoted in the newspapers speaking about collaborative law -  in the early days, she was THE face of collaborative practice.  Those are all things of which she should be proud.  What she was proud of, however, was that when she looked around the room tonight, she knew that all her hard work paid off in spades.  She was proud of what collaborative practice has become in Maryland, and that she started that ball rolling.  For both of my friends, it was not their personal accomplishments that were important, but what they were able to help others accomplish.  What I'm so proud of is that I have two such wonderful people as friends.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What? Me Stressed?

We've had just a little bit on our plate here in the Trenches.  We had a brief due on an appeal by Wednesday.  We had a 20 page response to a motion due today.  The general contractor wants to know where we want our walls - yesterday.  One client has a time sensitive problem we need to help resolve. Chrystal's computer has a virus, and our big printer decided today was a great day to break down.  Oh, and my dog and I both have hurt legs and we need to get to the doctor.  There's so much going on that it's hard to know where to turn, much less where to start to deal with it all.  It kind of helps to have these weeks every once in a while, because it reminds us of how our clients feel.  They have things coming at them from all directions, decisions that have to be made, deadlines that have to be met.  It's all rather overwhelming for them, just like it is for us.  Just like us, each of them deals with that stress differently.  Sometimes they just need to express what they're feeling. It's not always (OK, not usually) pretty, but we just have to remember it's not about us, it's about how they're feeling and how they deal with those feelings.  We all have stress, and it feels so good when it's gone, that we just want it to leave.  We get impatient and we vent.  It's pretty normal, no matter the source of the stress.  We just need these little weeks to remind us of that - Here in the Trenches.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Good Day Mediating is a Good Day

I had a long day of mediation today.  Actually, it was two mediations.  In one, I represented one of the parties, and in the other, I was the mediator.  Both mediations were successful, but not in the way you think.  In the one in which I was the mediator, it was the second session of mediation.  We settled the entire case.  In the case in which I represented one of the parties, it was our first session of mediation, and the only issues we resolved were where the child would continue to go to pre-kindergarten and the holiday schedule.  Yet, I consider them equally successful.  The reason lies in the way the mediation proceeded.  The trick is to make sure you start with the easy stuff, the items on which there is little conflict, and progress to the difficult ones.  Starting with the easy issues helps people who can't remember how they agreed on anything, agree on something.  Once they agree on something, they start to imagine settlement is possible.  They begin to look for ways they can agree.  They relax and let down their defenses. They agree on more issues.  By the time they get to the really hard decisions, they're comfortable working together, they've started feeling comfortable saying what they need to say, and they can see a complete resolution on the horizon.  They are motivated to reach agreement because it would be a shame to throw all that hard work away.  So, they stick it out and they resolve the matter. That's mediation done right.  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And We Read For a Living?

Today, our bar association sent out an email to restart our listserv for the new year.  It read, in essence, "If you are receiving this email, you are a member of the family law section.  Do not reply to this email.  If you no longer wish to be a member of the section, send an email to the address below.  If you know of someone who would like to join the section, have them send an email to the address below."  So, what happened?  You guessed it.  About 30 people replied to the email.  Not only that, they replied that they wanted to be a member of the section and the listserv.  After those 30 emails came through, then another 10 or so replied (to the email again), that all the responses clogged their inboxes, so remove their names until that problem with the listserv resolved.  Really?  Every member of this section is a lawyer.  That means they graduated from college, then law school and then took the bar exam, all of which require extensive (wait for it) analytical reading skills.  Yet, not one of these people read the email carefully or followed instructions.  Scary.  Even scarier is that probably half of the original 30 emails read and understood it, but panicked when they saw the first 15 responses, so they doubted what they read and hit "reply."  The herd mentality.  What does this mean for the Trenches (besides the obvious)?  It means that just because everyone else does it, just because "everybody" got a certain result, doesn't mean that particular client will get that result or be able to do whatever everyone does.  Everyone is different and so is every result.  Look what the herd did today.  Here in the Trenches.