As you might have read, Zig Ziglar died this week. Zig Ziglar was a motivational speaker. He spoke mostly about getting business and making the sale. I enjoyed his books: they were easy reads, with a lot of homespun wisdom. He told a great story. My favorite book of his was Courtship After Marriage: Romance Can Last a Lifetime. Along with getting a glimpse into a long term marriage that worked (his, naturally!), he puts between two covers everything you need to know and do to make your marriage succeed. Now, I warn you, just because all that information is in there doesn't mean that reading it will make your marriage last. Marriage is hard work, and the book is just an instruction manual. How well your marriage does depends on how much effort you put into it. A lot of people say that what Zig wrote was just common sense. If that's so, then the Trenches is testament that lots of people lack it. Do what Zig did and maybe, just maybe, we won't see you - here in the Trenches.
Back again from visiting Mom and Dad. You know that makes me a bit pensive. I didn't have time to ponder anything yesterday because I had trial today, but that's over, so here we are. Dad is not doing very well. He's aged before my eyes, even a lot since I was last down in October. He was such a vital man, so it's really hard to see such a steep decline. I know it's difficult for him too. The hardest thing for him and mom is that very few people come by to see them. With Dad, a fifteen minute visit makes his entire day. Yet people don't come. They think they have to stay longer, they don't know what to say.....What's really going on is that they can't deal with how he has become. He is a reminder to everyone of what it means to get old, to be mortal and to march toward death. They want to pretend it isn't going to happen to them. Unfortunately, it hits them square in the face when they see my dad, so they don't. They stay away in hopes that what he has isn't catching.
My, my, doesn't this sound like life in the Trenches? One day, you and your spouse have lots of friends, people with whom to socialize and who you thought were your real friends. Then, you're getting a divorce, and suddenly, like my dad, no one comes around. You're not invited out to dinner, to the movies, to the theater. Your friends say they'd love to talk to you, but now's not a good time. You're no longer part of a couple, so you're not invited to couple things. Even your single friends don't check on you anymore. You're alone and you can't figure out why. Like my dad, it's not you, it's them. People are afraid of divorce, and they think it's contagious. If they just don't see you, then they can pretend that divorce isn't close enough to touch their lives. They can delude themselves that it can't happen to them. It still might. With the divorce rate at 50%, that's a good chance. If I can't see you, you don't exist - just like a toddler's game of peek a boo. Children outgrow that game; shouldn't adults? Go see a shut in; visit with a divorced friend. They can use the company. Here in the Trenches.
We all have "difficult" clients. Today's version is the client who gets s second opinion, who reads all the relevant cases, the statutes, and insists on butting in when you're preparing his witnesses. Unlike the clients who do all this and still have no clue what is going on, who try to tell you how to run the case and they're totally wrong, this client understands. He could act like a pain and tell me what to do, and in some ways he does. What he comes across as, however, is someone who cares what happens to his life and wants to have some understanding and control in a situation which is largely out of his control. He wants to work with me to help further his case. He may make what I consider the wrong decision now and again, but that's because I don't agree with his point of view, and not because I think he's reacting instead of thinking things through. He listens to all sides and arguments before making a decision. He makes me want to be even better prepared and better versed in the issues than I am already because I don't want to let him down. After all, he's my teammate - Here in the Trenches.
Christmas cookie season is right around the corner. It's two full weekends, one for Frederick County, and one for Montgomery County. 110 dozen cookies in all. Yes, you heard me right - 110 dozen. That's 1320 cookies, more or less. I'll level with you - every year I think about how many cookies I have to make and wonder if I'm up to it, especially as daughter isn't around to help anymore. Luckily, I have friends who pop in here and there to watch a holiday movie, bake a dozen or ten, have some hot cider or cocoa. Once I start, I really love it; the cookies, the movies, the friends, the smells. This year is tough. A year ago, during a cookie weekend, was when Office T came to tell me there was nothing else they could do. It makes me cry just to think of it. So, there I was, sitting on the couch the other night, and I mentioned to my significant other that I really didn't feel up to cookies this year and why. Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, "I'll bet it would please Office T to know he caused you to cancel cookies...." So, of course we're doing cookies. We owe it to Office T to do them and have fun, and share a laugh as we remember our friend. Here in the Trenches.
I attended Maryland State Bar Association's Solo and Small Firm Conference on Saturday. One of the programs at this excellent program was the state of Gay and Lesbian marriage in Maryland. Most of us here in the Trenches thought the passage of Amendment 6, legalizing gay marriage, would make the issues surrounding the dissolution of said marriages easier. Boy, were we wrong! The passage of the act does nothing to change the laws of parentage of children born to these unions, so a second parent adoption is still necessary. Then, there's the question of dissolving all of those civil unions these folks entered into before marriage was legal - they need to be dissolved in a different proceeding. Still more, even though Maryland recognizes gay marriage, many states don't, so all those medical powers of attorney and health care agent forms still need to identify the individual as such and not as a spouse. But wait, the federal government still doesn't recognize gay marriage, so no marriage exemption for gay couples - Maryland follows the federal rule, so even though the state recognizes the marriage, it doesn't when the spouses are dead. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. And you thought legalizing gay marriage just meant gays and lesbians have the same rights to be miserable going through divorce as heterosexuals. Turns out, they still have it worse. What a headache. Here in the Trenches.
On Saturday, the Washington Post printed a blog entry from Alexandra Petri entitled "How to Have A Secret Affair". It was delicious, especially for those of us here in the Trenches. I know Ms. Petri is a comedian and her posts are supposed to be humorous, but this one really hit the mark. Of course, she was referencing the recent (or not so recent) spate of public figures who seem to think that they can cheat and no one will find out. In this age of technology, how can anyone think they won't get caught? Especially when they use online and electronic technology to conduct their affairs. Truth is, the famous are no different than the rest of us: it's just that their humiliation is far more public. The lessons learned from the Petraeus affair should be instructive to all, and thank you to Ms. Petri for so cogently drawing them to our attention. Here are the rules for having a secret affair:
1. Don't do it, whether you are famous, infamous or just plain ordinary.
2. If you must do it, don't be seen in public. Especially, don't be seen in public holding hands, kissing, snuggling or, heaven forbid, having sex.
3. No place is ever private. The deserted footpath, the mountain trail and your own backyard all provide hiding places for industrious private investigators. You don't need to worry about the guy riding by on his bike as much as the guy you can't see.
4. Don't use cell phones to call each other. Cell phones have logs. Even if the phone company doesn't bill you by the call, they keep records. "Untraceable" throw away phones really aren't.
5. Don't send emails. Again, they can be traced and intercepted, especially if you used your date of birth or your children's names as passwords. Anything witty you might say in an email won't sound so great read aloud by a bored attorney at your divorce trial.
6. Don't send pictures of your body parts (and I don't mean your elbow) or of you scantily clothed. Truly, most of us aren't that attractive fully dressed, let alone naked. If that doesn't deter you, think how you will feel when those pictures are introduced into evidence in a public trial in an open courtroom.
Of course, if everyone followed all of the above rules, we here in the Trenches would have far less work and fewer clients. Life here in the Trenches would also be a lot less interesting. Well, we're not bored and are swamped with work because human nature means most people can't follow "the rules". That's life - here in the Trenches.
Sometimes, you just have to meet the other side where they are. In the past few weeks, my clients and I have attended mediation in two different cases. In both cases, my client made a settlement proposal structured along one line of reasoning and approach to the family assets, and their spouse's counter-proposal approached the family assets in an entirely different way. In each case, we had two choices: we could have stuck to our guns and insisted that the other spouse approach the settlement from our point of view, or we could regroup slightly and find a way to fit what our client needed into their spouse's framework. In both cases, I chose the latter (oh, you figured that out, didn't you?), but it took a lot of work to convince my client of the wisdom of that path. Here in the Trenches, clients are used to everything being a power play, and it's hard for them to back down. They see it as a sign of weakness. Part of what we do here in the Trenches is help our clients move forward with their lives, and part of that is to help them learn to pick their battles, and decide what's really important. My clients? We revamped our offers so they mirrored the form of their spouse's, while keeping their own substance. I think it will help the cases settle. Keep your fingers crossed - here in the Trenches.
My Dad is a World War II veteran. They're a dying breed, and as they die, their stories die with them. He flew out of Italy as group navigator for 450th Bomb Group, and lead navigator for the wing and for the 15th Air Force. Dad earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two weeks apart, one for flying the entire bomb group over their target without instruments, using only a compass and a stopwatch. He was shot down over Anzio Beachhead, landing just inside the Allied line, straddling a latrine trench. He watched his friends die, and narrowly missed blowing up with his crew when the fuel line on their B-24 became blocked. He never talked about the war, until I had children. Even then, he didn't share until my eldest was five years old. I'll never forget that day. We were visiting the Air and Space Museum, and in the World War II room, Dad suddenly began telling my son all about the things they saw there. Soon, Dad had an audience and a tour group. I hung closer than any of them. A few years later, he started talking to their classes about the war, and my daughter interviewed him on tape. It was about that time that his bomb group started having reunions, only 50 or so years after the war. They hadn't have a reunion before then because none of them could talk about the war. What they saw and what they experienced were too painful to recall. His experience isn't unusual among veterans. The men and women who serve our country in the armed forces are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things that are too painful for most of them to discuss. They serve and suffer so we can enjoy our freedoms and our way of life. On this Veterans' Day, take a moment and thank our present and former servicemembers for their sacrifice. I know I will - here in the Trenches.
Stress is a funny thing. When one of my puppies is getting attention or if she's not feeling well, her boyfriend is the first to let us know. He goes crazy - he circles her, sniffs her behind, licks her nose and her ears, paces the rooms, whines, and starts all over again and then again. He keeps going until she either stops getting attention, or she starts feeling well again. Then, he's calm, cool and collected. Right now, my dogs remind me of one of my clients here in the Trenches. The months leading up to their separation were tense; the anxiety was building. My client was a wreck before she told her husband she was leaving. Then she told him, and all hell broke loose. Lawyers were writing letters, and ultimatums were being issued. Off duty police for both sides were present during the move out. And did I mention that things were tense? A few days passed and we heard from the client. She and her spouse were talking, getting along and making decisions - together. The stress of living under the same roof and of the move was past, and now cooler heads could prevail - Here in the Trenches.
Some people obsess about the things they understand. Some obsess about the things they can control. My failing is to obsess about the things about which I can do nothing. You know what I mean; I obsess about what the judge is going to do after the trial is over but before the decision is rendered. I obsess about what I could have/should have said in oral argument. I worry about how I could have handled a situation better. Certainly some of this introspection is necessary for me to do things better in the future, but I think sometimes I take it to extremes. It doesn't paralyze me from taking action, but it does cause me to lose a lot of sleep. The funny thing is that I do this only in my professional life. I don't worry nearly as much about the what ifs and the what might have beens in my personal existence. It's not that things don't matter just as much when it's about me. I worry so much at work because what I do and how I do it have an impact on the rest of someone else's life. If I make a mistake at home, I live with it. If I make a mistake at work, my client lives with it. The two feel so different because they are. It's just part of life here in the Trenches.
For the first time ever, I have a "the dog ate my homework" story. Yesterday, we settled our custody trial for today. I arranged to meet my client up the road so she could sign the agreement. Off I went, up Georgia Avenue, to meet her. On my way, the three cars in front of me slowed because there was a dog on the side of the road. Being the puppy lover that I am, I stopped. This gorgeous black pit bull came bounding over to me, jumped in my car, and.... onto the agreement. It made it quite wrinkled (which was the dog ate my homework part of this when I handed the wrinkled agreement to the judge this morning). I called the owner, left a message, and went on my way. Well, this dog had no car manners whatsoever, plus all 60 punds of him thought they could fit in my lap as we drove up the way. I pulled over, put him in the back seat, lifted the cover for the center console and placed my arm between the seats to keep him in back. After he was done licking my arm, he squeezed between.....my arm and the ceiling of the car to get in front. Luckily, I was where I needed to go by then. On the way back, he seemed to understand the drill, and stayed in the passenger seat, licking my hand the entire way. Turns out, he's a rescue. He had been given up when his owner went to jail, and spent the next few months at the pound (that he was still alive tells you everything you need to know about his temperament). Then, he was rescued and is living with his foster mommy until they can find him a good home. There are so many ways this story is like the Trenches. I could talk about how life is not the getting from point A to point B, but all the serendipitous things that happen along the way. I could talk about why I stopped and some people didn't - how we perceive danger, how we view right and wrong, how we feel about animals. What I want to talk about, however, is Nietzsche (that's his name).
For those of you who don't know, I live and work in the state of Maryland. That's the state whose appellate court recently announced that a pit bull is an inherently dangerous animal. Pit bulls don't get one free bite like other dogs. Oh no, if they bite you, you are assumed to have known they were dangerous. I wonder if the cars in front of me didn't stop because Nietzsche was obviously a pit bull. Probably. Truth is, he was less dangerous than my poodle. I can't tell you how often people here in the Trenches appear to be different than they really are. The client who appears a wee bit crazy (OK, a lot crazy), is just reacting to their spouse's crazy-making behavior. The one who is accused of being abusive is sometimes the victim. The poor defenseless spouse was actually the one calling the shots during the marriage. The big hulk of a man has low testosterone. The stud is actually impotent. The woman with the great body has had more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers. A lot of the time, what the client presents when they first walk in our door is fueled by fear and uncertainty; they seem one way, but as they feel safer and calm down, they are entirely different. It makes for an interesting life; there are always surprises for us. It's part of our jobs to look past the pit bull and see the Nietzsche. That's probably something we should all do, and not just - Here in the Trenches.
Our own Little Miss Sunshine, a.k.a. Erin Shine, suggested that we write about divorce insurance. Yes, you heard me right, divorce insurance. It seems there's a company in North Carolina that is selling divorce insurance. Each unit costs $16 per month and provides $1,250 of reimbursement for legal fees. All you have to do is send in your divorce decree to be reimbursed. My first reaction was "Ewwww." Then, I stopped and thought some more. Sure, divorce insurance is unromantic; then again, so is a prenuptial agreement. I just purchased long term care insurance, and my choices were 1,2, 4, 5 years or indefinite coverage. In other words, I'm betting on how long I'm going to live after I need in home nursing care. It sounds morbid to bet that a marriage will end, but is it really any different than purchasing long term care insurance? Probably not. I can't see that divorce insurance would have a big market in first time marriages, but given that most second marriages fail, maybe it's not such a bad idea. I guess other people don't feel the same as I, because their website is down. Interesting concept though - Here in the Trenches.