Wednesday, June 26, 2013
I am just back from another successful collaborative divorce training sponsored by the Family Division of Maryland's Administrative Office of the Courts. These trainings always come at such interesting times in my life. Last week, I was involved in a brutal temporary visitation hearing. The needs of the child were lost in the chaos of the needs of the natural parents and the personal agendas of many of the players. It broke my heart and caused me not for the first time, to wonder about the future of family law. Then, of course, came the collaborative training. We trained another 30 professionals to practice collaboratively. My favorite part of the training is always the closing circle. I want to hear what the learners are taking away from the training. Are they simply thanking us for 3 days of training? Thanking the AOC for sponsoring it (with which gratitude I join)? No, by and large, they said they were thankful that there was hope for the practice of family law and the families who find themselves subject to it. They are thankful that because of this practice, fewer children will be traumatized. They are glad they have a new way to help people move forward. I was feeling kind of down heading into this training because of my trial. Now, I too feel hope. Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The way we behave here in the Trenches sometimes baffles clients. In the past year, I've had two cases which presented very difficult sets of facts. By difficult sets of facts, I mean a set of facts which, when applied to the law, create a case that is difficult, if not impossible, to win. I am very honest with my clients and I try to create realistic expectations for them. That means I tell them not to get their hopes up, that it's an almost impossible case to win, and that we will give it our all anyway. We discuss their case, all the pros and the cons, and decide whether to fight the battle anyway. The problem is that clients don't always understand that there's a difference between managing expectations and giving up. If the client, after knowing all the facts and weighing all the options, decides they want to try their case in court, then that's it for me and I go forward as if there is no doubt that they will win. I present their case as though my life depends on it, vigorously arguing every point and presenting every piece of evidence. At the time we're discussing the options, however, the client doesn't know what I'm like if we go to court, and they start to get worried that my assessment of their case means that I won't give it my all in court. Of course, I try to allay their fears, but that doubt exists nonetheless....until we go to court. Then they believe (and by the way, we won) - here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
There is a huge risk that those of us here in the Trenches will take on the battles of our clients as our own. It's a natural thing for lawyers to do, because our training teaches us to fight with our words. I think in a lot of ways lawyers in the Trenches are like doctors in that we are entrusted with the futures of people's lives; and because of that, our motto should be like the doctors' - first, do no harm. Here in the Trenches, our clients do plenty of harm to each other. It is our job to help extricate them from their world of pain and point them down a different path. That new path may be like the old one, in that it still has the same children, with the same other parent, but it is different in that it provides a new way of dealing with the old issues and people. Our job in the Trenches is to use our skills to guide our clients off the old path and down the new one. When we take on our clients' battles as our own, we fail them. Instead of helping guide them toward the future, we keep them mired in the past. When we reinforce the destructive ways of their old path, we make it harder for them to let go of the past and move toward the future. In my book, that's harm, and it's something we in the Trenches have to fight against every day. As Hippocrates said: "Make a habit of two things: to help, or at least to do no harm." A motto for us to live by - here in the Trenches.
Monday, June 17, 2013
As luck would have it, one of my clients is having a particularly difficult time right now. He doesn't want a divorce and doesn't believe in it. He's been married a long time, and while the marriage wasn't perfect, he thought it was pretty good - until his wife told him she was miserable. Everything he did in their adult life, he did for them, with an eye toward spending the rest of their lives together. Now, not only is he moving homes, he is also shifting his vision from a future together to one alone. He's having to defend actions he thought were joint, but really weren't. Every time he feels like he's getting his balance, something new is thrown at him, and off he goes again. Some things he's doing very well and others he doesn't do well at all. The least little thing throws him off completely. His life is kind of like my move, only with more emotional upheaval. Eventually, everything will come together, including his emotions, and one day he'll wake up and feel really good. They'll be running water in his bathroom sink and all will be right with his world. That day is not today, and we understand. Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
...can come up with an acorn. That's one of my father's favorite sayings. (Of course, he used to say it in reference to my golf game and my occasional ability to hit a decent shot.) Sometimes I love what it means. Like yesterday. Run Disney opened registration for a new race combination over Disney Princess weekend. Daughter, one of my Trenches friends and I decided to register for it. The combination filled up within hours of registration opening - but the three of us made it. Lots of others did not. I'm loving that acorn, and we got it just because we were all in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, however, the blind hog comes up with the acorn, and the rest of the hogs say "What? How did that happen?" I had just such a situation a few weeks ago. It was a hearing in which the other attorney was not even marginally competent, his client's case was not compelling, and in fact he had done some really not OK things, on which the Master commented. Yet, he managed to receive much of what he requested in court. That blind hog came up with an acorn. How did that happen? It wasn't because I didn't do a good job. It wasn't because my client wasn't deserving. It wasn't because the other attorney did a good job. It certainly wasn't because his client was a good guy. If I had to explain what happened, I would say that for a reason not related to the evidence or the skill of the attorneys, the Master made a decision. On what was it based? I don't know. I may never know. Maybe the Master had seen a case like it in the past, and felt that the decision she made on that day worked well for them and would work well for our folks. Maybe the clients reminded the Master of someone she liked or didn't like. Maybe it wasn't what the clients said but how they said it. Maybe , maybe, maybe. Like I said, I'll never really know. That's the problem with going to trial. You never know if it's the evidence or something unquantifiable that drives the judge's decision. You can have the world's best lawyer, the most compelling evidence, and still lose. Welcome to my world - here in the Trenches.