Monday, May 19, 2014
I work very hard to settle cases. I probably work harder to settle cases than I do trying them. Why is that? It is because settling cases is more difficult than trying them. Trying cases is what I was trained to do. It has choreographed steps. It has set rules. You apply the rules to the facts, make the argument of your client's position by using evidence and witnesses. I never ask a question to which I don't know the answer. I don't care what anyone except my client wants, and I want the decision maker to want it too. That's my goal and my only goal.
Settling cases requires that I ask a lot of questions to which I don't know the answers. I have to dig hard to discover not only why my client wants what they want, but also why their spouse wants what they want. That's really difficult to do, because most clients here in the Trenches are entrenched (sorry for the pun!) in their positions. They know what they want, but they can't articulate why they want it. Emotion will do that to you. It takes a lot of questions, a lot of building answer upon answer, unravelling pain, anger and fear, to get to the heart of the matter. It's exhausting work, more so than most clients think, but it's the most worthwhile work I do. Surprisingly, when you get down to it, what my client and their spouse usually want is not all that differnt. That similarity is probably why they got married in the first place. Helping them find their commonality again so they can use it to want to help each other get what they need to move on is the best, and hardest, part of what I do. Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
My mom lives alone. It's a sad fact of widowhood, especially when you are relatively young and in good health. Certainly, she has her devoted dog, Lillie, to be with her, but it's not the same as another human being. For one thing, Lillie, smart as she is, can neither answer a phone nor place a call. She is also unable to open a door. What happens if something happens to my Mom? Who will know that she is not alright? Who will get in the house to help her? Luckily, my mom is a smart woman. She has neighbors, a close friend, and some relatives with a key to the house. She made sure that we all have everyone else's phone numbers. I know if I'm worried about her because I can't reach her, there are at least 4 people I can call. I don't need to worry that she'll be one of those people who has a medical emergency and no one finds them for days.
A lot of our folks here in the Trenches could learn a thing or two from my mom. Most of them are now the only adults in their home. Yes, their children may be with them, but many of their children are too young to be much help in an emergency. Yet, most of them don't have a plan like my mom. No one else has a key to their house. No one has contact information for their closest relative or friend. Their closest relative or friend doesn't have anyone to call if they're worried. Our clients have never had to think about these issues, because they always had their spouse. Except now they don't. What would happen if you fell and couldn't get up? If the phone was just out of your reach? Isn't it time you thought about it? Here in the Trenches.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
As many of you are painfully aware, a few weeks ago, we were hacked. Let's start out this post with a huge and heartfelt apology to everyone who had their email compromised by the virus. Luckily, the only thing that seemed to be affected was email, and everyone's hard drive was spared. It could have been so much worse, and we are so grateful it was not. Still, we are so sorry.
Being a silver lining kind of person, I found one in the hack. You see, it accessed all of the email addresses in my address book. Most people wanted to make sure I knew I was hacked, so they called and emailed. We heard from clients, former spouses and clients' family and friends. The ones we heard from were, for the most part, some of our favorites. We heard from folks from years ago. Chrystal was inundated, but she loved hearing how people were doing, where their lives had taken them, what had happened with their families. You see, in our office, clients aren't just a case. They chose us to help them through one of the worst periods in their lives. They trusted our advice. They knew we would take care of them. They felt that we cared - because we did. We learn so much about our clients and their families while we represent them. We always wonder how they fare when they leave us. It's not like they call to tell us. Most clients are anxious to put this stage of their lives behind them. They only think of us when they need us. We think of them, though - a lot. The email breach gave us a chance to catch up, and for that, we thank the hacker. For the havoc they caused, no. Here in the Trenches.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
I'm off tomorrow for Daughter's college graduation. In honor of all graduations being celebrated by clients and former clients here in the Trenches, I offer the following:
I know you're still angry about the divorce. Your former spouse is not your favorite person (an understatement, I'm sure). In fact, I'm sure if your never had to see him or her again, you would be thrilled. The thought of sucking it up and spending the day with your child's other parent makes your blood boil. I know; I sympathize. What I'd like you to do is go out and take a long run, swim a few laps, punch a couple of pillows. In short, do whatever you need to do to blow off steam. Do you feel better now? Good, because you need to suck it up a while longer.
Today is your child's graduation. It is an important day in their lives. It represents the culmination of years of hard work (we hope) and accomplishment. Your child is happy. They want you to be happy for them. They want you to be proud of them. They want you to sit with their other parent. They want you to be civil to each other, even if you can't actually spend a lunch or a dinner with them. Today is about your child. Don't make it about you by finally telling your adult child how you really feel about their other parent and by refusing to share their day. Think about the memories you want to leave with your child about today. Do you want them to remember it as a happy occasion that they got to spend with both their parents focusing on them alone? Or would you rather that they remember it as a day full of stress as they sought to juggle the graduation itself and make sure they spent time with both of their parents separately because their parents weren't mature enough to put aside their differences and focus on them? Do you love your children more than you hate your spouse? Today's the day to prove it - here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Let's talk some more about learning the truth. I attended two different mediation sessions with two of my clients and their spouses. At both mediation sessions, there was bad behavior by all parties. It would be really easy to paint everyone with the same brush and say they are all unreasonable, unrealistic, angry people. That would not be correct. Sure, they all look unreasonable, unrealistic and angry. A couple of them are very angry and hateful, and will probably never forgive their spouse for the divorce and its aftermath. For the most part, most of them are afraid - of the future. A few are really frustrated - that their spouse hasn't changed or has changed, that they haven't done what they promised to do, that all the things that made dealing with them a head banging experience are still there. They all feel under attack and are incredibly defensive - wouldn't you be with all these strangers dissecting you and your choices? It takes a bit of sitting back and observing to figure out what emotions lie under the surface. In the Trenches, if you don't know that, you're not really helpful: not to your client and not to their family. First and foremost, our job is to help our clients move on with their lives. To do that, we need to know what underlies the outward manifestations of anger and pain. Luckily, it's what the good ones of us know how to do. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, May 5, 2014
What is it I do for a living? I try to discover the truth. The truth is not what my client says. It is not what the other side says it is. It's a mixture of both. How do I figure it out? Well, truth be told, sometimes I don't. Usually, however, I'm successful. I look at documents, and talk to witnesses. That tells me a lot of the story. What usually seals it for me is not what is said, but how it's said. I mean body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and choice of words. When they say it's not what you say but how you say it, it's true.
I've been reviewing the videotapes of my students in law school's final exam - a simulation of parts of a collaborative case. What I looked for in the tapes was whether they understood the teaching objectives. Their client skills and execution were not as important as their getting the concepts. Most of them understood the teaching objectives. There were a few, however, who did not. I respect the ones who were obvious in their lack of understanding. Some made outright mistakes - and apologized to the clients. They didn't get the highest grade, but at least they struggled through it. One or two figured they could bluff their way through. I saw right through it, and so will clients. Most clients know when they are being snowed, and they don't appreciate it. Most clients understand that we don't know everything. They respect us when we tell them so, especially when we then find them the answer. They know we make mistakes. Some mistakes are huge and an apology doesn't fix it....but it helps, especially when followed by an honest attempt to make it better. Here in the Trenches.
Puppy Girl update: Puppy Girl and Dr. Danny went to see the vet. As I said, our vet is a big Dr. Danny fan. She ran blood work and a urinalysis, did a sonogram, and a physical exam. Nothing. The vet says Puppy Girl is healthy; Dr. Danny disagrees. She's acting fine, but then again, she always does. We'll keep an eye on her... and on Dr. Danny.