Monday, June 30, 2014
Last week was an exciting week for me outside of the Trenches. Hence, the lack of posting. The short version of the story is that Number One Son (also, only son), popped the question to his girlfriend. This would be a different post if she had said "no," but, happily for all concerned, she said "yes." I am beyond excited and happy for them. That means I am soon to be a mother-in-law. I have a number of friends who are already mother-in-laws for their sons, and they have very different experiences. Some of them have wonderful relationships with their son's wife, and others, not so much. It's hard to figure out why some of the relationships are marvelous and some are awful. I grew up with both of my parents having wonderful relationships with their in-laws, and with both sets of parents having wonderful relationships with each other. My grandparents recognized that my parents were adults, not children. They treated them as they would a good friend - accepted them as people, respected their choices and treated them with kindness and respect. They also believed and demonstrated that when you married one of theirs, you became one of theirs too. They all put allot of effort into making the relationships work. Luckily for them, my parents were of a like mind, and the families joined and became larger. In my own marriage, my relationship with my mother-in-law was positively rocky. I never felt accepted for who I was, and experienced a lot of pressure to conform to what she wanted me to be. We could never just have a conversation as equals, and I rarely felt my opinions were respected. It made me sad, because I knew what a really good relationship looked like, and that wasn't it. I'm committed to doing my best to ensure my son and his fiancee enjoy what my parents had, a blended group of families that love them with all their hearts and will support them no matter what they do.
In all my years in the Trenches, I can count on one hand the people who felt respected and accepted, not only by their spouse, but by their spouse's family. It amazes me at the paucity of folks who will miss the relationship they had with their in-laws. So few mourn the loss of their former spouse's family, those people with whom they spent extended amounts of time, even decades. Yet, I know a lot of people who adore their in-laws - they're just not in my office. Think there's a lesson here? I do. If don't like the people who raised your spouse, who molded your spouse and made that person who they are, and who your spouse loves perhaps you should think twice before marrying them. It's a difficult conversation that's worth having, and it could keep you out of my office. Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Let's revisit Women of a Certain Age, shall we? As you might recall, I resolved my nightly discomfort by wearing Under Armour to bed. Actually, I resolved it by wearing a particular Under Armour shirt to bed. Another friend chose a Nike Dri Fit shirt. We were as snug as bugs in a rug. Then, we decided to branch out. I wore a different Under Armour shirt to bed. it didn't cover my shoulders, the fabric wasn't quite the same, and neither was my sleep. Great shirt in which to run, but I had moments of intense heat and sweat when I slept in it. Not as much as with other clothing, but more than with my other shirt. Then, I decided to try a moisture wicking shirt from a different manufacturer. It was much cheaper than the Under Armour, but it said it was moisture wicking. Sheer disaster. I tossed and turned all night. My friend with the Dri Fit? Well, she too decided to try a cheaper version, with the same disastrous results. There are two morals of the story here. First, you get what you pay for. Second, even when you pay more, sometimes what you get is not right for you.
Whoever would have thought that menopause fit into the Trenches? My shirt story parallels choosing a lawyer. Prospective clients call my office and when I quote them my rate, they tell me some other lawyer said they could or would do it for less. There are lots of reasons why that might be, and I have discussed them before. The most usual reason is that the other attorney has less experience in legal practice. What that means is that they may and probably are perfectly competent to handle simpler legal matters, but that they don't have experience in more complicated cases. It may be that they haven't tried that many cases or that they haven't been out of law school and practicing law as long. As a result it may either take them longer to do things or they may not know the nuances of what they need to do. They're still family law attorneys, just like all the shirts are moisture wicking, but there's a difference in quality and performance that affects satisfaction. (Sometimes, you get a gem who is fabulous and cheap, but they're really hard to find).
Sometimes, you can hire the "best" attorney in town and still be unhappy with the performance. Does that meant thee attorney is somehow not as good as others? No, it does not. As I have said before and will continue to say until my last breath, the lawyer and client relationship is extremely personal. Whether it works or not is as much a matter of personal fit as it is skill. If the best attorney in town doesn't communicate in a way the client can understand, or wants to follow a course of action that doesn't mesh with the client's needs, the client will not be happy - period. That's why Under Armour has multiple styles of shirts and fabrics; even though they are at the top of the ladder in moisture wicking gear, not all of their shirts work for everybody, just like with me. Just like with lawyers. Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
I am part of a family of teachers. I used to say I was part of a family of lawyers. No more. My son is a high school teacher. His lovely girlfriend is a high school teacher. My brother-in-everything but the law is a high school teacher. I'm a law school teacher. When I think back on it, my father was a teacher too: he would say his job was to teach and help his witnesses to teach the judge and the jury. Whew! That's a lot of teachers. Even though we all teach different things, we have a lot in common. First, we put in A LOT of work behind the scenes. It takes hours and hours to prepare for just one week of classes. Students don't realize the amount of work it takes. Second, we put in a lot of work outside of class, just because. All those class and club sponsorships, mentoring, chaperoning, reference writing and receptions take time, and they are usually without pay. We have to attend continuing education to keep our skills sharp. Even if they are for pay, the pay is a pittance for the amount of time. It really doesn't matter what we teach, as it takes a lot of effort to walk into a classroom and instruct students well. As a student, I had no clue about all of this, and I bet our students now don't either. They just think we're good teachers and everything else happens by magic.
Here in the Trenches, our work is a lot like teaching. For every meeting we attend, every hearing at which we appear, every mediation in which we participate, there are hours and hours of preparation beforehand. Most clients never see us poring through years' worth of emails and documents to find the ones that most help their case. They don't see us spending hours preparing, editing and refining documents, letters, pleadings, and questions for witnesses. They don't know how many hours and days we spend reviewing updates in the law and attending classes to keep our skills up to snuff. All they know is what they see when they meet with us and when we're "on," taking depositions, being part of collaborative meetings, participating in mediations, and appearing in court. It looks so easy, except it's not. They'll never really know or appreciate what it takes for us to do what we do. So long as they think we're good lawyers, counselors and advocates, it's usually enough. Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
I have a confession - I am a woman of a certain age. Normally, I wouldn't admit this, but our compulsive overachiever pointed out that I've shared so much else with you, I may as well share that. Anyway, for those of you who are not "women of a certain age," what it means is that I have trouble sleeping.. I crawl into bed, get under the covers, and five minutes later throw off all the blankets because I am broiling hot. Another five minutes later, I bring the sheet back over me, then the blanket up to my waist, then my shoulders, and then.....I'm broiling again. This little dance goes on for hours before I can get to sleep. Then it starts up again at about 5am until the alarm goes off. I've been tired, plus the bags under my eyes were making me look like a woman of a certain age. We can't let that happen, so I started to think of solutions.
The most obvious solution was to turn down the thermostat. That really didn't solve the problem, plus it created a new one in the form of my Honey, who was shivering all night under 3 blankets. We have to make sacrifices for a relationship, but he was unwilling to start chipping ice blocks for us to make an igloo. So, up went the thermostat. Then, I turned on the ceiling fan. Still not great, and Honey was still freezing. I bought a floor fan and aimed it only at me. It was somewhat better some nights, but I still didn't get a full night's sleep. Sleeping nude? (sorry for the TMI) Nope, didn't work. I started researching moisture and heat wicking sheets and sleepwear. The sheets were really expensive and didn't get great reviews. The sleepwear was pretty ugly and expensive, plus the reviews were spotty. I started to resign myself to a life of sleepless nights. Then I stopped. I took a deep breath. I cleared my mind of preconceived notions. I started to think outside the box. Why was I focusing on sleepwear and sheets? What if I expanded my thoughts beyond the obvious? Wait a minute. I'm a runner. What do runners have? Under Armour and Dri Fit - in short, moisture and heat wicking clothes. Could the solution be in my own closet? I pulled out a Heat Gear shirt. I put it on. I slept. All night. Just to be sure, I did it again the next night. Yup, a good night's sleep. After the third night, I knew we had a solution. I told my other friends of a certain age. They tried it and slept too. Problem solved.
Oh my, could I think of a better way to describe the benefits of brainstorming in the collaborative process? I don't think so. Here in the Trenches, we handle a lot of cases collaboratively. One of the stages of the collaborative process is brainstorming. Brainstorming occurs after you've gathered all the information. It involves opening your mind to all the possible solutions to a problem. It requires clearing your mind and just thinking, and throwing ideas out for consideration. No option is too silly, impractical or undesireable. Why is that so important? Because like my contemplation of sleepwear, sometimes thinking of sleepwear reminds you of other clothing, and other clothing reminds you of running, and before you know it, the option you throw out for consideration is the acceptable solution to the problem. If you don't open your mind to consider all the possibilities, if you only think in a linear fashion and consider the obvious, you may miss the best and most workable solution. You may miss that one option that meets everyone's needs, as opposed to some or one person's needs. This is not easy to do, especially for our clients here in the Trenches who are in the midst of the most emotionally charged period of their lives. It requires a lot of support from the professionals who are helping them through the process. Some folks can never do it, but for those who can, it is magic. You can see it in their faces. They have solved the unsolvable. Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Not only do I love writing blogs; I love reading them as well. I especially love home decorating blogs. My envy is the laundry room. Yes, that's right, the laundry room. All of the blogs I read have these fantastic laundry rooms. They have beautiful cabinets, lovely storage baskets on the shelves, and art on the wall. They're painted elegant colors. They never have lint on the floor or the walls. They have places to hang things and surfaces for folding. They just make you want to get up and do laundry 24 hours a day. One of us here in the Trenches (you know who you are) has one of those too. I have a laundry closet. I'm lucky in that it is right outside my bedroom, so it's convenient. I painted it white and put up Elfa shelving. Every year or so, I change the vent ducts. I pull the dryer out and wash down the walls and the floors. It looks clean and serviceable, but it will never be on a decorating blog. I still want the beautiful laundry room, but it wouldn't look so pretty after I had it a month, because I'd really have to put a lot of time into keeping it looking good. Guess I'll stick with what I have. Someone else might put together that lovely laundry room. They'd be happy at first because it would look really great. Then, it wouldn't. The room would no longer be a source of pleasure for them, but one of frustration. They curse the day they thought of redoing their laundry room.
My laundry room story is so Trench-like it's scary. First, there's the people who marry their spouses thinking they can change them. Sure, things may go swimmingly for a while, but eventually, unless it is something the spouse wants to change for himself or herself, they will get tired of putting in the effort it takes to be something they're not, and their behavior will revert to what it was before. They're angry, the one who wanted them to change is angry. Both feel betrayed by the other. Second, there's the folly of trying to be someone you're not. It never works. Even if you act like that fabulous laundry room looks, eventually you'll fall back into acting like my laundry room looks. I know your momma told you, but anyone who doesn't love you for who you are, isn't worth your time. Third, lots of folks are married to people like my laundry room - serviceable, usable, clean, tidy and ....boring. Then they get divorced. They figure that what they need is a big change, something beautiful and different from what they just left behind. Obviously, the old laundry room didn't work, so if they get a decorator laundry room, life will be grand. Except that they're the same person they were before; they're still a functional but plain laundry room soul. Opposites can attract, but do they last? Fourth, sometimes people just settle for laundry rooms like mine. What they really are is a designer laundry room waiting to get out. Too bad their spouse wanted them to be my laundry room. Oh wait, that brings us back to the beginning. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, June 9, 2014
As you all know, I recently got hearing aids. I went back to the audiologist for my one month checkup. She asked me how often I wore my hearing aids. My answer was that I wear them all times except sleeping, bathing, swimming and activities when I know I will be sweating heaviliy (moisture is the enemy of hearaing aids). She was.....surprised. That's right. She was surprised. I asked her why. She told me most people don't wear them all the time. Now it was turn to be amazed. Why wouldn't I want to hear well all the time? I spent a lot of money on these. They so improved the quality of my life, I can't imagine not wanting to weaar them as much as possible. Then, I stopped and thought of my parents. My father didn't wear his all the time. He didn't get them serviced as often he should. He would get upset because he couldn't hear, but he didn't do what he needed to hear. He knew he would have a fuller like with the hearing aids in, but he just didn't wear them My mother just got her hearing aids. She doesn't wear them all the time either. Why not? Well, she says there's no real reason when no one is there and she's not talking on the phone. Not for me. Anything that helps me enjoy my life more and make it easier is something I want to use. All the time.
Wow. Who knew audiologists and lawyers in the Trenches had so much in common? Here in the Trenches, we have clients who listen to our advice and take it to heart. They incorporate it into their lives and use it in all of their dealings with their spouse or coparent, and with everyone else. It makes their lives easier, their case goes better and smoother. Some of our clients hear our advice and consciously decide not to take it, kind of like my dad when he decided not to use his hearing aids. He knew his life would be better with them, but he chose a different path. He decided to be obstinate and not do what he needed to do to make life better. We have clients like that, who decide they don't want to take our advice. Usually, their road is a lot bumpier, more full of potholes. Many times their case doesn't turn out as well as it could because of it and their interactions with their spouse or coparent continue to be difficult long after the case ends. Most of our clients are like my mom. They hear our advice. Sometimes they heed it and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they're just faking it in public, but in private don't take it to heart. That's OK. I always say to fake it until you make it. Even though the best result is when you internalize the advice, sometimes it makes almost as good a result if you just act as though you did. Sure, my mom's life would be fuller if she wore her hearing aids all the time, but wearing them just when it matters most means she still gets value from them. Kind of like behaving yourself in your interactions with your spouse or co-parent, even if you really think they're an ass.. It still makes your life easier. Here in the Trenches.
Friday, June 6, 2014
One of my all time favorite movies is Pretty Woman. I am a sucker for the Cinderella story. One of my many favorite scenes from the movie occurs at the beginning, when Julia Roberts is just meeting Richard Gere. There they are, in Richard Gere's hotel room negotiating for services, when Jullia whips out a handful of condoms and asks him to pick one. Does he want a color or a texture, or the big gold one, the condom of champions. She tells him: "I'm the safety girl."
When I meet with a new client, I think of Julia in that scene, because "I'm the process girl." To me, it is ALL about the process. You would think that when new clients come in my door and all I do is explore process choices with them in that first meeting, they would be unhappy. That's not the case. In fact, I had two new clients this week. One came in completely overwhelmed. Not only is her marriage ending, but she also has huge responsibilities toward aging parents and grown children. She didn't know which way to go and what to do. Everything was swirling. I obtained some basic information and then started discussing process with her. Not just the choice of mediation, collaboration, negotiation or litigation, but the process of organizing her tasks, formulating the content of her communications with her husband, thinking about her priorities now and into the future, and working to slow down and normalize what was happening to a manageable speed and set of tasks. She left with some direction and peace of mind. The second was overwhelmed by emotion. She was angry and hurt and lashing out. Again, listening to her and really hearing her story as part of a discussion of process, made her feel heard and understood and grounded her in thinking of her situation in terms of a set of actions that needed to occur. She left with a plan of next steps. Finally, I mediated today. The couple had little to fight over, but they were coming at a solution from two different places, one emotional and the other practical. For them, too, we discussed process, made a plan for gathering and assessing information, and set another appointment to mediate. We'll get them to the finish line as well, because they have a plan to help them move forward.
If you think about it, we're trained here in the Trenches to formulate and follow a plan. That's really what litigation is - a plan formalized by the judiciary to resolve disputes. It has a series of steps and phases, as well as rules to guide what is done at each. The difference between all the processes is who makes the decision and how it's made. People often default to litigation, not because they're angry or unreasonable, but because they don't know or can't organize what needs to be done into a process that works for them, and their attorneys don't work hard enough to help them. So, I'll keep on being "the process girl," if you don't mind.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Last week, I had 5 mediations in 4 days. In 4 of them, I was the mediator. 2 of them were court ordered, meaning the case was in litigation and the court appointed me as the mediator; and 2 were private. In 3 of them attorneys were involved and attended mediation. As the mediator, part of my job is take the temperature in the room, observe the interactions between the parties and their attorneys, and hear what's not said as well as what is said. The question that ran through my mind in all of these mediations, court ordered and not, with attorneys and not, was whether any of them could have been collaborative cases. The answer, unsurprisingly, was about what I find in my regular cases: one could not be collaborative; one didn't need to be collaborative; and three could have been collaborative. So, what made the difference?
In the one that could not be collaborative, it was because of the lawyer for one of the parties, and not in the way you might think. It wasn't that he was overly aggressive, and it wasn't that he didn't know the law. It was that he didn't care what happened to his client. No choice of process could or would change that. If there is one thing I can say for certain, it is that an attorney who doesn't care about their client cannot practice collaboratively. That's nothing that can be faked.
The one that didn't need to be collaborative was between two people who didn't have attorneys, didn't need attorneys and just needed a little help making sure they addressed all their issues. They also had to have a bit of help reaching agreement on the few issues they had. They needed no support at the table and really no advice. They were pretty close on what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. Collaborative process wasn't necessary.
What about the other three? Why is it I thought they could be collaborative? In all three, both parties were committed to resolving their issues outside of court, to make their own decisions regarding their family. In all three, the parties, at their cores, had a desire to make sure they reached a resolution that was acceptable to them both. All of them wanted the other party to be OK moving forward. The two who had children loved their children and recognized the importance of resolving custody in a way that let both parents feel heard and involved. Well then, why weren't they collaborative? First, in all but one of them, neither attorney was trained. What the training does is help the attorneys let go of the model of positional bargaining and not be afraid to commit to helping their clients explore their wants and needs for themselves, as well as for the other party and their family. It's harder than it seems, and requires real knowledge and commitment, as well as caring, for attorneys to do this. I am certain that if the attorneys were trained collaboratively, these cases could have resolved.
What about the third case, in which both attorneys were trained collaboratively? Could it have been handled that way? Yes and no. It could have been done collaboratively, but it would have taken a lot more time, cost a lot more in attorney's fees, and the result would not have been much different that what resulted. Plus, the husband would never have been able or comfortable discussing his needs and wants, no matter how many sessions with a coach he had (if he would ever have agreed to a coach in the first place). Some people just can't look that deeply inside themselves, and asking them to do so would be counterproductive. Would the clients have found the agreement any more durable or acceptable? No. Again, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Figuring out the process that works best for the clients is a large part of what we do - Here in the Trenches.
Monday, June 2, 2014
The story is all too familiar. Their relationship was good, then something changed. One of them knew that it changed and why, but the other did not. All the other knew was that something was a bit off. Not really off, you understand, just slightly off kilter. At first, they thought it must be them, they were going through a stressful time, and perhaps that skewed their perception. Then, they started spending less time together, and when they did, they didn't share the way they used to. Conversation became conventional, stilted, formal. They no longer shared their hopes, dreams and fears. Now, the other was sure something was wrong. They mention it. "No, nothing's the matter; you're just imagining it," they're told by their partner. "Everything is just fine." Except it's not. Soon, they start hearing whispers from others. Their partner is talking about them and saying most unkind and uncomplimentary things. Their partner has new friends that don't include them; they're not welcome to join in. Then, finally, their partner finally comes clean - the relationship is over. The other is hurt, feels betrayed and angry. They don't have time to grieve, however, because the other is ready to divide their property, determine custody and move on. They just need to get on with it.
Whether we represent the leaver or the leavee, our jobs are difficult. If it's the leaver, we have to slow them down and help them to understand that not only does their partner need time to catch up and internalize that the relationship is over, but they also have to work through the hurt and betrayal at the perceived deception. That's right, deception. Even if the leaver didn't intend to mislead their partner, they didn't tell them anything was wrong until everything was wrong. There was no chance to fix things, to work on what was wrong. They hid their feelings and intentions from their partner, and that takes time with which to come to terms. As for the leavee, they need time and space to catch up, to let their emotions stabilize and cool. Once that happens, they are in a place to negotiate and issues will be resolved. Push it too soon and you have a royal mess, complete with court filings and cross filings. Then, it takes more work to calm things down and resolve the issues. And you wonder why working in the Trenches is so hard? Helping our clients get past the hurt and resolve their issues is what we do - Here in the Trenches.