Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dining, Italian Style

More on my trip to Italy with Daughter.....  Europeans, and Italians in particular, love their meals.  You notice I didn't say that they love to eat.  They love meals.  They like to take the time, sit down, eat a little, talk a little, drink a little and eat some more.  Many of their meals have multiple courses.  When Daughter and I were in Italy, we ate like locals.  We would order a primi piatti, and a secondi piatti, and we'd share them both.  The waiters understood, and would divide our plates before they brought them to the table, so we'd have two lovely small plates of food, one course after the other.  We'd drink a little wine, savor the small plates, and talk.  Only in Milan, the largest city we visited, did they even offer to bring us both the primi and the secondi at the same time.  You could see the relief and the pleasure on the waiter's faces when we appeared scandalized that they would even suggest it.   We enjoyed our meals and ate our fill.  We never felt stuffed, yet we never felt hungry either.  Here at home, we regularly eat our pasta with our main course.  We shove all the food on the plate at the same time.  We're lucky if we spend half an hour eating together instead of one to two hours.  Yes, I said two hours.  We eat far more food, and we don't stop until we feel full.  In both Italy and home, we ate enough to sustain us, but the experience was far different.

Here in the Trenches, life is like eating a meal.  All of our clients get divorced at some point, like finishing a meal.  Is it an experience or is it just an event? If it is an experience, is it thoughtful, meaningful and one from which the client grows, or is it simply something the client survived?  I know it sounds counter-intuitive that the experience of getting a divorce could be positive, yet for many of our clients here in the Tenches, it is.  Divorce, Trenches style,represents an opportunity to learn about finances, find out who your friends are, improve communication style and skill, and think deeply about what is important, both now and into the future.  It is an opportunity for growth, if you approach it right.  So, what is it to be  - an Italian dinner or a trip through the drive through?  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rules of the Road

I'm officially over my jetlag and the stomach bug I had before and after my trip (lucky me).  It's time for those reflections on Italy I promised you.  Our trip to Tuscany was a fly/drive package, which meant we flew in and then rented a car to drive while we were there.  Daughter and I drove a lot.  Here's what we noticed.

1.  The left lane is for passing only.  I know, that's the rule here as well.  The difference is that in Italy, they follow the rules.  As a result, traffic flows far more smoothly and faster.

2.  There are no stop signs.  There are only traffic lights in LARGE cities.  Every intersection is a roundabout.  Can you imagine?  You know what I'm going to say next, don't you?  They worked because everyone followed the rules and yielded to the cars already in the roundabout.

3.  Blended merges were blended merges.  Everyone took their turns.  Traffic moved faster as a result.

4.  Pedestrians really have the right of way.  Sure, I almost hit a few of them as I was busy listening to Ms. GPS tell me where to turn, but no one was ever actually injured.  Aside from those few close calls, which Daughter would require me to disclose in the interest of transparency, traffic stops for pedestrians.

I know, you hear all the time about crazy Italian drivers, and they certainly drive fast.  The rules of the road are the rules of the road, and they are obeyed.  Period.  It's so different than here at home where the left, middle and right lanes are all for the slowest drivers, or the fastest drivers, or wherever anyone can find a place to fit their car.  How many times have you approached a roundabout, a four way stop or a merge and no one knows the rules or they are in such a hurry that they figure the rules don't apply to them?  Don't get me started on how many times I've almost been killed crossing the street.

The Trenches is a lot like traffic.  There is an order and set of rules that determine the procedure and the process.  Depending on what method of dispute resolution you use, the process may differ, but each method has their own progression and attendant rules.  In order to move smoothly through the Trenches, the order must be followed.  Trust me on this.  I have clients who don't understand this, and they try to do things their way.  It's always a mess.  You can't buy your new home before you've determined and agreed from where the funds are going to come.  Usually, you can't purchase your new home before you've sold your old one.  You can't get financing while you're still married without a separation agreement.  Still, there are clients who try to do it backward.  They put that contract down on a house and want to work backward - and they need that work done now.  Really?  Thanks for having me negotiate when you have everything to lose.  No pressure.  I can probably do it, but I guarantee the road will be extremely bumpy.  Put on your seat belt. Too bad it didn't have to be this way.  I told the client there was an order and a process, but they didn't listen.  Settlement will be that much more difficult as a result. If they'd only followed the rules of the road. Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust

I'm back from a wonderful vacation in Italy with Daughter.  As you can tell from the absence of blog posts, I took the opportunity to turn off.  I didn't blog, read or answer emails (OK, one or two) or check in with the office.  Aside from the incredibly horrible jetlag, I came back feeling great, with renewed energy and tons of potential blog posts.  Yesterday, my first day back in the office, I found out that two of my absolutely favorite colleagues here in the Trenches are leaving the Trenches.  One of them is leaving the practice of law entirely and the other is leaving the world of the Trenches for a different area of law.  Why?  They are burned out on family law.  That makes three of my colleagues in the past year to leave Trenches life, two of them for lives outside the practice of law.  Am I happy for them?  Certainly.  They are doing what makes them happy.  At the same time, I am sad, because that means that at least one of them I won't ever see, and the other not much at all because she won't be litigating.  I am also sad because the Trenches will be losing two of the good guys - lawyers who care what happens to their clients and are committed to their clients leaving the Trenches with a sustainable future for themselves and their families.  That dwindles our numbers by two, and in my small community, two is a lot.  What I don't see is folks coming in to take their place.  There aren't a lot of new faces who pass Trenches muster, nor are there many younger faces coming up the ranks.  Sure, it means more business for the rest of us, but that's not what I'm talking about here.  I ran into one of the judge's bailiffs, and he put it perfectly:  I'm talking about the difference between lawyers who work for their clients and those who work to earn the most from their clients.  There's a difference, and you can see it five minutes into a litigated case.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fun and Games at the Courthouse

For the most part, the folks who work at the courthouse are hard-working and diligent at their jobs.  They are also poorly paid, and if they are in the public portions of the building, are abused by the public and lawyers alike.  If they work in the clerk's office, they are also overwhelmed by paper.  It's their jobs to accept the papers for filing, enter them into the computer docket, send them to the proper desk to be worked, either to have other paperwork generated, wait for responsive pleadings or go up to a judge or case manager for rulings and decisions.  It's a lot to do.  Did I mention these folks are poorly paid?  That means that, not the supervisors or the people at the front desk, but many of the line workers are either poorly educated or don't read, and understand the English language very well.  Yet, it's their jobs to see that papers get entered into the system correctly and go onto the right desk.  With all of the above, you would think that there would be a lot of screw-ups.  Amazingly enough, there aren't.  The ones that happen are frustrating and maddening, especially because once the mistake is made, the attitude on the lines is that it is no longer their problem; it's yours.  You need to correct their mistake.  Usually, I'm happy to do what it takes to make things right.  Sometimes, however, enough is enough, and I walk myself down to the courthouse to visit with the supervisor.  They don't like to see me there, and not because I'm not nice and pleasant, because I am.  They've been there long enough to know they don't see my face unless I have made multiple attempts to fix whatever's wrong, and it hasn't worked.  The nice thing about that is that after I show up, everything is fixed within 24 hours. ( BTW, I don't think that would happen if I were unpleasant or showed up for every problem.)  Mistakes happen, papers get clipped to other papers, pleadings land on the wrong desk.  We all know that, and eventually, the problem will be fixed.  Yelling, nastiness and being generally unpleasant doesn't help, and in fact, may hurt.  Yet, I see it all the time when I'm in the courthouse.  Again, the courthouse is a tough place to work, and for not enough money.  A little kindness there goes a long way.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Part of the Pack

The puppy walking community is very close-knit.  We may not know each other's names, but we know our dogs.  There's Shayna, Bamboo, Louie, Della, Misa....and their owners.  We see each other on the path at least a few times a week.  Our puppies play together and we chat. We've gotten to know each other fairly well over the years.  When my dad was sick and I was feeling down, seeing one of the puppies' friends always made me feel better.  It wasn't that we talked about anything in particular - it was simply a friendly face, simple chit chat, and watching the puppies play.  Yes, they all knew dad was sick, and they always asked how things were.  Then we went on to other topics of conversation.  I felt their support, and it provided a daily reprieve from the grief and the stress.  It still does.  Anyway, tonight, we were walking and Shayna's "sister" twisted her ankle and fell.  I grabbed Shayna's leash.  Bamboo's dad took him home and brought his car to drive her home.  Another puppy "mommy" helped support her to the car.  We were all there for her.  It felt good.

The professionals who toil here in the Trenches are under a lot of stress.  Day in and day out, we deal with people who are victims of trauma.   Our clients are suffering huge emotional losses.  Their pain washes all over us as we try to help them move forward through the divorce process and past the losses of their former life.  We deal with client after client with terrible problems, and we listen, sympathize and help.  Day after day, client after client.  It is exhausting, emotionally and physically.  As a result, most of us suffer from secondary trauma, aka caregiver fatigue.   It's why many family law attorneys leave family law.  A few of us decided that what we needed was a support group.  We all got together last month, and we are again this month.  Now, you would think that when you got a bunch of folks who toil in the Trenches together, all we would talk about was the Trenches.  You'd be wrong.  Kind of like the puppy walking community, we talked for a minute or two about the Trenches, then we chatted about other things.  We smiled, we laughed.  After an hour, we went back to work.  Everyone walked out with a smile on their faces, and a spring in their step.  We felt supported by each other and it helped us go back and do our work the way our clients need it to be done.  Here in the Trenches.

Friday, October 3, 2014

What Did You Say? I Was Multitasking....

Last night I attended the board meeting for our state umbrella group for collaborative practice here in Maryland.  As you might know, Maryland recently enacted its version of the Uniform Collaborative Practice Act.  The Act went into effect October 1, 2014.  The Rules Committee has just sent proposed rules for collaborative practice to the Court of Appeals for approval.  They will probably go into effect by the end of the year.  As a result of those two actions, we all anticipate that more professionals will want to be trained in collaborative law. Great, right?  Well, not so fast. Our last statewide basic 3 day training, which was offered for free by our Administrative Office of the Courts, had less than 60 attendees.  Next Friday, we have an all day advanced skills training; it's not yet full.  What to do to get more people to train in collaborative practice?  At the meeting, we brainstormed.  Many folks thought that in person trainings are passe.  Young professionals are technologically oriented; they prefer webinars.  There is a lot of pressure on professionals doing more in less time; young professionals are being pushed to meet billing goals.  Taking 1 or 2 days out of the office is too much time.  What if we did webinars?  What if we had video replays?  Could they be the solution?  Let's back up a minute, shall we?  How is participating in a 1-2 days webinar or video replay different from being somewhere in person?  Oh, that's right, if you're there in person you have to be completely present and participatory.  If you're there remotely, you can still work on other things, like say, work for clients, and not really pay full attention.  Cost was also cited as a reason for remote classes.  I'll give them that, as even though you still have to under pay the trainers, you wouldn't have to rent a site or provide food.

Obviously, the conversation disturbed me on many levels.  First, collaborative law is supposed to be a mindful, intensely personal practice involving a lot of interpersonal skills.  How do you develop those interpersonal skills if you're not around people?  Second, collaborative practice involves an entirely different way of approaching conflict and cases.  How effective is that training going to be if you're not really completely present for it?  Third, collaborative involves a lot of training in new skills.  The governing body for collaborative practice (IACP) is going to shorten the mandatory training requirement from 3 to 2 days.  As a trainer, I can tell you that what is going to get lost are the role plays and the demonstrations.  Instead of 3 days where participants can hear, see and do, they will have 2 days of listening.  How is a 2 day training like that, much less a 2 day remote training going to help people learn skills?  Fourth, training remotely or by webinar feels like the purpose of the training is just to say you did it, as opposed to actually embracing and learning how to practice collaboratively.  Just my $.02.  Here in the Trenches.