"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."Abraham Lincoln
A post of mine from just over a year ago is getting a lot of traffic this weekend. One comment in particular inspired this week's post. The commenter wrote that in hindsight, this person wished that when she got the "best" family law attorney, she had gotten an attorney who was committed to helping the client work out their issues with their spouse and not simply going forward on the litigation path. She regretted the treatment her former spouse received at the hands of her attorney.
I wish I could say that this person's comment were unusual here in the Trenches, but it's not. Clients come through our doors every day expressing the gamut of emotions. Angry and distrustful people are our stock in trade. Of course, many people who decide to divorce are angry, for a whole lot of reasons. When we have an angry client, we have two choices: we can help stoke the fire or we can help to quench it. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I try to quench it. Not everyone shares my view. Let's talk about realities of the Trenches.
Some of us work in the Trenches because we want to help people. We feel our clients' pain and we want to help them move forward. We want to help them close the door on this chapter of their lives and move successfully into the next. I would actually hazard a guess that most of us who work in the Trenches feel that way. There are those who don't, those lawyers who really don't care and figure their job is to get the client what they say they want or even simply to get the case resolved. I hope you run screaming from those offices; you deserve better.
The difficulty is that for lawyers of a certain age, being trained as a lawyer meant being trained to try a case, or at most negotiating a settlement like you would any business deal. Some of those folks never learned to do anything else, and their definition of a lawyer is defined by their training. It's not that they don't care; it's that the only tool they have is a hammer, so every problem is a nail. I know, mediation has been around a long time, so why don't these lawyers get on board? I wish I knew. The most I can say is they never adapted to the reality that clients, especially family law clients, don't love going to court as much as they do. For these lawyers, when a client comes into their office hopping mad, and wanting to rake their spouse over the coals in court, these lawyers are very happy, because that's what they know how to do. They know how to fix that problem. I'm going to go out on a very short limb here and tell you that if that's the lawyer in whose office you end up, you need to go somewhere else, at least for a second opinion.
After over twenty five years of practicing law, most of them here in the Trenches, there are a few things I've learned about people. The first is that some of those hopping mad folks will remain hopping mad until the day they die. They will never understand why they divorced; they will never forgive their spouse for not being the person they thought they were and needed them to be. Still, encouraging their anger doesn't help.
The second thing I've learned is that anger, like guilt, fades. As time passes and life goes on, clients tend to view their spouses with a different lens. This lens tends to be more forgiving. It is not a distorted lens, but rather one that, instead of being the rose color of love and unicorns or the fiery red of anger, is clear and focused. Clients, particularly those with children, realize they have to co-parent together and will be entwined until they or their children die. Clients tend to remember some of the better times they had with each other; and with time, they remember that they once loved this person. It's at those times they regret how they or their lawyer behaved at the time of their divorce.
Those of us who work in the Trenches know this. We see it as our jobs to pull our clients out of their comfort zone. We question the basis for their anger. We probe at the hurt feelings. We look for those times when the spouses worked together in the past. We try to find shared values. We encourage our clients to look into the future and tell us what they want it to look like. We ask them if their proposed course of action will get them there. We tailor the process they use for their divorce not only to their present but also to that future.
I understand that when your marriage is ending, the last thing you want to be is reasonable. I know that when you're looking for an attorney, you want a good one, but you don't want to have to dig too deep. I get it. Remember, I've been there. I know you don't want to spend the money for a consultation with more than one lawyer. You just want one person, the first person you see, to solve your problem. Remember though, that lawyer didn't cause the problem - you and your spouse did. The lawyer can't solve it - only you and your spouse can. Don't you want the lawyer who is best able to help you do that? Find out about a lawyer's philosophy of representation. Find out what they consider their role to be in your case. Find out how they intend to help you connect with your inner best self and help you solve your problem. You might need that hammer; then again you might need a monkey wrench. Don't you want a lawyer with that tool in her tool chest? Here in the Trenches.