Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Go Heavy or Go Home?

When I travel to see Mom, I don't have access to a gym.  I asked my most fabulous personal trainer (who, coincidentally, is Daughter.  Yes, that's her in the picture) for a travel workout.  She devised a workout for me that uses no weight other than my body weight.  Do I need to tell you it kicked my butt worse than the gym workouts she devises for me (the answer is no if you are my FB friend and saw my post complaining about my sadistic personal trainer)?  What did this teach me?  First, that I am obviously not lifting heavy enough in my gym workouts.  Second, and most importantly, that sometimes less is more.

It is that second lesson that reminds me of all of you in the Trenches.  A lot of people think that when they find themselves in the Trenches, they need an attorney with lots of extra firepower.  By "extra firepower," I mean a firm with an impressive name, with lots of attorneys, and in which their attorney has associate attorneys helping them along with a fleet of paralegals and assistants.  Some folks think bigger and impressive is better than a solo attorney or someone in a small firm.  It's kind of like how impressive it looks when Daughter lifts those big heavy weights on her website (and she is really impressive - the picture at the top of this post is her squatting @135lbs), versus how I look doing the same exercise without added weight.  Does it mean that Daughter is getting a better workout than me?  Not any more than it means that the folks who hire those big impressive firms are getting better representation.

As we head into the holidays, some folks will decide that this holiday will be their last one with their spouse.  Those folks will start to look for an attorney to help them.  That makes the message of this post extremely timely.  When looking for a family law attorney, fit and philosophy are more important than anything else (except, of course, competence, which is not always a given).  When you are in the Trenches, your life is laid bare before your attorney.  You want to feel comfortable sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with that person.  You want to feel confident that they have your back.  You want to know they will give you advice you can live with.  You want to know that they will approach your case in a way that is comfortable for you. You want to feel comfortable raising concerns and asking questions.  You want to be confident in their answers.  This is your life, and you will have to live it long after the attorney has moved on to other clients.  Bigger is not necessarily better. More is not always more. One size does not fit all.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Choosing a family law attorney is kind of like buying skincare products.  I was reminded of this fact when I recently replenished the products for my own skincare regimen.  I really don't like spending a lot on skincare.  I read the magazines where they rate products and they say this or that certain drugstore product is really good.  I think to myself that if those products are so good, maybe I should use them instead of my normal regiment.  Periodically, I try that.  Here's what happens. 

I open the jar of the drugstore brand, which is less than half the cost of my normal cream.  The cream smells good.  It feels creamy.  I put it on my face.  I put more of it on my face. It seems to take more cream to make my skin feel hydrated.  Over time, my skin doesn't look equally hydrated (and rejuvenated - let's not kid ourselves if we are of a certain age).  I end up with skin that doesn't look as good, and because I am using more product, I don't think I'm actually saving money.  In fact, horror of horrors, I think I'm spending more, just not all at once.

I'll never forget the first time I bought more expensive skincare.  The salesperson gave me one of those little sample packets with purchase, you know, the ones that are about the same size as a sweetener packet.  I thought that packet would last one application, there was so little in it.  It lasted three.  My jars of expensive cream?  They last three times as long as the drugstore brand, plus my skin looks better.  Really, I end up saving money (especially as I get older and need the creams more.).  When I was younger, probably not so much because my skin had fewer issues.  Have there been times when I just couldn't afford my more expensive skincare?  Sure, and on those occasions, I picked the best less expensive version I could find. 

How is that like choosing a family law attorney?  Well, people call my office all the time asking if I do a free consultation.  They hear my fee for an initial meeting ($600 for up to two hours) and my hourly rate ($375 in Frederick and $400 in Montgomery) and gasp.  Some of them sputter that Attorney X down the street gives a free consultation and only charges $150 an hour.  Some of those people go down the street.  I have cases against those attorneys.  Those cases end up costing Attorney X's clients significantly more than mine, on average.  Why?  They are not as knowledgeable.  They are not as efficient at doing what needs to be done as I.

Just so we're clear, the more expensive attorney is not necessarily better.  There are a number of attorneys in town who charge as much or more than I who are nevertheless terrible attorneys.  Then again, I have bought an expensive face cream or two in my life that did not do what it said it would do, and that left my skin worse than the drugstore cream.  I'm not saying to choose an attorney on cost alone - there are a LOT of really good attorneys who have lower rates than mine, perhaps because they haven't been in practice long, or because they chose for whatever reason to keep their rate low.  Price alone doesn't determine quality, but it can.

What I am saying is that when you choose a family law attorney, don't do it on hourly rate or cost alone because sometimes more expensive is cheaper and sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  I know you don't have a lot of money.  Here's what I also know:  an experienced family law attorney knows how much a case will probably cost (within a range), what you will need to invest in and what you won't, and they can help you budget your funds.  They've probably developed systems to streamline the process of the case so they're more efficient.  They've seen it before and developed a strategy for your problem.  They have a good or great relationship and reputation with other attorneys and the court. Maybe they can help you find the funds for the representation.  If they don't think you can afford them, they'll tell you and usually can recommend someone who can help you at a lower price whose ability they trust (I've gotten some of my favorite clients that way and I hope I've done the same for others).  My point is not to tell you to hire the most expensive attorney.  My point is to understand that sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  Do not let cost be your only guide.  Assess for yourself whether that cheaper attorney is really going to a) advise you well; b)be able to represent you competently and c)save you money.  Do the same for the more expensive one.  Don't shop on cost alone.  Here in the Trenches.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fashion Sense = Divorce Sense?

I enjoy fashion.  I like to look good and make sure my look doesn't become dated.  As I've gotten older, I've had more trouble keeping up with trends and also looking age appropriate (Hey, it's not so easy, look around you at how many people either don't try to do it or who fail miserably at it).  Sure, I read fashion magazines and blogs, but that doesn't always help me translate into looks for me.  Plus, like everyone else, I get comfortable with what I have and am hesitant even to try something new.  I also become overwhelmed by the number of items of clothing out there and have less and less patience to cull through them to find something a bit different.  What to do?  Well, I do two things.  First, I subscribe to an online styling company.  In my case, it's StitchFix.  They deliver to me every quarter.  My first stylist didn't get me, but my second, Sarah, sure did.  She sent me things I loved, but which I would never have found or never have picked to try.  Second, I shop once or twice a year with Daughter.  She has a good eye, attends to trends, and has a vested interest in my not looking ridiculous (would you want to be seen with your mother wearing the too tight, too short skirt?  Didn't think so).  Yes, I go shopping on occasion with friends, but I let none of their opinions override my internal gauge of what I would wear and what I wouldn't.  Only Daughter and Sarah get the honor of my trusting them enough to try things outside my comfort zone. 

I realize that when you're in the Trenches, you have far more important things on which to concentrate than your fashion sense.  There is, however, a lot we can learn about the Trenches while shopping.  If I had to categorize most people in the Trenches in terms of shopping and style, I would put them in two categories.  In the first category are the people who never update their look.  It doesn't matter the look, they will continue to buy the same types of clothing.  You've seen those folks: the woman who's gained significant weight yet still wears skin tight pants or who's lost weight and continues to wear the clothes that fit her when she was heavy; the man who still dresses like he's in college even though he's 60; the people who dye their hair and their facial hair to the same color they had 30 years ago.  In the second category are the people who constantly change their style depending on what other people tell them to do.  They have no internal compass for determining whose opinion to trust and whose to discard, so they listen to everybody.  These are the folks who wear every trend in the world at the same time, whose look is not always age-appropriate, and whose clothes, although updated, don't flatter them.  We see plenty of both groups in the Trenches.

The first group suffers from a fear of change.  They are often the folks whose spouses leave them and they can't understand why.  For them, their marriage was the same as it always was until the day their spouse announced they were leaving.  Now that change is thrust upon them, they have a hard time dealing with it.  For these folks, it's like taking them into a mall and telling them they can't buy the clothes they've always bought; they panic or at least suffer severe anxiety.

The second group suffers from information overload.  They are the folks who ask all of their friends for advice and read everything about divorce on the internet, and then not asking themselves whether the advice makes sense.  Many times, they think it all makes sense, and that confuses them even more.  This group has as many leavers as leavees.  Either way, they are overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make and as a result, many of their decisions change frequently as they hear from more people during the course of their divorce.

Both groups need a Daughter and a Sarah to help them as they progress through the Trenches.  Who are those when we talk about the Trenches?  They are a professional with expertise in family law to guide and advise them; for most people, that professional is a family law attorney.  They are also a friend or family member (or therapist) whose opinion they trust and who can tell them the hard truths.  It's still OK to talk about divorce or the end of their marriage with other friends or family, but they need to be confident enough of the advice of their professional and their one trusted person to assess what other people tell them against what they're told by their two trusted advisors.  If they find they trust their friends and family more than their trusted advisors, then they have the wrong advisors.  If they have the right advisors and can't assess what the chorus of thousands is telling them, then they need to check in with their advisors - just like I do when I'm thinking about trying a new trend.  Here in the Trenches.