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You and Your Lawyer

Whether you choose to hire a lawyer for a small part of your separation and divorce, or for all of it, you need to understand his interests to know what kind of working relationship is possible. The following doesn’t apply to all lawyers in all areas of practice.  It applies to most lawyers who practice primarily family law.


Why Lawyers Work:

Most lawyers work to make a living, often a very good one. Far more lawyers than many think make less than $100,000 a year, but many do very well.  I know only a few who would do their work for no pay, or for much less pay.  It’s a business.  That’s the first thing to understand about your lawyer.  She does what she does to make money, to support a family, to take vacations…you get the picture.


Your Knight in Shining Armour:

As much as you may feel that you need a champion, few lawyers look at themselves in those terms. There are always exceptions – often large ones – but the odds are very good that your lawyer approaches her job clinically.  That is, it is a task and usually it isn’t personal for her.  She has skills and knowledge that you can benefit from and wants to share them with you, but she doesn’t want to have to feel your pain and hate your spouse as much as you do.


She is about getting results, not about getting even. Expect her to attempt to stay out of the fray.  Why?  Imagine the emotional toll your separation takes, or has taken on you.  Now times that by about 40 – the average number of cases most family lawyers have that are active at any point in time.  If your lawyer is heavily emotionally invested in your case, and in her other cases, she’ll burn out before you can say “burn out”.  If your lawyer seems as eager as you to “win” or to defeat your spouse, look out.  She shouldn’t be. She should be dedicated, wise and professional.


An analogy I often use is that of a surgeon whose son needs complicated and precise brain surgery. If I’m the son, the last person I would want performing the surgery would be my father or mother, no matter how skilled they may be at surgery.  They would be so emotionally invested, so fearful of harming me, that their performance may be hindered, or that they may take a chance they shouldn’t, or that they may not take a chance they should take.  Their hands might shake and their eyes well up.  No.  Better to have a surgeon who is just doing a job they are very good at and who takes pride in doing it well.



Your Lawyer’s Caseload:

Most lawyers who work full time need a few dozen cases on the go at once since many of them are at rest, or between phases of activity much of the time.   If they are to have enough to do for a full day they need enough cases to have a few that are active.


While lawyers can control the number of cases the take, they have very little control over how active their cases are at any point in time. Sometimes it is not humanly possible to answer every call and email while doing the more substantive work they need to complete each day.


So, many calls and emails go unanswered within 24 or even 48 hours. Unless your lawyer is just not busy at all (possibly not a good sign), expect less than snappy service.  Prioritizing is very important for lawyers and you will benefit at times from it, but on other occasions you will have to wait.


Now, to entirely contradict what I just said, don’t hesitate to remind your lawyer it if appears to you that he may have forgotten something. Busy lawyers forget stuff.  They sometimes need polite reminders.  Most won’t take it personally.


Email and My Lawyer’s Bill:

The most common method of billing clients for family lawyers is in increments of tenths of an hour. For example, a typical email from a client with a question or two that requires a brief email in reply, without the lawyer having to look something up, will be a .1 or .2 of an hour.  If you send emails to your lawyer like you text your child, friend or spouse with each thought you have your bill will quickly become .5 to .8 per week (or much higher).  If your lawyer’s hourly rate is $500, that is $250 to $375 a week just for the privilege of daily emails.  This is on top of the real work she does for you, such as drafting legal documents, attending meetings, researching the law, going to court.  It’s more than many people spend on their mortgage each week!


Lawyers and Liars:

Few professions are more intolerant of dishonesty than the legal profession. Many lawyers have been disbarred, never to practice their profession again, for lying.  That is why, in my nearly 30 years of practice, I see very little clear dishonesty among lawyers.  I know, shocking!  But it isn’t that lawyers are better people or more truthful than most; it’s that they stand to lose so much by lying that most don’t give into the temptation.


Not only will lawyers be disciplined by their professional organization for lying but lawyers who lie often get caught and then other lawyers stop trusting them. Lawyers are great gossipers about other lawyers.  When a lawyer is caught lying that will create a reputation that is not easily shaken.  Nothing is more damaging to a lawyer’s career and ability to effectively represent her client than a reputation for having a “Trumpish” relationship with the truth.  Lawyers need to be able to trust the opposite lawyer and usually they can.


If your lawyer is prepared to lie for you, he’ll probably lie for himself too. Think about it.


Your lawyer can be an invaluable asset during your separation and divorce. Establishing a good working relationship is the key for maximizing that asset. For more information on how the lawyers at our firm can help please contact us.