Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do You Really Want a Mean Lawyer?

Over the years, a number of prospective clients have asked about how mean a lawyer I can be. I used to tell them that I could be as mean as I needed to be. Now, I prefer to discuss some other, related issues.

1. What is the client's overall objective in getting (or getting through) the divorce? Is it punishment for perceived wrongs? Is it to end up with adequate resources to be comfortable after divorce? Is it to have primary custody of the kids or to have a way to share time and responsibility for raising the kids? Is it to end up with certain valuable assets? Is it to come out debt free? Or something else? There's no right or wrong answer. It just helps the lawyer to know what the target is.

2. What kind of relationship does the client want to have with his/her ex-spouse? No relationship, a good one, best friends, neutral relationship or a bad relationship? Again, there's no right or wrong approach. The attorney just needs to know in order to work out the appropriate strategy.

3. What "mean" actions would the client want to take? Some actions are not permissible because they are illegal or unethical for a lawyer to do, and the client needs to understand that. Some actions are legal and ethical, but could be considered "mean" in some circumstances. Within that limited category, what would the client want?

4. How does the client think "meanness" will advance his/her cause? Some clients don't realize that being mean to the other side leads to more hostility and less cooperation. Will that help the client meet his/her needs or achieve his/her objectives?

5. Is the client willing to spend the extra money required to be mean? Unfortunately, for the client, "mean" isn't cheap. The attorney's fees increase dramatically when the attorney sends out numerous letters complaining or demanding action, files numerous pleadings complaining or requesting actions, sets hearings, conducts numerous depositions, demands voluminous discovery and so on. Also, the "tit for tat" strategy comes into play, meaning that whatever one side does to the other is returned again to the first party. The result: more letters, pleadings, hearings, depositions, discovery, etc. Being mean keeps the attorney busy, but it also increases the cost of divorce for both parties.

Often, the desire to hire a mean lawyer is just the natural reaction to pain,anger or fear the client is experiencing. There are certainly times when an attorney must act aggressively and firmly, but most clients just don't need or want a really mean lawyer when they learn how that will affect the case and their lives. And many or most clients can't afford or won't want to pay for a mean lawyer. Having the discussion about taking the mean approach can really be surprising to the client, but it can lead to planning for a better divorce.


elijah said...

you're right...One of the most important decisions that you will have to make is your choice of a divorce lawyer. Your divorce settlement is determined by your decision. A poor selection can ruin the rest of your life

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post on the different types of lawyers, "Lambs, Pitbulls, and Foxes".
What do you do if you are 1.5 years into the process and realize you think you have a lamb for a lawyer?
Clearly a divorce that involves no kids, and no matrimonial home should not be taking this long to settle!
You mentioned that many divorce lawyers do not want to speak with you if you are being represented by someone else, but what if you are unsure if the lawyer you have is really acting in your best interest? Sometimes it looks like they are actually just trying to accommodate the other lawyer.
Can you request a consult to see if what you are being told is the only options?
The temporary orders expired last year, and the other party just keeps going "missing", refuses to come into the lawyers office, or has the date postponed. Is there nothing you can do about this?

Anonymous said...

I think it sort of misses the point to speak of lawyers as "Lambs, Pitbulls, and Foxes".

The best lawyer is one who:

(a) Is well respected in the legal community;

(b) Who has credibility with judges and other attorneys;

(c) Is able to construct sound legal arguments free from passion;

(d) Has experience and in-depth knowledge of the area(s) of the law in which they specialize.

If being "mean" equates to an attorney losing credibility with his or her colleagues or equates to an attorney being unable to construct sound legal arguments free from passion, then it's counterproductive.

In any event, the above traits are most important in selecting an attorney. It's critical that you have an attorney who is experienced, intelligent, prudent, credible, and well respected. Potential clients should ask friends and family for recommendations or possibly check out a service that vets its attorneys to some extent (some services, do various reference checks for you; is one I believe).

Anyhow, the original poster here is certainly right that it's incredibly important to choose a well qualified divorce lawyer.