Friday, February 15, 2008

"I Want the Meanest Lawyer I Can Get"

Sometimes I'm asked if I can be mean in a divorce case. Some prospective clients will call or come in and say that they want or need a really mean lawyer because the spouse is really mean or has cheated on them (and deserves punishment) or the spouse has hired a really mean lawyer.

I was recently in a divorce case that took about five years to complete. We had two full trials, numerous temporary hearings, lots of written discovery, several depositions and two trips to the Court of Appeals. The other side hired, and somehow paid for, a very good attorney who used a strategy of being mean and aggressive toward my client. In the end, the wife got approximately what we had offered and what my client proposed in trial. It only cost her twice the attorney's fees that my client paid and she left with a mountain of debt. She was distraught through most of the process, but she kept paying for her attorney to maintain an aggressive and bruising attack. The problem was that she didn't come out ahead. She'll probably blame the court system, her attorney, her spouse or anyone else, except for herself. That's usually the way it works out.

Although I can normally represent someone effectively in any divorce circumstances, I usually refer those prospective clients (who are seeking a mean lawyer) on to someone else because there's no way to really satisfy such a client. No matter how mean and unreasonable I act, the client will pick out the tiniest detail and convince himself or herself that things are not going his or her way, despite the fact that the client may have gotten 75% or more of what he or she wanted.

Besides, being mean just doesn't pay off in court. Judges and juries don't like it. A client may feel a little satisfaction about humiliation or suffering being heeped on a spouse, but that is a fleeting experience. Being rude and obnoxious just doesn't score points on legal issues or establish facts needed by a decision maker. All other things being equal, a party utilizing a strategy of being mean or rude will rarely get the benefit of a doubt.

In addition, the spouse's attorney will probably be under pressure from the his/her client to retaliate. That means the strategy will result in escalating meaness and that both parties will end up being the targets of personal attacks. Usually an attorney who specializes in being mean has just two strategies: being mean or being meaner.

Another consideration is that being mean is expensive. An attorney can be mean by creating a lot of work for the other side, such as extensive discovery requests and depositions. Sending lots of letters and scheduling a lot of court hearings also can be mean behavior by the attorney, but they will increase the cost to the client. All of the activities and little tricks have to be paid for.

Ultimately, very few clients just want to jerk around their spouse. Most everyone, at some level, wants to get the divorce over with. If a client is interested in finishing the divorce quickly, being mean is probably a bad strategy because of all the extra work. The process will be slower. Additionally, being mean often leads to similar behavior in return and bad results.

The bottom line is that it is a complete waste of time, money and energy to choose a strategy of being mean; the costs will greatly outweigh the benefits. If you are looking for that approach, I'm not the one to help you.

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