The Hardest Part of a Divorce Attorney’s Job?
Written by: Stefano Ceroni
If you ask any Arizona divorce attorney what the most difficult part of their job is, I would almost guarantee that over 90% of them would answer: having to deal with certain types of clients. Why is that? Well, for one thing, some Arizona divorce clients are highly emotional, somewhat revengeful, overly sensitive and, yes, even a bit irrational. These characteristics, however, are completely understandable and no good Arizona divorce attorney would hold those traits against anyone.
However, what clients often fail to remember is that although this might be their first rodeo when it comes to navigating a divorce, it is not their attorney’s. Experienced divorce attorneys handle hundreds, if not thousands, of contested divorce and child custody cases over the span of their careers. So if you’re a current divorce client, you should at least take solace in knowing that the person you are relying on for advice has most certainly “been there and done that” before.
How a Client’s Behavior Can Mess Up The Divorce or Custody Case
Despite this, for some reason, divorce clients constantly seem to forget this fact and, as a result, they often tend to behave in a way that most often has a negative impact on their cases. Obviously, it is not the intent of the client to shoot themselves in the foot during their divorce or custody case. The problem, however, is that this collateral damage is most often the unwanted bi-product of a client’s attempt at self-help.
For example, I recently heard of one client sending four (4) separate e-mails to their attorney with “suggested” corrections to the attorney’s draft motion. The suggestions, however, were directed at the attorney’s prose, sentence structure and spelling of Latin terms. Phrases such as “as and for” and “quantum meruit” were specifically highlighted and questioned by the client in regards to their proper usage and spelling. The issue, of course, is that the attorney was using the common legalese that is both comprehensible to the judge and appropriate in the drafting of formal pleadings.
So, how did the client’s comments hurt their cause? Well, for one, their attorney had to take the time to answer and explain each one of the client’s four (4) e-mails. This, of course, did not come cheap. Second, although unintentional, the client completely disrespected their own attorney by calling into question their competency. Now, of course, the attorney in this case did not (and should not) hold this against their client. However, it is a good example of how a client’s unnecessary interference could potentially alienate them from their attorney and work against them.
Oftentimes, the biggest self-inflicted damages to a client’s case come from when they ignore or disagree with their attorney’s advice regarding what is reasonable. For example, clients often seem to feel that their judge needs to be immediately notified of every time their ex shows up five (5) minutes late for parenting time. Let’s think about this one for a second: at any one time, an Arizona Family Court Judge has between 900-1,200 cases on their docket, some involving incidents of sexual molestation, severe physical abuse and child endangerment. Do you really think your judge is going to be happy about scheduling you a hearing to discuss your ex’s propensity for tardiness? Probably not!
The Top 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Divorce Attorney
Remember, your divorce attorney has likely been in front of your judge dozens of times. They have probably spoken with them socially, listened to their opinions during continuing legal education seminars and they may have even been their peer in law school. So, chances are, they have a better understanding of what the judge wants to hear and what they don’t want to hear than you do.
With that said, I have created a list of the top 5 things that you as a client can do to get the most out your divorce attorney:
#1. Trust your attorney’s judgment
Again, your attorney has way more experience than you do when it comes to properly navigating through a divorce or child custody case. They know what judges want to see and hear and what they don’t. They know what a fair deal is, and they know what a judge will consider to be reasonable. They know what is worth fighting over and what is not. And, most importantly, they know what is relevant to your case, and they know how to best present your evidence to the court. Remember, it is their judgment and expertise that you are paying for, so you might as well use it.
#2. Follow your attorney’s instructions
Although you may know your family and your ex better than your attorney, they know the law, the process and the procedure for getting you what you want. Your attorney has gone to law school, studied legal writing, passed the Bar Exam and read thousands of judges’ opinions. They know how to interpret the law, apply facts to the law, decipher what is relevant and present your case effectively. They also know how to save you money! So, when your attorney asks you to review their pleadings for factual accuracies, do just that, no more and no less! Don’t question their logical reasoning, their citation of case law, or their inclusion (or exclusion) of certain events. Your attorney does what they do for a reason; they know what works and what doesn’t, so, if at all possible, follow their instructions.
#3. Do what you can to make your attorney’s life easier.
Just like your case isn’t the only case that your judge has on their docket, your case isn’t the only case that your attorney is handling. An individual divorce attorney could have as many as 50-100 active cases that they may be working on at a single time. What does this mean? It means you’re probably not the only client sending them four (4) emails a day. When your attorney is bombarded with e-mails and telephone calls all day long, they become unable to dedicate their time to those things that are really important; like drafting motions, reviewing your exhibits and preparing for Court.
With that said, a client should do all that they can to save their attorney time so that they may focus on the things you are really paying them to do. So, if you think you are going to have a bunch of questions for your attorney, perhaps you should put them all together in one (1) weekly e-mail as opposed to seven (7) daily ones. This will not only save you money, but it will save your attorney time. Also, if your attorney asks for certain records, try to give them to your attorney in an organized and coherent manner. Remember, someone is going to have to arrange them eventually, so you might as well be the one to do it (for free).
#4. Be respectful of your attorney’s time.
Yes. That’s right, your attorney is a human being. Despite how the t.v. shows and movies portray us, family law attorneys are regular hard working people who deserve some time off from work just like you. Most of us are not sipping on champagne and traveling to Aspen every weekend. With the average law school debt topping six (6) figures, most attorneys have debt to income ratios that are far worse than their clients’. So, when we get some time off from work, we like to remove ourselves from your family and try to enjoy our own.
Believe it or not, the work of a family law attorney can be emotionally taxing. So, if you want your attorney to remain invigorated about your case and your cause, do yourself a favor and give them the respect of their time that they deserve. How do you this? For one, try to hold off on your “emergency” e-mails until Monday, as opposed to sending them on Saturday nights. Why? For one thing, most of us have access to e-mail on our phones and we will be hard pressed not to read an e-mail with the subject line being “HELP”. So, we wind up looking at the e-mail instead of paying attention to our loved ones.
Second, and this is a biggie: THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING THAT WE CAN DO FOR YOU WHEN THE COURTS ARE CLOSED. We are not the police, and we are not the judge. So, over the weekend, we cannot do anything that will solve your problem, whatever it may be.
#5. Manage your own expectations
There is nothing more difficult than either representing a client or going against an opposing party who has unreasonable expectations when it comes to their divorce or custody case. When your attorney tells you that your position is unreasonable, chances are, it is.
No divorce attorney wants to represent a client who is being unreasonable. For one thing, it makes us look bad. Taking unreasonable positions in family law disputes can not only tarnish the reputation of an attorney, but result in their clients having to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees. Trust me: this is never something that an attorney wants to have happen.
When your attorney tells you that you are being unreasonable it is not because they don’t want to go to court or continue working on your case. It’s because they know better than you that you are probably not going to receive the results that you want when you take an unreasonable position. Remember, most attorneys get paid by the hour, so settlement actually earns them less money. So, in order to avoid the constant tension between you and your attorney, try to be objective when looking at the facts of your own case. For example, if you feel that you should have final decision-making authority on the issue of your child’s education because your ex got a C- in high school chemistry, you’re being unreasonable.
Lastly, try and remember that no matter how good or experienced or creative your attorney is, they cannot change the facts of your case or the controlling law. If your judge makes you sell your new Mercedes and pay your ex half the value, it’s not because your attorney screwed up, it’s because it was bought during your marriage and subject to equitable distribution.
So, what have we learned? Well, I think the overall message should be that you will get the most out of your attorney once you begin to trust in them. Trust their advice, trust their decisions and trust in their professionalism. Or, as John Hiatt used to sing, it’s my job as your attorney to hold you up so please, “Have a little faith in me.”