The Problem With Many Divorce Attorneys
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Sadly, I am known on this blog for going through a devastating divorce courtesy of a very ill-suited arranged marriage.
Having a highly contentious wife who coupled with an unscrupulous lawyer made my legal costs of the year long divorce quite exorbitant (by my calculations I had to pay over $300k in legal fees).
[To make matters worse I racked up another $100k+ in legal fees after I had to defend myself again in a meritless $4 million dollar lawsuit my ex-wife filed against me.]
When lawyers charge by the hour, it seems like it is in their self-interest to make things as contentious as possible so that they have more billable hours.
So, understandably, my view of divorce lawyers has not been the most favorable.
However one, two, or a whole bag full of rotten apples does not mean that the profession is devoid of individuals who practice law with some bastion of scruples.
I was recently contacted by a divorce lawyer, Sean Smallwood, PA, who was hoping to demonstrate that there are still a few lawyers left that are not controlled by the dollar sign and who try and tailor their practice to help the clients instead of their wallets.
[Disclosure: Sean and I have no financial relationship.]
I have been a divorce attorney for about 10 years now and in that time, I have seen just about everything you can imagine that could possibly go wrong in a family court case.
From scorned spouses with emotional hurts to shady opposing divorce lawyers advising their clients to do unethical things, nothing surprises me anymore.
But of all the things that I have experienced doing this job the thing that upsets me the most is when it is the divorce lawyers who behave badly.
Our clients have every excuse in the world to act unethically, unreasonably, and unfairly.
They are going through one of the most emotional and gut-wrenching things that a person can go through so, in my mind, they often get a pass.
However, the lawyers are paid to be the “voice of reason and logic” in the process.
But all too often the attorneys who are paid handsomely to be the trusted advisors are the ones creating many of the problems in the case.
None of these are more upsetting than when a divorce lawyer engages in the subtle manipulative art of convincing a potential client that they have no choice but to file for divorce.
Think about it.
Somebody comes in for a free consultation with a divorce lawyer just wanting to understand their rights because things at home are a little rocky.
The divorce lawyer, smelling a fresh retainer, has a financial interest in this person making the decision to get a divorce.
The sad fact is that a simple conversation about “protecting one’s rights,” or “arranging their affairs” so that they can be protected in a divorce can easily become an all-out brainwashing session that plants the seeds of mistrust and suspicion that will almost always take root and cause a person’s relationship to deteriorate.
When I was in law school I had an internship at a family law firm in Orlando Florida and I used to hear rumors of an old timer who practiced divorce law.
What made this guy different from all the others was that he had a requirement that all of his clients attempt marriage counseling before he would even take them on as clients.
When I heard this, I was going through point in my law school career where I was having doubts about how noble of a profession this really was.
Frustrated with my classes, disenchanted with the attorneys that I was meeting and working around, and hearing about all of the ethical violations taking place in the Florida bar Journal, I was questioning whether I had made the right decision and whether this could be a rewarding and important profession that could help people.
But when I heard about this old-timer attorney who made it a prerequisite for his clients to go to marriage counseling before he would even take their case I thought “Wow! This can be a noble profession after all, it’s just up to me how I manage myself”.
Now that I have had my own practice for close to 10 years I follow in that old man’s footsteps.
The first question out of my mouth when doing a divorce consultation is “Will you agree that as a condition of working together on your case you will make a good faith effort at marriage counseling and be open minded to a reconciliation, or to immediately let me know if at any point in the process you think that’s a healthy alternative?“
This simple question has changed my practice dramatically, but most importantly it reminds me that this can still be a noble profession.
I am happy to report that on average we have at least one to two cases per month where the parties decide to either put the case on hold, or dismiss altogether to reconcile.
Additionally, there are typically another two to three prospective clients per month who follow through with the recommended contact with a marriage therapist.
Of course I will never know how many of the prospects stayed together but I can say that we don’t hear back from most of them and my hope is that the reason is that a reconciliation took place.
Being a divorce lawyer is a very stressful profession, but sticking to my ideals of making the world a better place gives me and my team the rewards that we need to keep us going strong every day.
If you are considering or are going through a divorce, I created a multi-post resource that will help you make the process as smooth as possible:
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Even a steadfast DIY’er can sometimes gain benefit from the occasional professional input.
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