Broken Lawyers, Broken System

My colleague chuckled at my pain, “You have a knack for getting the WORST attorneys for opposing counsel!”

She was right.

It began with Pitbull-in-a-skirt. She prided herself on being the meanest, toughest, most aggressive family law attorney. But in doing so, she damaged her relationship with me–one of the most awesome attorneys to have as a colleague. She postured, suggested to the judge that I was manipulating the rules. She was so focused on maintaining her street cred as the toughest show in town, she completely lost sight that I also had a job to do: advocate my client’s position in the case.

Later, I found out from other attorneys that this once highly-esteemed lawyer had been spiraling down a path of unfocused, unjustified antagonism. In her, I saw a lawyer that was hurting, miserable, broken. And what her clients did not know or understand is that they were paying for her to bring her brokeness into their case. What they could not appreciate, but other attorneys knew–her clients were also paying a handsome bill for that brokeness.

Recently, I saw this same dynamic ruin professional relationships and skyrocket the legal expense in what was essentially a simple, routine child support case. To illustrate my point, what should have been a $7,000 trial ended with $46,000 for one lawyer’s attorney’s fees. That was the pit bull’s invoice.  When a lawyer is a “pit bull” in family law, they alienate the other attorney and cause the other side to become defensive. Often this results in belligerence, avoidance, and in some extreme cases, contempt of court.  The pit bull fails to pick their battles, sending the case on a destructive, wasteful course which destroys any chance the parties might agree to design their own future. Everything becomes personal, a fight to be won, and the client’s goals (and money) get lost in the pit bull’s need to rip someone apart.

I call this dynamic the “sausage grinder effect.” You start with a hurting family who needs help sorting out their challenges. And in the end, you get forgotten, your kids deteriorate in the process of the parents trying to “win,” and you pay a gourmet premium for your family to get ground into sausage meat by a system that can only “process” your case. The system is not designed to “fix” or address the underlying issues in your family. The law itself is not even designed to punish one or both parties for bad behavior that caused the separation. This leaves behind worse feelings of resentment, bad blood between the parents, and children who are torn between two parents at war who they love. The sausage grinder is unfeeling, uncaring. There are too many cases and not enough compassion to go around.

Most of us have seen lawyer shows. For many of us, we imagine lawyers are *supposed* to be pit bulls: unrelenting litigators fighting for our cause. But here is the truth: litigation should be the last resort in a family dispute. Litigators are energized by the fight. Every move they make is calculated for the day of trial. And guess what? Most people are terrified of trial. Most people don’t want to be on a witness stand in a room full of strangers in a public proceeding. Most people don’t want to be faced down by a pit bull litigator cross-examinging them about the intimate details of their lives: their internet browsing, their phone records, and their spending habits. It is intimidating, threatening, and for most ordinary people, it is downright humiliating.

Who wants to go through that while going through the pain of separation from someone you were once deeply in love with?

If your spouse hurt you so badly, betrayed your trust in such an unforgiveable way, and you want to PUNISH them…then by all means, get yourself a litigator. However, I can assure you the system is going to punish you, too. The system is going to bill you $350 (or more) for each hour, 6 minutes for a 2-minute phone call. The system is going to charge you 1/2 an hour for an impassioned email. It’s going to cost you time off from work for the deposition for everyone to answer questions under oath. Its going to cost you untold hours for review of discovery. The system is going to cost you. It’s going to leave you with more questions than answers. It’s going to raise your anxiety and your frustration. It’s going to fuel your litigator to work more, bill more, until you have lost sight of the most important fact in your case…

You will have a life after trial. And that life will invariably involve the person who contributed the other half of your kids’ DNA.

If I haven’t made it painfully clear to you already, let me be brutally honest: I hate the system. And unfortunately the system is broken. I also regret to inform you that like the system, and because they are products of the system, so many of the lawyers are broken, too.

I decided to embark upon this path, the “friendly divorce,” after the system threatened to break me, too. I felt myself becoming cynical, irritable. Many of my colleagues will admit that they have to “care but don’t care” about their clients’ deeper needs and desires. Too many well-meaning and good attorneys have to disconnect from their client’s pain because at the end of the day, these human lawyers have to survive an inhumane system. The system is riddled with the landmines of litigation, deadlines, motions, posturing, and the ever present threat of being bitten by unrelenting pit bulls. Some pit bulls were always that way. Others have simply lost their way. When the system threatened me to either (1) survive by become a pit bull, or to (2) remain compassionate and hop out of the sausage grinder, I chose not only to get out of the system, but to become a part of the solution. My choice to heal from what has broken other lawyers (frustration, cynicism, emotional detachment from clients), has empowered me to walk clients through a process that is safe, fair, and more civil. The most awesome part about it is that you do not have to sacrifice the rule of law to engage in this process. You simply need to have the willingness to think about what type of family you want for your children after the divorce is over.

We’re here to help you design that future.

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may also like these