Sunday, December 30, 2007

From Family Lore: Ten Myths About Family Lawyers

I really wish I had written something like Ten Myths About Family Lawyers from Family Lore. I think some have a specific English application but I think the following apply over here, too. So, I am going to take those that apply here and add my own comments.

Myth #1. Family lawyers are only interested in their fees, rather than achieving a good result for their clients. Aside from the issue of professional pride, family lawyers are in business and much of their work comes from recommendations, so they have a vested interest in client satisfaction.

Myth #5. Family lawyers live off the misery of others. We provide a service at a time of great stress, and if it is a good service then that stress will be eased. Having said that, in a large number of our cases the parties are quite amicable - where they are not, the Resolution approach aims to reduce the misery.
I say these two myths get conflated around here, so I put them together. That is, lawyers take advantage of the misery of others. It is as true in Indiana as in England that lawyers provide a service for money. I will also say that the majority of lawyers here have no interest in making mountains out of molehills. Many lawyers stop taking family law cases or limit the type of cases they take because of the emotional and psychological toll these cases take on lawyers. Those stresses only increase if the lawyers also need worry about paying their own bills.
Myth #6. Family lawyers are in cahoots with one another. This one is often raised when the lawyer for one party 'fraternises' with the lawyer for the other party at court. But why not? They often know each other, and just because their clients are 'daggers drawn', it does not mean that they must be too. And just because they are friendly, it does not mean that they are doing a deal behind their client's back either.
Once upon a time I had a judge say to me: "Those that live by the sword, die by the sword." It was a rather subtle hint to a young lawyer that a little less heat might serve him better. In twenty years, I have met several lawyers I would not trust out of my sight and I have met maybe one lawyer I could not abide. I am still embarrassed by my dislike of that one lawyer because it is unprofessional. Sooner or later, the no-holds-barred style makes the lawyer ineffective for their client because no one will talk to Rambo style lawyer.

At another time, I got a disciplinary complaint filed by a client because I was polite to opposing counsel in the court office. We were in the office prior to the hearing on a motion to set aside a judgment. We went hammer and tongs during the hearing. Which was probably unfortunate for my client as he blurted out some facts he had omitted telling me and lost the case. Whenever you hear someone claiming the lawyers were in cahoots, I suggest a bit of advice my mother used to give out: consider the source. By the way, the disciplinary complaint was dismissed quite quickly.
Myth #9. Family lawyers charge extortionate fees. Yes, some do, but for most their fees are based upon their experience and their expenses (see this post). Like any business, we have to be competitive, and if we overcharge, our clients will go elsewhere. We do not operate 'charging cartels' - in fact, lawyers rarely discuss their fees with one another. Further, if a client is unhappy with his/her lawyer's fees, they can always request the court to assess them.

Myth #10. Lastly, all family lawyers are rich. If only it were the case. True, some at the top of the profession earn very large sums of money, but isn't that true for most professions? On the other hand, the high-street family lawyer doing predominantly legal aid work will be struggling to make a living at all.
These two hit the nail on the head for Indiana. We need to be competitive - and that means needing to pay for our overhead. If we cannot keep our offices open, then the client will need to find another attorney. Clients need to ask themselves what sort of service they expect for what they pay.

Indiana's Rules Professional Conduct govern our relationship with clients. I think the following apply to this discussion:
  1. Rule 1.2. Scope of Representation and Allocation of Authority Between Client and Lawyer
  2. Rule 1.16. Declining or Terminating Representation
  3. Rule 1.5. Fees
  4. Rule 3.1. Meritorious Claims and Contentions

1 comment:

Charles said...

If you as an individual are facing any such situation and are planning to resolve the issue for good, the best way is to consult a well-experienced family lawyer who can guide you to the best solution to suit your situation. ...