Monday, March 30, 2009

The Downside of Practicing Family Law

Last week, I had a client comment that she was glad she did not have my job. Reading When $450 an hour isn't worth it from The Toronto Star reminded me of her comments:
"The 45-year-old mother of two decided to 'retire' from her $450-an-hour job with the highly respected firm Wilson Christen LLP after growing weary of watching couples fight to the death over everything from kids to cottages, RRSPs to religion.

'My husband said I'd reached my misery threshold,' says Morris. 'You have to be a particular kind of person to do family law because you're dealing with a lot of sadness day after day. It's hard not to have it affect you.'

The barracuda's bite wasn't lost on Morris, who colleagues considered a workaholic and a 'toughie' in the courtroom. She knows many people think of divorce lawyers as 'sharks' more intent on racking up big billings than brokering peace. But Morris is adamant she has seen very little of that.
It is just as true down here for family law. Pay attention to the attorneys who advocate collaborative family law - I notice they are not pushing this to increase their fees.

Something else I noticed that is not any different in Canada - the legislature creating more of a mess than what it solves:
Instead, she blames legislative changes 10 years ago and 'the dirty little secret you will not find in any self-help book or website' – that there is such a shortage of judges and court resources devoted to family law cases in some parts of Ontario. This is 'increasing conflict' by leaving separated couples in a horrendous sort of legal limbo, living in the same house and unable (or unwilling) to agree on division of assets and even support payments without a judge's ruling."

The article also hits on a problem I foresee if we keep pushing mediation (such as is done in Marion County) and keep playing cheap with our courts:

The system generally works well in Toronto, but largely because a two-tier system of justice has emerged out of the chaos of the family court system. Couples who can afford it have turned to mediation, arbitration and collaboration, which has helped divert thousands of divorces from the courts. But those who don't have money have opted to represent themselves – judges estimate that is now 50 to 70 per cent of all divorce litigation – which has added to court delays.


That has resulted in overloaded court dockets and months-long delays to appear before judges who are so overwhelmed, many openly admit they haven't had time to read the file. It is not uncommon for clients to take a day off work and spend $1,000 or more to have their lawyer just stand around in the courthouse waiting to be called before a judge who runs out of time.


Judith said...

Already beginning to happen here in the UK too where of course for many years we have had a two tier system for those on legal aid and those who don't qualify, with some lawyers opting to represent only the private paying client because of the dismally low rates of pay for legal aid work and the layers of bureaucracy that have to be contended with.

Sam Hasler said...

We have a two tier system and maybe even more tiers. Those that can afford to finance a case adequately. Those who can afford only a mediocre financing. Finally, those who cannot afford anything. Legal Services Organization takes on some of the truly indigent but generally those are abuse cases. Indiana has a statute authorizing the appointment of lawyers for the indigent but no financing mechanism. Pro bono exists but is stretched too thin. I like the idea of your system - I think it s a good deal better than what we have. I do not expect perfection. Care to tell us more?