Monday, July 20, 2009

What Should a Family Lawyer Know?

What New Family Law Attorneys Need To Know from Family Law Prof Blog tried to answer. I think they are all good. Would that clients understood better what we do, can do, and that we could explain all this to them.
Here is a summary of their responses:

* The Honorable Doris Huspeni of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, who began her career as a family court referee, advised, “Be realistic. You need to be able to counsel your client as to reasonable expectations.” She urged the importance of civility among members of the bar as necessary to effective advocacy.
* Marty Swaden of the Swaden Law Offices echoed these sentiments. He emphasized the importance of knowing the people involved in a family law dispute – the judge, the client and opposing counsel. He was especially concerned that young attorneys sometimes believe that they have to have a tough, aggressive, and defensive attitude to be effective. He emphasized the need for new attorneys to appreciate that there needs to be a good working relationship with opposing counsel so that the case can get resolved.
* Nancy Zalusky Berg of the firm Walling, Berg, & Debele said, “Get yourself out of the way.” She commented on the importance of family law attorneys understanding themselves and how their own experience of family can impact their representation of their clients. Gary Debele of the same firm advised new lawyers to think of themselves as problem solvers first rather than advocates and litigators. As a problem solver, he suggests three key questions: “What does the client want? Is what the client wants, reasonable and feasible? And How do you get to that result?”
* Angie Banga, who serves as a Guardian ad Litem in family court, reminded the group of the importance of teaching the damage that high conflict divorces does to children. She suggested, “Remember to be flexible – a good family court attorney is flexible; able to shift their thinking when they get new information. They need to understand when they have drawn the short straw – everybody gets a client who’s case is weak."
* Attorney Andrea Niemi of Niemi, Jerabek, & Kretchmer was concerned at the degree to which new attorneys are advising each other rather than finding a mentor. She emphasized the need for new attorneys to learn how to find someone who knows what they are doing and how to access their expertise.
* Karen Irvin, of the Minnesota Mediation and Counseling Center, urged family law professors to teach family law student to think in terms of family systems: to think beyond the individuals they are representing to understanding the impacts on the entire family system.
* Mindy Mitnick, of the Uptown Mental Health Clinic, emphasized the importance of learning to work with mental health professionals. “Lawyers are from Mars; mental health professionals are from Venus,” she quipped.

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