Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Family law: how do you do it?

I am a corporate transactional attorney so litigation is not dandydan04/25/18
You start out a nice guy who puts up with all the clients' c hankstamper04/25/18
And you learn hard lessons very fast, like: 1) never give hankstamper04/25/18
With the exception of very special clients, my clients absol thirdtierlaw04/25/18
With a regular client, you set expectations at the initial i guyingorillasuit04/25/18
I don't know either. I've done high stakes/ high exposure li lolwutjobs04/25/18
You gave a pro/low bono prole your cell? Rookie mistake. isthisit04/25/18
Stay in your lane man. Just because it's pro bono is no reas porochi04/26/18
I would have made a similar comment, but it sounds like the guyingorillasuit04/26/18
Happens in Jersey. I was assigned some low rate municipal ap isthisit04/26/18
I made the point that have no family experience and am not a dandydan04/26/18
I suggest telling her that while you appreciate her situatio isthisit04/26/18
The crazy project manager isn't going to file an ethics comp anothernjlawyer05/03/18
In my jurisdiction, even if you're appointed without your sa porochi05/01/18
This. I am horrified at states that have mandatory pro bono onehell05/18/18
Pretty much everything poasted here is correct. I will add m dopesmokeresquire04/26/18
Strong post. hankstamper05/01/18
There are two kinds of family law. 1) the low paying kind jmoney05/16/18
dandydan (Apr 25, 2018 - 1:41 pm)

I am a corporate transactional attorney so litigation is not what I handle. Recently, the bar assigned me to a pro bono family law case. Real soap opera, kids involved, mom and dad are bitter against each other and want to use the system to get back at the other one. Nothing unusual.

I'm working with another attorney who does the court work; I primarily handle the research and drafting of motions. I get on calls with the mom and she just wants to fight to the death, disregarding anything else. She wants to be consumed with this forever. Again, nothing unusual.

Mom asks me for my cellphone. Trying to be nice and do a good job, I give her my number. Now, she texts daily and calls routinely. I don't care what she buys in walmart, whether she should move into a trailer park with her new boyfriend, whether she drinks in the redneck bar at night. I represent her because that is my job per the state bar, not because I think its cool to sit around all day watching trash tv and smoking cheap cigarettes.

She also makes suggestions about the legal work, usually to the other attorney handling the litigation aspect, based on old Perry Mason and Judge Judy episodes.

My question to JDU family law lawyers: how the hell do you do it?

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hankstamper (Apr 25, 2018 - 5:06 pm)

You start out a nice guy who puts up with all the clients' crap for the first two years, and you lose sleeping worrying about everything. After about 2 years, you change and become very hard and direct with them. They actually respond better to this. You stop worrying about their stuff, and it's just a job. But you become a different person than you were before. It's all about "client control" in family law.

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hankstamper (Apr 25, 2018 - 5:08 pm)

And you learn hard lessons very fast, like:

1) never give out your cell phone number
2) never work for a flat fee
3) don't extend credit - get out when the money's out

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thirdtierlaw (Apr 25, 2018 - 7:16 pm)

With the exception of very special clients, my clients absolutely do not get my cell phone number. I under no circumstances would ever give a pro-bono client my cell number.

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guyingorillasuit (Apr 25, 2018 - 10:14 pm)

With a regular client, you set expectations at the initial intake regarding time and billing. You tell them that the best way to keep their costs down is to minimize emails and phone calls. If there is no cost constraint, and the client feels like he or she can call or email at any time, you are in trouble. This is why pro bono family law is a terrible idea unless you have good client control. And yes, she will fight tooth and nail as long as it doesn't cost her anything. Why would she settle?

You have to lay down the law, even with paying clients.

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lolwutjobs (Apr 25, 2018 - 10:24 pm)

I don't know either. I've done high stakes/ high exposure litigation-- family law work is pure agita to me. The only legal field that is anxiety inducing to me. Two cases as a favor were enough for me.

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isthisit (Apr 25, 2018 - 11:26 pm)

You gave a pro/low bono prole your cell? Rookie mistake.

I do Immigration and plenty of potential deportees ask for my cell. I always tell those fools to call the office.

I deal with emotional clients by explaining the realities of their situation and how I'm working for them. But I never give them a way to contact me outside of work email/office #.

End of story.

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porochi (Apr 26, 2018 - 12:11 am)

Stay in your lane man. Just because it's pro bono is no reason for a non-litigator, corporate atty. to take on a family law case when you have no experience in family law. You're risking a bar complaint for incompetence and, possibly, your license. Not smart. Withdraw, if you can, and stay with what you know.

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guyingorillasuit (Apr 26, 2018 - 12:20 am)

I would have made a similar comment, but it sounds like the bar assigned the case to him without his input. I have never heard of that happening, but apparently it does.

Also, in reality, it's tough to screw up a case with almost no assets or money to litigate.

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isthisit (Apr 26, 2018 - 1:28 am)

Happens in Jersey. I was assigned some low rate municipal appeal of a DUI.

I had only done corporate transactional and landlord/tenant at that point. Luckily the client wanted me to withdraw since I didn't know any DUI defense or whatever. I gladly did and the judge allowed me to.

I was worried about flubbing his case and getting sanctioned for free.

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dandydan (Apr 26, 2018 - 9:13 am)

I made the point that have no family experience and am not a litigator but the Bar assigned me nonetheless. I am working with an experienced attorney, per the Bar's instructions. I am only handling the research and writing aspects of the case. I am not in the courtroom arguing pointless motions, though I do draft them.

Perhaps doc review is better than this. It may be better to deal with the crazy project manager than it is to deal with a trash client. From this experience, the client thinks of me as her lawyer, therapist, friend, and sounding board. I think of her as crazy, trashy, and difficult. If she ever gets married again, the groom will be wearing a Canadian tux at the wedding.

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isthisit (Apr 26, 2018 - 10:03 am)

I suggest telling her that while you appreciate her situation and are working diligently on her matter, she can't keep calling your cell and that she needs to reach you via office #/work email only. Then block her or ignore her when she calls your cell.

Document your conversation with her. Sh!tty clients will always take up most of your time and emotional/psychic bandwith.

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anothernjlawyer (May 3, 2018 - 4:32 pm)

The crazy project manager isn't going to file an ethics complaint against you when you don't file an emergency motion on Christmas Eve (and within 90 minutes) when the ex drops the kids off 3 minutes late.

Clients don't respect what they don't pay for. I don't do family work, but I would imagine that "family" and "pro bono" are the two worst words for a lawyer to deal with together.

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porochi (May 1, 2018 - 10:17 pm)

In my jurisdiction, even if you're appointed without your say-so, you can still go to the judge and explain that you're not qualified, not sufficiently experienced in the matter, you don't want to risk a complaint for incompetence, etc., and you'll be allowed to withdraw. No judge here is going to force incompetent counsel on an indigent client. I'd like to think that in other jurisdictions it's played the same way, you don't have to stumble through a case not knowing what the hell you're doing just because you've been appointed.

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onehell (May 18, 2018 - 1:52 pm)

This. I am horrified at states that have mandatory pro bono like new jersey. I googled it and their bar has that in their FAQ, where the question is what do I do if I'm not competent and the answer is basically "screw you, get competent. These are low-end cases and they shouldn't be hard to learn."

Well I say, screw the bar. They might not care that counsel is incompetent for the type of case, but I agree, judges usually do care.

I mean, I get where the bar is coming from. If you have mandatory pro bono it's pretty much entirely going to be family law and minor crimes, and if you let (for example) all transactional attorneys exempt themselves then the burden disproportionately falls on solos and very small firms that do the same kind of work for a fee. But that's just one of many reasons that the very idea of mandatory pro bono is so unjust as to be laughable.

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dopesmokeresquire (Apr 26, 2018 - 11:42 am)

Pretty much everything poasted here is correct. I will add my own:

1. Don't Care. This may be easier said than done, but it is a mental skill you must hone to perfection in order to do family law without it making you want to go postal. But how does one "not care" when the idiot is on phone crying or raging about how much their life sucks? You must realize....

2. THEY ARE IN THE PLACE THEY ARE IN DUE TO A LONG SERIES OF POOR DECISIONS THAT THEY MADE. NOT YOU.
The man who tolerated his lazy wife to do nothing for 20 years after the kids moved out...the punching bag of a wife that tolerated her drunken husband for years....the spouse that took back the cheating spouse over and over again....the list is truly endless.

Once I realized the above, family law became much easier to do. Not easy as in...like working the 3rd shift at a gas station on a desolate stretch of interstate, but "easy" in that it cured the self-doubt, the tendency the blame yourself for bad outcome, the difficulty to keep emotionally detached. Yep, it's all their fault their life is a sh*tshow, you are just there to clean it up. I compare it to cleaning up a superfund site. The damage is done, you job is to MAYBE get the place minimally habitable again.

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hankstamper (May 1, 2018 - 2:15 pm)

Strong post.

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jmoney (May 16, 2018 - 12:51 am)

There are two kinds of family law.

1) the low paying kind

2) the high paying kind

They are different animals with different rules. The drama is usually similar, but the higher paying clients are generally better behaved.

Also, there's a huge difference between JDR courts and circuit courts wrt family law. In VA, circuit courts get de novo appeals from JDR, so the high paying cases typically start in circuit court. JDR is the wild wild west. Some GALs are better than others.

GET THE CASH UP FRONT. If they have a ton going on, and they don't have 1000s to pay in retainer and don't have some obvious source of income that can take the case beyond if it doesn't settle, YOU WALK.

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