What kind of lawyer should I hire? (avoid the pitbull).
Many spouses are faced with the decision as to what “kind” of lawyer to hire. Friends and family will typically offer referrals or what lawyer’s call “armchair” advice. Every spouse will receive from one source or another the encouragement to hire a “pit bull” lawyer. This all too often bad decision to a “pit bull” plagues spouses and ruins their case usually long before the first papers are served.
To better understand why spouses turn what would otherwise be a simple case into the fatal attempt to litigate emotion, we should first identify the anatomy of the “pit bull” lawyer.
Without exception, “pit bull” lawyers are 60 – 70 years (and older) of age, or they are younger lawyers that recieved their initial training by this type of lawyer. So, be careful, you can still find young pitbull type lawyers, which is not a good thing. This is not by accident, or mere coincidence. The age is indicative as to when the lawyer first learned family / divorce law. The era when the pit bull lawyer first practiced law was pre-1980’s amendments to divorce laws. Prior to the amendments, the laws addressed and mapped out a litigation process where tough litigation strategy and drawing blood was rewarded heavily. It was during this time period that “pit bull” divorce lawyers learned their craft; this is why they do what they do and explains their mannerisms and demeanor.
While the scorched earth approach to divorces served clients well through the 1970’s, the legal bar as a whole realized that the “take no prisoners” approach was ruining children, family relationships, and destroying people’s finances.
Additionally, the system as a whole, had turned into a transfer of wealth animal that transferred entire estates into the back pockets of the spouses’ lawyers. Amendments to the divorce laws in the mid-1980s quickly moved to remove war like tactics from the process, and spouses no more had incentive to litigate.
These new divorce laws which has now been “on the books” for over 20 years, has removed much of the need and incentive to litigate many issues in a divorce. Attorneys that began their careers after the laws were amended are unable to act as a pit-bull attorneys, because they can neither be conditioned nor were they ever conditioned to practice that way. The new laws disfavor a scorched earth policy, and the process now punishes the parent for being overly agrresive.
The problem with pit bull lawyers is that since the laws were amended, they have been unable to modify their approach to a divorce. Many consider it a failure to recognize how case and case strategy work in today’s court room, and others have the opinion that older family law attorneys have been so conditioned to the “old ways” that they are unable to change with the times.
Spouses should be very aware of this dynamic to identify what type of lawyer they hire and retain through the divorce process. You likely have a “pit bull” lawyer, if the following are true:
1. The lawyer is over the age of 60 years, but there could be younger lawyers with this flaw, if they were trained by the older lawyer using poor divorce tactics.
2. The lawyer employs the assistance of a younger lawyer (usually to dampen the harm that the hard tactics will do to your case, yet the younger lawyer is an over-compensatory act that hurts the client’s case even more so);
3. The lawyer’s letters and correspondence never address issues of the case (like how to resolve a custody, visitation, or a financial issue), and rather they attack your spouse and or his or her attorney on a personal level;
4. Your questions and concerns are usually shelved, until the lawyer instructs you later, where you feel rushed or that damage control is required;
5. Your attorneys’ fees are accruing at an unusual high rate (most cases should not accrue more than $2,000 per month);
6. The lawyer is more concerned about damaging your spouse, rather than protecting your rights like protecting custody or obtaining more income or assets for you (remember the amended laws now do not get you more for making your spouse look bad – that was the old law);
7. The lawyer advises you to take steps that would inconvenience you, put your child(ren) under more stress than absolutely necessary, and or, move you away from what is standard in most cases;
8. Your case is turning into something more ugly that you could have ever imagined.
While sometimes spouses hire a pit-bull lawyer by mistake, many retain these attorneys on purpose. Because many spouses have never been though a divorce, they are completely unaware of the following:
1. Pit-bull lawyers are like opium to spouses with abusive personalities, and Judges and Custody Evaluators know this;
2. Many spouses hire attorneys that match up with their personalities, so if you hired an attorney with an abrasive personality, then others, like the Judge, will believe that you too are abrasive;
3. Attorneys, Judges, GALs, and other players in the family law arena do not like your lawyer – the abrasive style is tiring and time consuming;
4. Before your lawyer even open’s his or her mouth in Court, everyone is pre-conditioned that your position is bogus. Your attorney’s reputation has already hurt your case;
5. Pit-bull lawyers know that they are a flawed component of the system, so to keep the illusion intact, they charge above average attorneys’ fees so that the client will believe it’s a value added service;
6. Pit-bull lawyers can never obtain more for you in a divorce case than any other type of attorney;
7. Because pit-bull lawyers work under the old system and laws, they generally fail to focus on the subtle strategies that work best under the new divorce act; this is a fatal flaw for clients, especially when custody of a child is at stake;
8. Pit-bull attorneys generally never highlight to their clients that even with the contribution of attorneys’ fees from their spouse, the client will always be holding the lion’s share of the fee bill, which is generally always in excess of $100,000;
9. Pit-bull attorneys always sue their own clients at the end of a case to obtain a Judgment, where the client now owes the money and statutory interest (to add insult to injury); and,
10. Pit-bull attorneys always blame their clients for the high fees because the client wanted that type of case, and the client knew what they were getting themselves into (pit bull lawyers always say, “well, you married him/her” to shift blame of their flawed style to you);
What most spouses want to know next, is what they should or should not do when they realize they hired a pit-bull attorney. The following is generally the best course of action:
1. Fire your attorney. You can to this by email or by letter. (firing an attorney in a divorce case is fairly common, and your Judge will be happy that a more reasonable attorney is going to handle matters);
2. Determine if your spouse has a “reasonable” attorney; if so, inform your new lawyer what you really want in the case (remember, your spouse’s attorney has no idea what you want because your pit-bull attorney only sends letters of insults without touching on the real issues of the case);
3. If you spouse’s attorney tells you that your demands are acceptable, have your spouse’s attorney put it all to writing (your case could settle like many others);
4. Hire a new attorney, to complete the case on agreed terms or to address and negotiate the unresolved issues; and
5. Start preparing your defense case related to your pit-bull lawyer’s fees (remember, they always sue their clients).
I have represented many clients who have come to me only after a “pit-bull” attorney had done damage to what was otherwise a good case. The extent that an overly aggressive attorney can hurt a custody case is immeasurable. Parents and spouses should immediately take steps to avoid a terrible result in their case. If your attorney has suggested, hinted, or otherwise advised you to be dishonest in the process, you should take emergency steps to report this behavior, as it may be the only way to save an otherwise lost custody case. Many parents fail to realize that fabrications are generally flushed out in the process, and are often perceived as the parent’s idea or personality flaw, as opposed to the result of an attorney’s advice.