Published to: 000113, 000114, 000115, 000116, 000117, A Small Town Lawyer's Perspective, Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer, West Virginia Lawyer - Tips and Techniques
on July 31, 2010 9:09 pm
This week was a frustrating reminder to me that shortsighted lawyers cause a lot of harm, to others, and their own clients. These lawyers are not, as my Yellow Pages Ad above promises, “Competent, Compassionate, (or) Committed” Here are some examples:
1. The “For The Record Letter”. A couple of weeks ago, I called a colleague who was appointed Guardian Ad Litem (Guardian In Law) for a child in a visitation case. My clients were quite concerned at a perceived adversarial approach by the Guardian. The Guardian, of course, responded defensively, and a tense conversation ensued. After 10-15 minutes, we finally began communicating. We talked 20 minutes more, and both sides apologized for getting “hot under the collar” and we agreed the guardian would meet with the clients and me so each side could better understand the other. As far as I was concerned, the apologies were accepted and the incident over. Two weeks later, on the morning of the meeting, I was “blown away” buy a five page, singled spaced, tirade that was filled with insults and accusations and ignored the second half of the conversation, which was, of course, the important half. I was puzzled at the change, until I noticed the guardian had copied the child’s counselor, and the Court file. Turns out, it was not a letter to me. It was a self serving letter to the Court and the Counselor. I remember such tactics for a loooong time.
2. The “Get Tough Letter”. Some lawyers like to write a harsh letter and copy their client to show the client they can “kick butt”. Such letters rarely result in something beneficial. Accusations of lying, mean motives, even stupidity, tend not to get a positive response. I try to focus on the substance of the harsh letter and respond as positively as I can. Taking time to investigate their complaint can help turn a nasty letter into something positive.
3. Many family law lawyers refuse to attend mediation with their clients. It is a myth that the lawyer can “prepare” the client to represent himself. There is usually a power disparity, so the client is either going to be “beaten up” or, just as bad, dominate the meeting, leaving the mediator to cope with the situation. The experienced attorney can help moderate the behavior of the aggressive client and build up the timid one. A “tag team” of lawyer and mediator can reason with a “difficult” client and guide them to a beneficial compromise.
4. Weak or misguided lawyers tend to reflect the flaws of their client. They often deny and excuse obvious problems such as alcohol abuse, anger management, or abusive behavior. Such apologists usually fail to guide their clients to the help they need.
5. As I mentioned in my last post, 30%, or more, of attorneys will NOT return calls or respond to letters.
6. Getting some lawyers to the continuing legal education (C.L.E.) that they need is like getting a dirty little boy into a bathtub, with similar results.
7. In our area, the idea of a local bar association is dead. Lawyers don’t meet together as a group any more. We tend to be islands of frazzled individuals, looking out for ourselves but not our colleagues. Lawyers retire with no recognition, and seasons come and go without the Christmas dinners and summer picnics and steak frys that used to be so important to our common identities. As a result, it is not unusual to hear attorneys demeaning one another and their profession. They simply don’t know the others well enough to respect them.
8. Many lawyers are not short-sighted. When I get to the point that I question why I ever even wanted to be a lawyer, I remember several good exchanges I had this week. I resolved issues with lawyers with whom I had differences. In one situation, the other lawyer listened, and even accepted an apology. Turns out I WAS WRONG (There, I said it!) I approved an order but later objected because the client didn’t like it, and forgot I had approved it! That embarrased the other lawyer before the judge. As soon as the phone conference was over, I wrote to the lawyer my apology. My colleague accepted the apology and we moved on.
Summary: The Guardian Ad Litem in 1. above accepted my apology for “overtalking” her, but had to write her five page tirade to enhance herself, she thinks, in the eyes of others. What she got, for sure, is a colleague who “has her number” and will never trust her again. That’s what shortsighted lawyers need to keep in mind. Short term convenience, expediency, and advantage, may result in long term negative ramifications.
This post was written by Burton Hunter