The best case outcomes in many family law matters depend on active, ongoing client involvement and two-way communication between attorney and client. A good working relationship between attorney and client is often essential for a good outcome in family law matters.
Unlike some other areas of law practice, family law matters depend on open, ongoing, two-way communication between lawyer and client. Divorce and child custody matters are often emotional. Events often take place during family law litigation that could impact the outcome of a case. Unless the client and his or her counsel have an open line of communication, the chances for the best possible outcome can decline.
Common reasons why some clients are reluctant to keep their counsel abreast of new developments in their family law matter.
a) Some clients feel like they will be overcharged for sending their lawyer a short email or asking a simple question. If you find yourself in this situation, bring it up to your lawyer without delay.
b) Sometimes a client will think that newly discovered information will hurt their case, so they say nothing and hope it goes unnoticed. This is a big mistake. Let your lawyer decide what is important. If you don’t keep your lawyer informed, you could get blindsided at trial.
c) Some family law clients are simply not in an emotional state to stay on top of the issues involved in a high conflict family law matter. This is common. The best thing to do is seek professional help. Mental health treatment can be a key component to becoming the best person you can be. There is no shame or stigma for reaching out for professional help, especially in times of great stress. Do not wait.
Your family law attorney should be your trusted advocate. Forming a great working relationship can often impact the result in your family law matter. I invite your inquiry. Feel free to contact my office at (610) 256 4843.
Smart, focused, savvy lawyers nearly always beat rude, obnoxious, bombastic lawyers in Family Court.
As a family law attorney who has been involved in some epic battles, I want to share some insight. When all is said and done, the smart, focused, savvy and hard working lawyers nearly always beat the rude, obnoxious and bombastic lawyers in family court. Most excellent family law attorneys do not get caught up in the mindless and counterproductive fighting brought on by their adversary. The best lawyers are focused on winning their cases, and achieving favorable outcomes for their clients.
When lawyers fight with each other, progress grinds to a halt. Yet the meter is still running for the client.
I am not sure why some divorce, child custody, and family law attorneys think that they must “put on a show” for their clients. I can’t tell you how many nasty letters and emails I have received from opposing counsel where they make absurd allegations about my client that are neither truthful, nor relevant to the issues in the case. Some letters even make ad hominem attacks on me for skillfully protecting and advancing my client’s rights. I find it interesting that some lawyers actually believe that the nasty, bombastic letters they send me will somehow positively impact the outcome of the family law matter in favor of their client. These letters are nothing more than an ill-advised or ignorant attempt by opposing counsel to demonstrate to their client what a “nasty shark” their client has hired. Then the “nasty shark” lawyer bills their client for the totally ineffective letter. The smart, savvy, and hard working lawyers are not at all impacted by nasty shark tactics. The smart and savvy lawyers can (and do) nearly always beat the nasty shark in every area of family law cases.
Nearly all nasty, obnoxious letters I receive are from opposing counsel who either a) do not know me well, and/or b) they do not know any other way to act. Some lawyers only have one mindset, and they only know one method to approach every case. They cannot understand the difference between motion and progress. Avoid hiring these types of lawyers to handle your family law matter, unless you enjoy wasting time and money.
These attorneys love to “put on a show” for their client. In nearly every situation, the nasty letters do nothing more than inflate the billable time opposing counsel charges their client, while doing nothing to resolve the legal issues in the case. In other words, inflammatory letters exchanged between lawyers are rarely (if ever) effective in resolving important legal issues and moving a family law case forward. They are only an effective tool in costing clients time and money.
Family Law Attorneys who Encourage Fights – A Big Red Flag When Choosing Legal Counsel
Family law cases get emotional. Divorce and child custody issues are rarely easy for either party. Emotions run high. If your attorney is encouraging fights over trivial matters, that is a red flag. Great lawyers can and do make terrific arguments on points that really matter to help you get a favorable outcome in your case. That is the bottom line.
Last year I wrote about choosing your divorce or child custody attorney very carefully. Based on the number of contacts I am receiving from people who want to retain me as their second, third or fourth family law attorney, it seems as though some people are rushing to hire the first attorney they meet. It is usually best if you are not constrained to switch attorneys before your family law case is concluded. I realize that things do not always work out as planned when you hire a family law attorney. However, early due diligence on your part could save time, costs, and stress. Here below are some of “red flags” to consider when choosing a family law attorney.
RED FLAG # 1 – BEWARE IF YOU HEAR “DON’T WORRY, I’LL HANDLE EVERYTHING” BEFORE FULLY EXPLAINING THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE
Sometimes family law matters can get emotional. Clients are usually stressed. Tensions run high. Much is at stake. It is at this moment that you need to be sure that any potential attorney you may hire is carefully listening to the facts of your case and clearly understanding your goals. Any lawyer who rushes you, or tries to minimize your specific situation, is likely not someone who will get you the best results. If your concerns are constantly met with “don’t worry, I’ll handle everything”, even before you have finished explaining the facts of your family law matter, you should probably continue interviewing potential legal counsel.
RED FLAG #2 – BEWARE OF THE LAWYER WHO SAYS “I HAVE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE, DON’T WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING”
In my opinion, with very limited exception, there is no such thing as a “routine” family law matter. Every situation is a little bit different. For example, sometimes very small nuances in a child custody case can be a decisive factor. If one or both parties are predisposed to conflict, small nuances can sometimes blow up into unnecessary battles. It is nearly always a good idea to try to minimize potential conflict. A competent lawyer who fully understands your position is normally in the best position to advocate for you, while trying to minimize conflict. A level-headed attorney who actively listens and understands your goals is usually in the best position to help deliver the best results.
RED FLAG #3 – YOUR CALLS AND EMAILS ARE RARELY RETURNED.
Attorneys who handle divorce, child custody, child and spousal support, Protection from Abuse (PFA’s), and other family law matters are in court a significant amount of time. That means your calls or emails may not be returned until after 5 pm. If your calls or emails are often not returned at all, you should find out why. This may be a red flag.
INTERVIEWING A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY BEFORE HIRING HIM OR HER IS TIME WELL SPENT. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO SEARCH VIGOROUSLY. TAKE NOTE OF HOW JUST WELL YOU ARE BEING HEARD. IF YOU ARE IN SYNC WITH YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY AND YOUR CASE IS MOVING TO A SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION, I CONGRATULATE YOU IN THE SELECTION OF YOUR LEGAL COUNSEL.
I invite your inquiry. (610) 256 4843. firstname.lastname@example.org
On occasion, I am contacted by people who are not happy with another attorney they hired, or how their family law matter is progressing. Often, they are trying to change family law counsel, midstream. Trying to change your attorney in the middle of a family law matter is often rooted in two problem issues; lack of the client doing proper due diligence when initially selecting their current family law attorney, and / or lack of good two-way communication between the client and their counsel. Excellent two-way attorney-client communication is often essential for obtaining the best possible result in family law matters.
CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY WISELY
I cannot overemphasize the importance of wisely choosing your attorney before hiring him or her. Taking the time to properly investigate and interview more than one family law attorney is one of the best things you can do to help yourself. Ask questions. Attend your initial consultation prepared. You should never feel pressured or obligated to hire an attorney until you are ready, and you have done your homework. In my opinion, many excellent family law attorneys know this, and they will never have a problem if you want an opinion from another family law attorney prior to making a decision regarding who you want to hire.
Once you choose a family law attorney, sign a letter of engagement, and begin working with that attorney, breaking up can be both hard to do and expensive. Discharging your attorney and hiring new counsel, prior to successfully concluding the original professional engagement, is neither good for the client, nor good for the attorney. That is why performing proper due diligence, and ensuring a good overall fit, priorto actually hiring an attorney is critical.
The initial face-to-face meeting with an attorney is very important. Mutual trust and understanding carry the day. Trust your instincts. Search vigorously, select wisely. Your future may depend on it.
Here below, is one of the short videos I posted on YouTube, regarding choosing counsel in family law matters. If you are seeking legal counsel, I hope you find it helpful. I wish you much luck and success.
Perhaps more than any area of law, solo and small firm family law attorneys, have created a sustainable competitive advantage in the legal services marketplace.
The delivery of excellent legal services, especially in family law (and to a great extent, criminal defense) matters, depends to a huge degree, on the specific attorney you hire. Not the building they work in. Not the number of attorneys on the letterhead. Not the number of offices the firm has around the state or offices they have around the world. The law school the attorney attended matters very little, if at all. The attorney you hire and your working relationship with that attorney, are perhaps the most important factors in the results you obtain in a family law matter. This concept cannot be over-emphasized.
In my opinion, some of the best family law attorneys work solo or in a family law focused, small law firm. With very limited exception, they are not usually part of a firm with hundreds or thousands of lawyers. Some attorneys charge a flat fee. Others charge by the hour, in 6 minute increments. Some have a unique billing system based on specific services. Some lawyers use a sliding fee scale. Some bundle or unbundle their legal services. Some work fast. Others work slowly. Speak candidly about costs and fees when you interview any potential attorney. I do not know of any outstanding attorney who will shy away from answering your questions about costs and fees. In Pennsylvania, the rules of professional conduct require a written fee agreement between attorney and client. Read it. Understand it. Ask questions. Stay informed.
An attorney’s billable hourly rate does not necessarily correlate with your total legal costs. A $250 hourly rate is not efficient if it takes three times as long to bring a matter to a successful conclusion. Conversely, an attorney with a lower than average hourly rate does not mean an attorney is not competent or cannot deliver a great result in any particular matter. In fact, lower than average billing rates can mean “big law firm overhead” has been cut out of the equation and the savings has been passed along to the client.
A high hourly billing rate does not guarantee great results or that the attorney is a good fit for your high net-worth divorce matter, or even that the attorney is a good fit for you. Some attorneys who have a higher hourly billing rate work quickly and very effectively. In the end, they can actually save the client money.
Talk to your lawyer about their use and mastery of technology before hiring him or her. The century-old methods of delivering legal services is no longer tolerated in today’s competitive environment. No family law attorney needs to keep an extensive, physical law library. Cases and statutes are instantly available online.
With limited exception, most legal filings in PA state courts of common pleas can be done electronically. Make sure your family law attorney files court documents electronically whenever possible. Your lawyer should strive to leverage technology in an effort to save your money.
As previously stated in an earlier blog: when choosing a family law attorney, search vigorously, select wisely. In the end, you will be glad you did.
In 1987 Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Gordon Gekko, a wealthy, unscrupulous corporate raider in the movie Wall Street. In one memorable scene from the film, Gekko quotes a line from the ancient Chinese military treatise, Sun Tzu, The Art of War. In the film,Gekko tells a young stockbroker (played by Charlie Sheen) that:
“Every battle is won BEFORE it is fought”.
In the world of business, this famous quote often rings true. In the context of family law matters, especially contested family law matters, this quote also rings true. In any fight, or competitive contest, whether it is business, legal, sporting, or any other battle life throws our way, solid preparation and planning can often dictate the outcome.
Why am I writing about Sun Tzu in a family law blog ?
Solid preparation is one key element to getting a good result in most family law matters. My goal is to prepare every matter as though it is going to trial. It is amazing how many family law issues can be settled without court intervention when the case is properly prepared. The need to engage in protracted litigation in family law matters can sometimes be avoided through meticulous preparation and having a sound legal strategy. Many of the battles in divorce and family law are won before they are fought. The key is to pick your battles, (and your counsel) wisely. I wrote about these issues in earlier posts on this blog.
Of course, human emotions can also play a role in family court. Some people insist on “scorching the earth” in search of what they perceive as justice. Some people insist on “making their spouse pay”, despite not having a sound legal reason not to settle, mediate, arbitrate, or collaborate and simply move on. Some people want their “day in court”, despite the unpredictable nature of litigation and the associated costs involved. Some people insist that the law is broken and that their sense of fairness should dictate the outcome of their family law matter. This is not a recipe for success.
Don’t be like Gordon Gekko. Protect what could become your achilles heel. In family law matters, you should protect your legal rights, however greed is usually counterproductive in divorce proceedings.
In the original 1987 film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko provides us with a memorable declaration that “greed is good”. In the end, this mantra becomes his achilles heel, and he pays dearly for it. “Greed is good” is not usually a good mindset in family law matters. Clear thinking coupled with a sound legal strategy usually carries the day during a contentious divorce.
In many divorce and family law matters, greed is often bad. Greed by one (or both) parties can sometimes grind the divorce process to a slow crawl. This is rarely, if ever, a good thing for the parties involved. You should be thinking about preserving your assets. When counsel fees and litigation costs start to approach the real value of the issue at stake, you need to take a step back and take an assessing view. Hopefully your counsel, therapist, coach and/or family member is helping you put things in perspective.
For example, some people mistakenly believe that upon divorce, they are entitled to much more of the marital estate than the facts of their case and the law will reasonably allow. Their expectations are wildly out of sync with statutory and decisional law. This is where getting assistance to start thinking in a logical manner along with hiring and working closely with the the right counsel becomes critical. Think about it.
How long does it take to get divorced in Pennsylvania? Unfortunately, there are no easy or common answers. It depends upon a number of factors. Perhaps as much as than any other area of law, divorce and family law cases are factually different from one another. Here below is a non-exhaustive and very basic, extremely short list of factors and reasons that commonly impact the total elapsed time between filing a divorce complaint in Pennsylvania, to the entry of a divorce decree.
a) Filing for a Mutual Consent, No Fault Divorce – If your circumstances allow, Pennsylvania has a 90 day waiting period from the commencement of the divorce action for uncontested (mutual consent), no fault divorce, without any other economic issues. Economic issues between the parties can slow the divorce process down. The 90 day waiting period acts as a “cooling off” period. Depending on the county where you file, the particular judge, the potential backlog, etc., the time it takes the court to enter a divorce decree is usually 4 to 6 months for a mutual consent, no fault divorce without economic issues. Note: Do not plan to get remarried until you have a divorce decree in hand. Things can and do get delayed.
b) Filing for divorce under Irretrievable Breakdown of the marriage section of the divorce code now requires that the parties live separate and apart for at least one year. What is an “irretrievable breakdown”? Pennsylvania law defines it as “estrangement due to marital difficulties with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation”. If this sounds like your situation, you will need to live separate and apart for at least two years and the defendant agrees that the marriage is over. Note: you certainly can, and some people do “live separate and apart” under the same roof for all or part of the one year waiting period while they wait to obtain money to purchase a new home, or for other reasons. If one of the parties wants to try to reconcile, the court can order up to three counseling sessions. Note: In 2016 the Pennsylvania law reduced the “living separate and apart” requirement from two years to one year.
c) Extensive marital assets that need to be valued prior to being divided can slow down your divorce. Homes, businesses, pension plans, retirement plans, stock options, artwork, etc., etc. In some cases the parties disagree on the method used to value the asset and this can cause significant additional expense and delay.
d) Marital assets that for one reason or another are “missing” or misappropriated.
e) Backlog in the system, or one side is not adequately prepared to move forward when they should to be. This may include one party having an attorney while the other is without an attorney (known as a pro se party).
f) One of the parties cannot be located.
g) If the parties agree to use binding arbitration, the collaborative divorce process or mediation to settle economic issues they cannot otherwise settle, this can usually move the process along much more quickly than traditional litigation. Drawback: alternate dispute resolution methods can still be expensive, but not as expensive as litigation.
h) One of the parties truly cannot see the forest from the trees and decides to “scorch the earth” (sometimes with cooperation from their counsel or on advice from others) on every point, no matter how minor. This may include refusing to negotiate a reasonable marital settlement agreement, demanding all aspects of the case be litigated, being unresponsive to discovery requests, deciding that “having their day in court” must occur despite great expense and lack of any guaranteed result.
i) One of the parties mistakenly believes that seeking revenge via the divorce process is somehow better than getting on with their life. This can be a mental health issue that may be helped with coaching, counseling and the like.
These are just a few of the many issues that can arise and impact how long your divorce process takes. As you and your attorney navigate the legal landscape during a Pennsylvania divorce, stay focused on the end game. Less conflict means things move more quickly and usually with less cost to the parties. A skilled family law attorney will be able to keep your matter moving swiftly to a successful conclusion, while keeping you informed of the process.