In family law, there is no substitute for experience. The battle scars of experience help guide strategy and negotiations in difficult cases, and it is important to have an attorney who has some battle scars leading a complex case. Battle scars also provide an opportunity you to pass along wisdom to clients and help formulate strategies based upon experience. They allow you to better see the entire case during negotiations and how different outcomes may come evolve throughout the process.
What are my battle scars?
I have been in the trenches for 20 years. I have seen everything from scorched earth litigation to the swift and confidential resolution of highly complex matters. I have seen cases go back and forth between litigation and mediation over several years. I have been involved in cases that went up on appeal – in the middle of the case.
I have also seen couples divorce, remarry each other, and then divorce again; and couples who reconcile in the middle of a divorce. I have been involved in cases which settled the first day of trial, the last day of trial, and even after the close of proofs but before the court ruled. I have seen how an opposing attorney’s theory and methodology which is not aligned with his or her client’s goals can cost thousands of dollars for the parties. I have watched fear replace logic and reasoning when parties are highly charged and too emotionally connected to their position.
I have watched what motivates people to settle and what motivates them to go to trial. I have observed clients who did not want a divorce when the case first started become empowered and grateful by the time the case was over. I have seen wildly different outcomes from judges in cases which have similar sets of facts. I have seen how mental health problems and addiction issues can derail not only a family and a marriage, but also a court case. By contrast, I have also seen how dispute resolution processes enable the professionals to deal with both issues in a confidential and productive manner.
I have seen parents who have good intentions but don’t always understand what they are doing to their children. I have seen how parties who think they are being “smart” by hiding assets or trying to conceal accounts make things more difficult for themselves. And just when I think I have seen it all, I see something new.
Why battle scars are important.
The obvious reason battle scars are important is because they form wisdom and that wisdom allows a lawyer to give better advice. A family law case can be filled with land mines (some foreseen, some not) and an experienced attorney will be able to predict certain unforeseen circumstances and develop a strategy to combat them. Perhaps one of the most important things that experience brings is understanding how an entire case fits together, even in the early stages, and providing advice when the client cannot yet see the larger picture.
While the parties are engaged in a difficult family situation it is virtually impossible for them to envision their future five to ten years out. He or she may not be able to even contemplate that they may want to remarry one day. But such a consideration should be taken into account when a party is a maintenance recipient. A party may not be able to picture ever leaving the former marital residence one day, but circumstances may change where someone decides to leave the state in the future (say, due to the birth of a new grandchild). An experienced attorney can help a client think past their immediate future, which is understandably what they are most focused on in the moment.
Personally, I find that my battle scars are a like a badge of honor. They are hard earned. And they form the foundation of my bank of knowledge which I can call upon when confronted with a particularly difficult legal issue or factual situation which requires delicate handling. A good lawyer learns from past cases, and is able to better listen, understand, evaluate and analyze current cases through the lens of experience. I am better able to see what motivates certain parties, which is important when settling a case. And I am better able to anticipate legal arguments in litigation.
Battle scars don’t just help clients. They are also an invaluable training tool for younger lawyer. It is how we teach the next generation good practice protocols and how to strategize a case from start to finish. There is no substitute for being in the trenches and dealing with difficult cases.