This week began with me having to put on evidence and then leave everything for a judge to decide what to do in the case, and thankfully the odds were in my favor that day. The week then ended with me acting as the mediator in a court-appointed case, where my role was to facilitate a discussion between the parties and hopefully help them reach an agreement on their own, without the need for the court’s intervention. These roles could not be more opposite, and yet I have to admit, I love them both.
Court should be an option of last resort, and actually the stats prove that about 95% of family law cases do settle before a trial. The research also indicates that about 1/3 of divorces are amicable, 1/3 are civil, and 1/3 are hostile. Sadly it is this latter category that we hear about the most, and let me be honest, a lot will depend on the attorneys the parties hire. Some just love to litigate, and they enjoy going for scorched earth. They thrive on sending nasty grams and playing games– for them, going to court is like going to Atlantic City on someone else’s dime. What thrill seeker wouldn’t love that? This is exactly what clients are doing when they go hire “sharks” to inflict pain on their soon to be ex-spouse– of course failing to realize that going down this path of destruction sucks many other loved ones around them into a world of misery, darkness and destruction.
It takes a seasoned attorney with integrity to learn not to sink to the low depths some clients want you go on their behalf, and it takes guts to say to your client that you are not just some hired gun. I’ve had to refuse to do a lot of things, even at the cost of terminating the attorney-client relationship, because some things are just not worth doing. At the end of the day, you have to preserve your integrity– not just for your own sake, but to protect your reputation in the community. One case will be over in 1-2 years, but I’ve got the rest of my life to practice law in front of all those judges that know me, and I am not about to risk losing the respect of the bench or bar for any client. No one is worth that, and thankfully there are many decent colleagues who share this view, however there are a number of them out there that have yet to see the light.
The fact is that clients tend to gravitate towards attorneys that they can relate to, and luckily at this point most of my views are pretty well known, especially thanks to the press and social media over the last several years. So, it really has become a self-selective process, where my divorce clients come to me because they want to keep things calm, civil, and private. Going back to the stats, that means 66% of those divorcing will appreciate my methodology, which uses a cooperative/ intergrative law approach and only 33% are hiring me to be their gladiator– only because the other side refuses to sit and talk. I can definitely live with those ratios because let’s face it, not everyone is going to get along and play nice, and when all else fails, it is still fun for me to go kick butt in court– as long as I know we tried our best to be reasonable before taking the gloves off.
Despite what some may think, my approach is not all that new or revolutionary– for hundreds of years attorneys were seen as counselors, peace keepers, leaders, and social activists, and court was only used as the final option when all else failed. Our ability to resolve cases has certainly improved tremendously with all the psychology research that has been brought into the legal world, and integrative lawyers are well trained to creatively solve problems outside of court–either in mediation, cooperative cases or using the Collaborative approach. This growing trend is receiving a lot more attention these days, especially within the ABA, and I am relieved to see that I am in good company among a growing number of colleagues that wish to restore dignity to our profession while helping create a less litigious society.
This fall, I once again have the privilege of speaking to young students at both Georgetown Law and GW University, and then I will be presenting for the ABA on Children and the Law. I’m planning to highlight how the integrative law approach can help promote the best interest of children, who are after all our legacy and our future. ‘It is with their interest in mind that I learned to put down the sword and not always go all out for blood. So glad I am not alone in this mission, and here’s hoping more will choose an attorney that will help them minimize the pain and damage while respectfully dissolving the parties’ partnership!
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.