Search This Blog

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Divorce Attorneys For Peaceful Divorce?

Dear Doctor Aylward:

My husband of twenty two years left me to marry his secretary, after my detectives caught him doing entirely inappropriate things to her in the bathroom of Hotel Charlotte. Despite his foul romantic judgment, he has always been a caring father, and the Twins never wanted for anything. The trouble is: the bimbo is now expecting a child, and Walter is becoming stingy. He rang me up today, asking if I would "agree" to let him pay only “his share” for the college. I think it is rotten of him to shirk his responsibilities, since he makes so much more money than I do. Everyone in our families has college degrees, and Walter had always planned on sending the Twins to Princeton. Education is very important to me. Should I engage an aggressive lawyer to fight for the Twins’ college funds?

Dear Concerned Parent:

ABSOLUTELY NO FIGHTING. Do not even dream about fighting. Ring Walter, tell him what a great father he is, and schedule a time (preferable very-very soon) to discuss this “agreement” he is offering.
The sad truth is that under North Carolina law Walter is not responsible for the Twins’ college bills. At all. No matter what he planned when you were married. No matter what your family’s accustomed standard of education is. No matter how talented the Twins are. If you take your fight to court, you will discover the hard way that the Twins are not entitled to the college tuition, no matter how aggressive your lawyer. But take heart. Outside of court, Walter is free to obligate himself in any way he sees fit. Walter’s offer is looking better already? Get yourself a diplomatic attorney, have him draft an agreement, and, while you are at it, mention to Walter that you would like to set up a 529 tax-saving plan (watch out for 2014 changes in North Carolina). Walter seems like a decent enough chap – why make him pay unnecessary income tax? Besides, when he sees how much you care, he may throw in his share of the Twins’ law school payments?

Charlotte Divorce Lawyer: Cynthia Shackelford's nine million dollar marriage and the Alienation of Affections Debate

Charlotte Divorce Lawyer: Cynthia Shackelford's nine million dollar marriage and the Alienation of Affections Debate

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ode to proper procedure.

I read this story somewhere. Maugham maybe? An eighty-year old spinster looks under her bed every night, making sure that nobody is hiding in the dark, ready to attack her in her sleep. One day, she discovers a man hiding there!

Today I feel just like that old bird. For a decade, I have instructed clients to take the 5th, and have obtained non-prosecution letters from the DA, every time adultery is an issue. Proper procedure or waste of time and money, I wondered, doing my obligatory check for the villain under the bed. What do you know -- New York is prosecuting a woman caught having sex in the park with a gentleman friend. Turns out, she is married -- and not to the gentleman friend. It is all true -- including the reported 90 days in jail or $500 fine. If only they have thought to secure a non-prosecution letter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hiring A Lawyer

If you do not do that sort of thing regularly,
interviewing an attorney can be one of the most frustrating, nerve-wracking and, in the end, futile experiences.
Maybe you were having a tiff with your business partner, and he sued you; maybe your wife left you with your business partner; or perhaps your son turned up in the wrong room at the wrong party, and is all of a sudden charged with possession of 200 grams of something unpronounceable but clearly nasty. Either way, you need the best, you need him quickly, and – you realize that they all look the same. Yellow pages will make you feel as though you are forking the proverbial hay stack, wondering if the needle was ever in that hay in it in the first place.

Attorneys are like barbers – the right one will open you the doors to the parties to which you were never invited. But hire the wrong one – and you will find yourself trapped, unable to show your face to the world for weeks.
But take heart. While you are sifting through that hay we can look after you. There are – for lack of a more polite word – “bullshit tests.”

“We have Experience”

Reality check: making the same mistake for twenty years, while technically, should be considered “experience” is not exactly the experience you need. Or is it?

For an average American the word “attorney” conjures an image of a white male, dressed in a suit, posing against the background of built-in bookshelves , holding a somewhat aloof expression and a book. The older and the more “experienced” the attorney, the higher the fee. Selecting counsel by counting his grey hairs has its advantages, simplicity being the most salient. There are additional advantages to retaining the oldest attorney you can afford.
First, intimidation. Especially if your opponent is unrepresented, do not underestimate the power of a grey-haired suit intoning “objection,” or “home state is here, Your Honor” or “this is in the best interests of the child,” or “You Honor, in all 41 years of my practice….” In fact, it is rare to encounter a divorce lawyer admitted to the bar for more than ten years, who will not start most motion presentations with assuring the Court that he has not seen an opponent more devious and untruthful in all his years of experience.
There is an old saying: the guy who has been changing light bulbs in Pentagon for the last twenty years does not qualify to be a Secretary of Defense. Attorney equivalents of the elderly Pentagon janitor are the ones whose sole credential is “experience.”
Whatever such Pentagon Janitor Attorney’s cognitive abilities, educational background or work habits, there is one thing you can count on. Every day for the last ten (or twenty or forty) years, the Pentagon Janitor Attorney was listening to the pertinent terminology. The less he understood it, the less he questioned it. To him, “it is in the best interests of this child to decrease my client’s support obligations” is not a statement of the law, it is a magic incantation, like “open sesame.” And incantations work more often than one expects. Make no mistake about it, an attorney of this kind may be of value to you even though he never opens your file, is unaware of the facts and incapable of understanding the law in your case.
If your case is at all complicated, however, or if you just do not like working with conceited morons, you will do well to ask what sort of experiences constituted your prospective attorney’s “twenty years of experience.” What was his educational experience? One of the top schools or a correspondence course? Law review or bottom five percent of his class? What was his employment experience? Working for a top law firm in the field or working in a shop under the neon sign “uncontested divorces -- $300?” Was he involved on complex litigation or in changing names on the pleadings. Twenty years of the latter technically is “experience,” but it may not be quite the “experience” you want. If your guy never received proper education and guidance in the first place, his “experience” might just be repeating the same mistakes for twenty years. So then – when you interview a prospective and hear that he has “years of experience,” ask if it was good experience.
And whatever you do, do not fall for the favorite trick of the young but aspiring: “we have a collective experience of fifty years.” Ask. You might find out that the fifty seven years includes the ten years of paralegal’s military duty and the forty five years of the now senile founder of the firm. The old guy surely has an experience. He would tell you all about it, if only he could shake the belief that you are his dead butler.
"We have Expertise"
On your prospect’s website, push the "areas of practice" button. Does the website announce that your prospect will solve all problems caused by your wife, your business partner, your last fender-bender, the employee who is suing you for religious discrimination and the SEC? Unless you are hiring a firm of 80, your prospect isexaggerating his expertise. Think of doctors. Would you engage somebody who claimed that they could performa laporoscopic appendectomy, root canal, neo-natal surgery and give your wife a facelift? Didn't think so.
If you are hiring a solo or a boutique firm, it helps to make sure that the attorneys whom you hire spend time practicing whatever troubles you. If your son’s problems were largely caused by driving while impaired, do not call the firm that advises your boss on employment issues. Find a guy that is in the business of license reinstatement. If it is the wife that troubles you, your guy or a boutique should be in the divorce business. Not real estate. Not “personal injury with 10% of divorce.” Not “criminal with some divorce.” Seriously. If you needed your root canal, you would not go see a podiatrist with some teeth cleaning experience, would you? By the way, “boutique” means a law firm of a modest size, concentrating on a particular practice area. You actually have to click the “practice areas” button on the website, though. I saw a website once announcing a “boutique law firm” specializing … in personal injury, family law, corporate law and immigration." Seriously. That is like protesting that you have a monogamous relationship with your wife, your secretary and the Starbucks girl.

Signs that a law firm may be -- ahem -- exaggerating its significance
(BS busting by numbers)

1. Number of "specialties" divided by number of lawyers is greater than 1.5

2. Number of positions a lawyer claims to have held divided by his years in practice is greater than 2

3. Number of lawyers divided by number of "locations" is less than 3 (unless your lawyer is a solo -- in which case the office he has in his garage counts as the same location as his kitchen)

Signs that a law firm might be --ahem -- really exaggerating

A firm under 15 lawyers claims to do work in the areas of M&A and Antitrust
A firm without a tax lawyers claims to do "corporate" work.
Any firm or lawyer calling themselves "prestigious," "excellent," "worldwide," and "unsurpassed," unless you are dealing with Boies Schiller, Cravath Swaine & Moore, Sullivan & Cromwell or Skadden Arps. Which I know is not your choice of counsel, because you would not be reading this.
Also, any firm calling itself "global." Unless you are hiring Linklaters. But then again, you would not be reading this either.
Just in case: if you are, in fact, interviewing somebody from these firms, stop reading this and hire them. Here is a list of top 100 law firms in the country.