There is a system-wide intuitive understanding that the legal system, as it deals with separating parents, seems to make matters worse.
Attorneys often find themselves in the painful dilemma of having to choose a strategy that not only increases family conflict (e.g., writing the angry accusing letter) but also best serves the interests of the client, advancing the chances that the client’s position will prevail.
Divorce lawyers have a reputation problem. The reputation of family law attorneys has dropped like a lead balloon. The criticisms, sans expletives, from divorcing spouses, attorneys, and law students fall into three basic categories.
Divorce lawyers are expensive. This is true in terms of hourly fees and in terms of total cost of the divorce. In the area in which we currently practice, hourly fees for divorce attorneys range from about $200 to $400 (though in major cities, the rates can be substantially higher). By attorney standards, those fees might not seem high, but to the average Joe or Jane, those fees are frightening.
Beyond the hourly fee, many clients feel little control over how quickly those fees add up and multiply. One attorney writes a letter to another attorney and the meter starts ticking. Emailing can be equally expensive, due to the number of them used in a case.
Divorce lawyers create unnecessary conflict. We are amazed at how many of our mediation clients who have enough money to afford lawyers refuse to retain one, even though we recommend that they do so. Their reasoning is that if they hire attorneys, they will begin to have conflict with one another that neither spouse wishes. We are usually able to talk them into at least consulting with attorneys once they have reached mediated agreements and give them the names of mediation-friendly attorneys. However, more often than we wish, those attorneys do begin to unravel the agreements made and begin to position our clients for disputes. In other words, our clients are often correct when they want to avoid hiring attorneys out of fear of unnecessary conflict.
Divorce lawyers do not really care about their clients. Divorce lawyers care about their client’s objective legal interests, but not necessarily about their objective psychological and emotional interests and perhaps not about their subjective legal or personal interests. Lawyers often assume that they know what is best for their clients. Lawyers divide property and time with children. They traditionally do not have the tools to prevent or mitigate loss and trauma.
In our experience, this diminished reputation of “divorce lawyers” is largely both deserved and undeserved. Most family law attorneys, for example, genuinely care about their clients and their children, will often go out of their way for their clients, sometimes undercharging for actual time. More important, spouses going through a divorce are in a system that is counterintuitive and requires special knowledge that a family law attorney possesses. To some extent, getting a divorce without attorneys is like going into the jungle without a guide. Thus, often the attorney is really looking out for the client’s long-term interests in a system that the client might not understand.
By Kenneth H. Waldron, PhD and Allan R. Koritzinsky, Esq.