As attorneys, our roles are varied and unique depending on the situation. But it has always been interesting to me that attorneys are often referred to as “counselors”.
The recent case involving Lindsay Lohan is illustrative of my point. After her sentence was determined, she hired well known attorney Robert Shapiro. While the sentence had already been meted out, surely there was something he could do for her? Many opined that he would rush in and save her from serving time in jail. But in my opinion, based on the very limited information I have via the press, it seems he was truly hired as a “counselor” at law. His credibility together with his personal history (he lost a son to issues similar to the ones Ms. Lohan is dealing with) made him the perfect candidate to assist Ms. Lohan with a more holistic approach. I believe he tried to discuss with her an overall, long term solution as a good lawyer should.
Perhaps nowhere is the phrase “Attorney and Counselor at Law” more appropriate than in family law. It is interesting that the Merriam-Webster OnLine dictionary defines the term “Counselor at Law” as: “a person who gives advice or counseling-marriage counselor”. Interesting that “marriage counselor” is right there in their first definition.
In most other types of lawsuits, clients can discuss their case with their spouse, their family and their friends. But in family law cases, like divorce, the parties cannot confide in their spouse (who is the opposing party) and they often do not discuss the details with family members for many reasons, including embarrassment. This puts the family law attorney in the unique position of attorney and valued confidant. And it is an obligation of supreme importance. Should a lawyer file every motion he or she can think of, just because he or she can? The interesting part of family law is finding out what the client’s ultimate goal is, and figuring out the best way to get there. Sometimes the answer is through a trial, but often, as discussed in a previous blog entry, mediation and alternative dispute resolution is best.
The field of family law is not one of “fill in the blanks” and there is no such thing as a “cookie cutter” divorce. Each situation must be evaluated on it’s own with consideration given to all the moving parts: relationships with and between their children, their family members, business partners and geographical considerations in case one party wants to “move back home” where his or her parents are. A good divorce lawyer will know how to listen very carefully. Our job is not to get what we think the client wants, but to actually learn what the client wants and to be sure we are achieving their goals, not ours. The case and the result are the client’s to live with and we must do our very best to help them achieve their goals and put them in position to move forward once their case is over.
What an example of how different homelife can be from someone’s public personna. The things said on the tapes are despicable and certainly will change many people’s opinion of Mel Gibson. But how it will affect his likely visitation dispute is unknown. Clearly most judges will believe anger management and other counseling is needed. And an expert psychological opinion may be needed before the judge or the mother agree to Mr. Gibson being alone with the child. But there is likely much more to the story. Without being an apologist for Mr. Gibson, other facts, once known, may change our opinion again. Perhaps he was so drunk that he couldn’t even stand up? If so, then he may still be disliked for what he said, but he may then seem less of a physical threat if he has never acted like this when sober or when physically capable of inflicting harm.
The point is, no one really knows anyone else, if their only information comes from the media, or even if it is just from public, social observation. One thing is clear, especially to me as a family law attorney: abusive behavior is certainly not limited to the poor or uneducated. Human traits are specific to humans, all humans. And each situation should only be judged after all the facts are known. Unfortunately, our court systems are overwhelmed and sometimes the full story isn’t told. But a thoughtful, careful review of all the facts is important, even if, as may potentially be the case for Mel Gibson, they ultimately all lead to the same conclusion.
The most telling fact for me, in this situation, is that Mr. Gibson had his second chance. His previous racist comments became public, and he was given a second chance. But it seems, if these tapes are indeed of him and not “doctored” in any way, that he truly has some tough issues to tackle. All anyone can hope is that he acknowledges them and does whatever it takes to overcome them. America loves a comeback, but this one may take some time.
There is so much speculation about the impending Tiger v. Elin settlement, that it is hard to know what the agreement will be. It seems Tiger wants Elin to keep things private and it looks like Elin will be compensated well for that. But $750,000,000.00? That seems like quite an overpayment and I imagine the settlement numbers will be much lower.
But so what? It is their business. He earned the money and she is his wife and the mother of his children (paternity claims of others notwithstanding). My point is that these two have shared things that no one else can fully understand or appreciate. Any settlement is a compromise between two people where each obtains something they want. Based on the public speculation and intermittent reports, it seems Tiger wants privacy and Elin wants financial security. What do those terms mean? It is up to them. Sure we can all speculate and say that she is overreaching or that he is overpaying (some say there is no amount he can pay for what he did, but many would feel that several million would be a good start if their spouse tried to purchase their forgiveness).
But the real answer to what will the settlement be, is: whatever they choose. They both have able counsel and will ultimately each get what they want or they will not reach an agreement. Tiger can seemingly afford a luxurious settlement amount and Elin, with such financial security can likely be convinced to keep it all private. She has so far. If it was truly all about vengeance, it seems she would have gone public by now. So, good for each of them. For working on it privately and for possibly resolving such a large division of assets rather quickly, efficiently and secretly.
Isn’t it amazing how interested the press is in celebrity cases? Thankfully it seems that in Tiger’s case and Sandra Bullock’s case, the parties and the lawyers are being tight lipped. The same is true for Dwayne Wade, but given that he had to go to court, there has obviously been more coverage. What we should all appreciate is that the privacy of these parties has been preserved, at least with respect to the specific details of their divorces. Dwayne Wade’s divorce shows how litigation exposes their private lives. It seems he (Dwayne Wade) had little choice given that his wife went through nine lawyers and skipped a court date or two. But compliments to the Woods family and the Bullock/James family for not opening up the dispute to further public inspection and comment. Just like any divorce, litigation should be a last, not first option.