As written for my “Influencers” post:
Once a year I travel to meet with about 20 of the finest family law attorneys in the country. This is that week. I always learn something and gain an optimism after each yearly meeting that lawyers can make a difference. We deeply explore systemic problems and ways to fix them. We discuss helping individual clients as well as how to assist the legislatures and the courts to better understand the needs of individuals embroiled in family law cases. But most importantly, the sometimes very depressing work we do on a day to day basis looks and feels much more positive when we realize we all struggle with the same dilemmas. How to convince a client that settlement is better than court. How to explain to a client that even though their spouse cheated, the children still love them both and want them to get along. How to ensure they are financially protected without spending all their savings on discovery and other legal procedures. These are dilemmas. But I know that my colleagues are good, decent people trying their best to help. This is refreshing and inspiring. I respect them and am honored to be able to join them. And I look forward once again this year to being inspired and educated. I owe it to my clients to learn as much as I can to help them. And learning from experts from around the country is one of the best ways to do that.
As written for my “Influencers” post:
Bar Mitzvah year, 2013
2013, a future has arrived. Just the name of the year, 2013, still sounds to me like a science fiction title. While the number 13 has to many been a symbol of bad luck, it seems that 2013 is starting off right. 2012 (not 2013) was, per the Mayans, to be the end of the world and the fiscal cliff dilemma seems to have subsided. But whatever your superstitions or concerns may be, it really is a time and chance to move forward. 13 is a magical number. It is the year a Jewish child becomes an adult through a Bar Mitzvah. It is the first “teen” year. And it is a brand new year for all of us.
Despite the instability in the Middle East and many other troubles worldwide, we have still avoided a world war, even though after the first one, barely twenty years elapsed before a second one arose. We have found ways to work together, despite so many differences. And in my profession, that is the key, both for lawyers and litigants. People who sue each other obviously have differences. But even in litigation, we are all human and owe each other the basic respect and civility which makes us human beings. There will always be those who battle for every last inch. And when pushed, even the mildest mannered lawyer can return the favor. But as lawyers, as counselors, we must stay on task. Seek our clients goals, while advising them competently during the process. Help them decide which goals are unattainable, or will only come at too high a price. We must give them good, reliable advice that will help guide them to make good, informed decisions. Variables include not just the financial cost of litigation, but the cost in terms of lost time, damage to relationships with children and actual damage to children which expands the longer litigation lasts. Yes this is our duty and if done well, can help families and society.
I remain proud to be in a profession which has the ability to help in so many ways. If practiced well, the profession of law can and should benefit us all. Without laws, without civilization, we lose our unique characteristics that make us human. Might becomes right, and we become like any other creature on earth. Laws are valuable, perhaps invaluable, but the manner in which they are enforced, argued and used, is up to us. And it is this duty, (the duty to act civilly and ethically) which can make the law work for all of us.
I was recently honored by being featured as Lawyer of the Month in the Premier Edition of Attorney at Law magazine in Georgia last month. It was truly an honor, especially considering who the next Lawyer of the Month is (Joel Katz, the top entertainment lawyer in the country). I am grateful for the selection but honestly and humbly know there are so many more deserving potential honorees. They wrote such a flattering article about me that I really was struck (click here for a link to it). I have been very lucky in my career and my life. I am blessed to have a career I love. Being a divorce lawyer has it’s down moments for sure. But more often there is a feeling of being able to help. And that is the most rewarding part of all.
The New York Times recently ran a story on “Divorce Hotels”. It’s not such a strange concept. Click here for the NY Times story. A divorcing coupe stays at the same hotel to ensure the process moves forward. No delays. Lawyers there focus on that case. Paying attention to a case often helps “get ‘er done”.
Is this the wave of the future? Probably not. Is there a place for it? Maybe. The real bottom line is that once people are ready, emotionally and with all of the facts (an understanding of all finances/incomes/property values, etc.), divorcing parties should get together, be it for mediation or a settlement conference, or even a weekend at the “divorce hotel”, and they should not stop trying to reach resolution until it is done. The alternative, trial, is expensive, costly and very, very imperfect. Keeping hold of your own desitiny is vital. Mediation, and maybe even the “divorce hotel” offers an opportunity to do that.
On Wednesday January 18, 2012 I will be presenting a Webinar for the ABA. It is one that is interesting to me. The title? Handling the Media in a Family Law Matter. I am sure I don’t know all the answers, but preparing for it and thinking about it has been educational and enjoyable.
While there certainly is more than one way to work with the press, I have found that being forthcoming with the media, even if my answer is “I don’t know”, or “I know but cannot and will not say”, has been the best. The media have much power, but in the end, they, like we, are people making decisions and judgment calls so why make them second guess your honesty or integrity.
I am looking forward to the program. If you have any helpful tips, resources, insights or suggestions, please pass them along. It can only help improve the presentation.
On January 12, 2012, Dennis Collard and I will be presenting at the State Bar of Georgia on “Winning Settlement Strategies. The seminar brochure can be accessed by clicking here (click for brochure). We are the final speakers for this fine seminar being put on by the General Practice and Trial Law section of the State Bar of Georgia. Other fine speakers include Pete Law and Judge Gino Brogdon among others.
Too often the focus on lawyer education is on how to go to trial. While our particular presentation does indeed cover preparing for trial, our overall point is that by preparing well for trial, you make it more likely you will achieve an appropriate settlement. As with most seminars, the best part of the day will be listening to and watching the other speakers so that I may learn from them. If you are able to join us, please do. And if you have any suggestions for us to consider incorporating into our presentation, please let us know.
“SoBe”…South Beach in the Spring, what could be better? Please consider joining us April 18-21, 2012. After a very successful CLE program in Vegas this past October, we are on a “CLE roll”. The programs scheduled for Miami include:“How to Impress Judges: Analytical Steps to a Well Organized, Concise, and Engaging Trial”, “Social Networking for the Family Lawyer..” and “If you love me, put it in writing.”
And one more time, the location…the Eden Roc Hotel in South Beach, in the heart of Miami Beach, is old style Miami art deco, but fully renovated and hip. It’s a great place to learn and to mingle with family law attorneys from across the country. There will be family law discussed not only indoors, but pool side and at the beach. Isn’t that better than your conference room? I hope you will consider joining us for this fun filled educational meeting. See you in the sun!. – Randall M. Kessler
In just over a week, the American Bar Association holds it’s annual meeting. This year it will be held in San Francisco. It is a time for leaders in all legal areas to come together, share ideas and learn from each other.
At the meeting, I will have the good fortune of being sworn in as the Chair Elect of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association. It will truly be a privilege to serve. I have been fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors during my career, and each, without fail, have encouraged bar participation. In 1997 I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association and I also will soon serve as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association.
While some may think this takes away from my practice of law, the opposite is true. My practice, including every member of our firm benefits from the leadership roles and active participation in which I, my partners and our associates engage.
Attending scores of legal education seminars each year and maintaining relationships with the finest lawyers and judges in the country keeps us all on the cutting edge. If there is a new idea, trend or significant case, we are giving ourselves every opportunity to learn about it first.
While in San Francisco, I fully intend to take advantage of everything the ABA has to offer. From Hot Tips in Family Law, to programs on presentation techniques for the courtroom, I plan to soak in as much as I can. The nice thing is, most of the other lawyers there too are similarly motivated and that is exciting. I look forward to learning from my peers and returning to Atlanta with at least a few pearls of wisdom, learned, borrowed or stolen from some of the best legal minds our country has to offer.
Why would an attorney withdraw from representing a client? There are many reasons limited only by the number of reasons relationships go sour. Yes, sometimes the dispute is over money. The client may not be paying the fee originally agreed to, or in the manner and time desired. But often that is not the reason. Unfortunately, that reason gets all of the attention, because it is the best way to protect the client. In other words, if a lawyer withdraws from a case, isn’t it better for the world, and the court to believe that it was a simple dispute about money, instead of one of the many other reasons? What other reasons? How about a client that refuses to tell the truth? Or a client who curses at an attorney or his or her staff. In these types of situations, a professional attorney will not disclose why they are withdrawing because to do so would create a negative impact on the client’s case. For instance, if it is a custody dispute and the client is accused of not being able to cooperate with his or her spouse, wouldn’t it severely hurt the client’s case if the lawyer’s grounds for withdrawal were “non-cooperation of client”?
Sometime lawyers become the “fall guy(s)”. That is okay. If my client’s spouse wishes to hate me instead of their spouse, that is probably better for their children. Even if I am urging my client to cooperate, the other side often thinks I am telling my client not to cooperate. But if I set the record straight, my client, and maybe the children, may suffer. So who will know when a lawyer is telling his or her client to do the right thing? The lawyer and the client. And if the client doesn’t follow the lawyer’s advice, or doesn’t cooperate with the attorney, the lawyer will often withdraw from representation. Hopefully this is a last resort, but no client should be forced to work with a lawyer they do not want to work with, and vice versa. This also then frees the lawyer to devote more time to the clients who he or she works well with and for and who deserve nothing but the full attention of, and best and undistracted efforts of their lawyer.
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.