The first time you get a call from a lawyer to personally represent him or her is memorable. You think, I am now a lawyer’s lawyer.
My call started with a “BANG” literally. Early on a cool autumn Saturday morning my phone rang. I recognized the lawyer’s voice on the other end of the line before he identified himself. He was older, more experienced and well respected, if not a little full of himself.
Using his best “radio voice” he asked if I would “assist” him in his divorce case that needed to be filed Monday morning at 9 a.m. I was not listening closely, and was primarily thinking of being a lawyer’s lawyer. There were red flags from the beginning – an early morning Saturday call; the need for filing first thing Monday; and perhaps, most important, he wanted me to “assist,” not the role I internally envisioned.
Then the BANG. He explained that while cleaning his 45-caliber automatic hand gun at about 2 a.m. the night before – a time when most people tidy up their weapons – it had accidentally discharged. He explained that his wife, of many years, was not harmed, but had taken offense. This he related as the last straw of her not understanding him.
I learned a lot in my first divorce case as a lawyer’s lawyer, by doing everything wrong in my client’s perception after he reunited with his wife after months and months of venomous litigation.
As time progressed, I became more adept at setting boundaries for lawyer divorce representation, being firm with my clients and exercising what used to be called client control, including collecting the occasional full fee.
After all, lawyers who handle family law cases see good people at the worst times of their lives. Recent studies, in fact, show the people who are going through a divorce may temporarily lose up to 30 points in their functional IQ. My experience is that lawyers do not have an extra 30 points.
When I represented my first judge in a domestic matter, I was exceptionally firm in that first meeting on our respective roles and my fee. I was assured he would follow my advice to the letter. More importantly, he paid the retainer fee saying it was more than fair.
We soon settled into a relationship … whenever I drafted any document, from the simplest letter to a brief, he edited it. Often the edits were longer than the original document. When an issue arose, particularly one of evidence or strategy, the kind judge would educate me at length on the best way to present the issue, and how the sitting judge “must rule” his way on the issue.
My client was often disappointed in the intelligence of rulings, and surprised that my lack of intelligence matched that of the trial judge’s rulings.
If the bar of expectations is set high for representing lawyers, and higher still in representing a judge, the pinnacle is reached when both the petitioner and respondent in a domestic case are lawyers.
My favorite exchange was when the lawyer/ wife under cross-examination, pointed at my client, the lawyer/husband and exclaimed: “But, Judge, he is a lawyer.” The judge smiled, and said: “You are, too. Proceed counselor.”