EP 197: Why is My Attorney Not Fighting for Me?

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Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.

As part of my job, just about every day I work with attorneys all across the country. And I wanna communicate as often as I can important lessons I learn from working with them, the good, the bad, the ugly. Since I get to see so many styles, and cases, and jurisdictions, is kind of telling you what’s normal, or what to look out for, and make sure that you’re making the appropriate decisions, and have a good working relationship with your attorney as you go through the divorce process.

Most of the people that I talk to and work with don’t go through divorce every day, hopefully not, and it also means you don’t have to interact with lawyers every day. So one of the things that is difficult at times is trying to figure out if the behaviors that you’re sensing with your lawyer are correct. Ether or not you need a second opinion, whether they’re doing a good job for you. And at the end of the day, even though I get to help you with many of the complicated issues in divorce. And as you know it’s called Divorce and Your Money, and so I specialize in the financial aspects of the process.

A divorce lawyer is essential in the divorce process, it’s ultimately a legal process. I wanna make sure that you maximize the relationship that you have with your attorney. One of the biggest complaints or comments I get, and I get this almost in … And I would say it’s about half of the people who call have the same comment, and that is, why is my attorney not fighting for me? Why is my attorney not advocating for me, not working on my behalf to the extent that they should be. And you’re in the middle of the divorce process, this is your life that’s at stake, your future, your kids life. And the question is, is why is this person you’ve paid thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, are they really advocating for you the way they should?

And you call, and you’re saying, “Hey is this really in my best interest? Why aren’t they pursuing X, Y, and Z?” And I’m just not comfortable, and I’m kind of wondering if this is normal behavior” And so on this episode I wanna discuss some important things you should keep in mind with the relationship with your attorney, and some ways to handle situations in which your attorney is not fighting for you. I’m gonna go over three points. The first is understanding that there are different skills of lawyers. The second is that you should address your concerns head on. And then the third is oftentimes you need a second opinion or have to make a change. And so I wanna get into all three of these issues as you consider your relationship with your attorney.

The other thing I wanna get into, just briefly, is I also get to work with some exceptional attorneys across the country that I recommend as often as I can. Now I only do that through coaching calls if I know someone in your jurisdiction. And if I don’t know someone I can show you ways, show you some resources to find good attorneys, or you can listen to some of the other podcast episodes. But there are also some awesome attorneys out there that if I wanted family law help I would call immediately, and without any hesitation.

So let’s get into what happens if your attorney is not fighting for you. The first thing is it’s kind of a mindset question, and issue. You have to understand is even though your attorney is an expert, or hopefully and expert in family law, everywhere in the country there are good attorneys and bad ones, and some attorneys who are okay and in the middle. And so the point of that is that attorneys are just humans too, they’re just like you or I, they just happen to, in the family law world, specialize in divorce, and custody, and family law issues. But, you should not treat your attorney as God. Sometimes attorneys have flaws, we all do, I have flaws.

There are good attorneys, there are bad attorneys out there, and even some of the most highly reputable attorneys actually, even though they have a great reputation, and may have a lot of experience, I know some very highly reputable attorneys that I would never send a client too, because they’re not that good in my opinion. And if you’re in a position, or maybe they’re just not good with you, and your personality, and your case. And so if you’re thinking about an attorney and your relationship with them, if you have issues, they might be real. You may have hired, I have some people who’ve hired and spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal bills, and are very dissatisfied with their attorneys and rightly so. Because they’re not oftentimes doing a good job representing them.

I also know people who spent $1000 on an attorney and who did a killer job for them. Or I should say a couple thousand dollars, it’s very rare to get a $1000 attorney, but a very inexpensive relative to the cost of divorce amount, and attorneys do a great job. So it’s not always money, or prestige, or anything else, just because they do a lot of branding or have a very nice office doesn’t mean that they’re going to be doing a good job for your situation. And so if you feel as if you’re not being adequately represented, you should take stock of that feeling, and that intuition, and really understand and try to articulate what those things are.

The second thing is, once you understand that, is that you should address your concerns with your attorney. Now there’s ways to address concerns without being confrontational. And what do I mean by that? Oftentimes if I have an issue with someone, particularly another professional, and particularly a professional that I have to work with closely, I will be very polite about it. And what I might say is, “Hey Mr. Smith,” or, “Hey Miss Smith, here are some things I noticed about my situation. I have some questions about these, is this right?” And I’ll say, “Here are my four concerns” or, “Here are my three concerns.” One, two, and three, and I’ll draft a nice E-mail. I’ll make it very polite. And I’ll say, “Hey, does this make sense?” Now if that person brushes off my concerns then that’s a good indication in terms of what you should do. If they say, “Oh, those are very valid concerns. Let me address these for you,” and they fix the situation, maybe that’s all we need.

But maybe, you know you need to bring them up, and usually politely, to make sure that they understand what you’re feeling, and make sure that they understand your perspective as politely as possible. Look, even though you’ve paid them and they’re there to fight for you, every human has different styles, and attorneys have different styles. But you need to make sure that they understand your concerns, and you need to be forthcoming about them so they know that you have an issue. Sometimes, as I say, I’ll talk to lawyers, or go to happy hour or something with an attorney, or dinner, and they’ll tell me about this case or that case, and oftentimes they had no idea that a client had a concern with them, or that there was an issue that arose, or something else.

Or sometimes they’ll say, “Man, this person really had unrealistic expectations and so we had to address these concerns one, two, and three.” And it’s one of those areas where if you say, “Hey I think on the house issue we’re not doing a good enough job about protecting my interests. Are there some alternatives?” They might say, if you were to put that in an email, or put that into writing to your attorney, they might say, “Well, the law in our state says this is the way it’s done. I understand your concern, but unfortunately the law is not on your side on this particularly issue,” then that’s a great way for the attorney to address your concern. However, if you were to send that same email saying, “I don’t think we’re doing enough about the house,” and they were just to say, “Yeah well it is what it is. We need to focus on this other issue,” maybe that’s not ideal for you.

Or maybe they’ll say, you wanna kind of test these issues and bring them up head on to really understand what is their reaction and are you justified. Sometimes, a lot of attorneys, and I do wanna defend them for a second, they do this all day, every day, and for a living, and they know the law inside and out, and sometimes they forget to communicate certain elements of it to you. And so you have to kind of usher them along in the sense of that relationship, and tell them your concerns, and bring up your concerns. ‘Cause ultimately this is your divorce process, and you really wanna fix up and have a productive relationship with your attorney to the best of your ability.

Another thing I wanna bring up to that point is, you also need to make sure that your attorney knows what you want. Oftentimes in most of the calls I’ll get is we’ll talk for a little bit and I’ll say, “Okay, well what do you want? Do you want this issue, or that issue. Or do you not want. What do you want to happen after explaining your concern.” And if your attorney, or if I don’t know what you want to happen, then it’s hard at times for them to craft agreements in your interest, and in the interest of what you ultimately want and need.

Now the last thing is, sometimes you’ve done all this. And I know people in situations where they’re having some concerns with their attorney, they’ve brought up, oftentimes over a series of coaching calls with me, we’ve gone through the relationship with the attorney. I’ve written emails for clients and say, “Hey, I hear what you’re saying. Let me write up an email, you can copy and paste it, and change the language a little bit. But then you can send it off to your attorney and see what he or she says.” But let’s say we go through the steps and understand, and it turns out that your attorney is just not up for the job. Well, then you need to make a change. And making a change is very, very, tough, and it’s not always easy, and it can be expensive.

But depending on your situation, if your attorney is not fighting for you, it only adds to problems over time. One of the things I like to say on coaching calls, I don’t know if I’ve ever said it on the podcast before is, “A bad attorney does not magically get better just because you keep paying them.” A bad attorney does not magically get better just because you keep paying them. And so oftentimes if that attorney is not doing a good job for you, you will get to a point where you need to make a change. I’ve worked with some people who had a bad attorney for years, and they keep paying the retainer checks, and bills, and bills, and bills, always with the hope that, well if they just do this it’ll get better. And two, or three, or four, years go down the line and still the same situation, still the same poor representation. And you should have, when you first saw an issue, started to work on an adjustment then.

So there are things to be said about your attorney, and how things are going, and you gotta know that they don’t magically turn around, and don’t magically become better. And so you need to look for an alternative. Have a couple of consultations with some other attorneys in town, and get second opinions. Choosing an attorney is … It’s not something that you should feel bad about if you made the wrong decision. It is very, very, very, hard to choose an attorney correctly the first time. It’s just tough right, you might’ve gotten a recommendation from a friend. You might’ve looked on-line. You might’ve this or that, but you never know, attorneys are people too.

I have an attorney friend, who one of the only negative reviews that they got, they’re one of the best known attorneys in a very large city, one of the only negative reviews they got was, well my attorney got cancer, or this friend of mine got cancer right after they hired them. And well their case didn’t go as smoothly as they would’ve hoped. But of course it wasn’t going too. And that person, and that situation, probably should’ve gotten a different attorney for the duration of their case and it would’ve been okay. But it’s one of those things where it’s just tough, you never know, attorneys are people too, they have their own wishes, they have their own families, they have everything else. And it’s hard to figure out what a relationship is going to be like with an attorney, during one of the most difficult times of your life, just from a few data points and writing someone a check for a lot of money.

And so you really just just need to kinda keep that in mind, and try to be objective, and professional about your situation. There’s no need to scream and yell at your attorney. But if they’re not doing a good job for you, you need to address and deal with those things upfront and clearly, ’cause it’s going to have a big effect on your divorce and the rest of your life. As I like to say, “The decisions that you make today are going to affect you for the next decades,” and so you really wanna make sure that you have a trusted team working on your behalf, and advocating for the things that you care about the most. And if there comes a point where they’re not doing that, well, then you need to make a change, and find some people who will.

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