When I posted my Open Letter from a Divorce Lawyer, I invited divorce lawyers to offer their own viewpoint in response. John Ballew in Lincoln, NE took me up on it. Here’s his “Alternate Version.” Mark my words. Here is a lawyer who cares deeply about his clients and his profession. I can’t find a web site for him, but you can reach is firm at 402-436-3030, and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that your divorce has been granted, I wanted to share some observations about the process, our working relationship and the results obtained in light of your expectations and recent complaints:
- Our Expectations of You As A Client: When you first came in our office, you certainly presented well and acknowledged your role in causing this divorce. Once we agreed to represent you and you signed the engagement letter, we gave you some information regarding our expectations of you as a client. In short, you were expected to be truthful, prompt in getting us information we requested and it was suggested that you obtain counseling from a qualified and competent psychotherapist because the difficulties you were having with the emotional impact of the divorce. We also asked that you not involve the children in the process and that you not seek and rely upon advice (as opposed to emotional support) of your friends, family members and co?workers. Unfortunately, you failed to abide by almost all of our suggestions which is one of the many reasons why this case took so long to resolve, why part of the case ultimately needed to be tried and why your fees were much more significant than they ordinarily should have been had you been emotionally stable, cooperative and truthful with us.
- The Results: Early in the case, we explained the law regarding various aspects of the divorce and we repeatedly discussed the pros and cons of the proposed settlement offered by your spouse given the uncertainties of how our judge would rule on issues of tracing of inherited and gifted property, the date used for valuation of the marital estate, the valuation of your spouse’s closely held business, the dissipation of assets leading up to the divorce, alimony and deviation from the child support guidelines. While we were able to settle most of these issues, your insistence that you receive what we told you was an excessive settlement ultimately lead to a trial on certain issues. The fact that the results could potentially be less than what we could have achieved in the way of a settlement was discussed prior to preparing for and appearing at trial.
- Your Bill: At the outset, we explained to you that the charges you were expected to pay for with our firm would vary greatly, depending upon several factors beyond our control. The complexity of the issues, the attitude of your spouse, the identity of and cooperation received from your spouse’s attorney and the judge assigned to the case all make a difference in fees. As you know, we ultimately prepared for trial because the case was not settled and our preparation in advance of the trial date allowed us to negotiate a settlement that was much more favorable on the issues resolved because the other side was not prepared. Our retention of a CPA for advice on tax and valuation aspects also helped us devise a settlement on certain issues that the other side failed to even consider. This process was made more difficult by your spouse’s failure to comply with informal discovery requests and, ultimately, formal discovery requests which led to the issuance of an order compelling discovery and the issuance of sanctions against your spouse and your spouse’s attorney. All of this takes more time and consequently resulted in higher fees. Despite the fact that we are not a bank and do not “finance” legal matters, as a courtesy to you, we carried your unpaid balance and incurred significant additional charges without being paid until after you received your settlement in the case.
- Your Behavior: As you know, when we first met, I explained to you the procedures utilized by this office to handle these cases and my reliance on paralegals to keep your costs down and efficiently process information and prepare much of the standardized court filings. However, I also explained to you that the paralegals cannot give legal advice and those types of questions need to be directed to me. Unfortunately, you chose throughout the case to call and seek legal advice from the paralegals (probably in a misguided attempt to save money), became abusive with our office staff on numerous occasions, called me at home on weekends (4 times on one particular Saturday) and evenings over matters ranging from the removal of a lawn mower from the garage to your spouse’s choice of movies for the children and made/sent abusive phone calls/e?mails to your spouse. You also (against our advice) became romantically involved with someone shortly after the case was filed which further angered your spouse and hindered settlement negotiations.
- Complaint To Bar Association: The recent complaint that you filed with our Bar Association has been received and reviewed by me and a response was sent to the Counsel for Discipline. Although some of my clients are occasionally unhappy, most are gratified by the effort this office puts forth on their behalf. We frequently receive thank you notes and gifts from clients who come to realize that our assistance and dedication was invaluable to them during one of the most difficult and trying times of their lives. While my letter to Counsel for Discipline addresses most of the complaints you had, I note that in your letter to the Bar Association you failed to note a couple of details that do not necessarily pertain to my ethics as a lawyer but do perhaps shed some light on your behavior:
- Your complaint failed to advise the Bar Association that you threatened to file a complaint against me unless I reduced your bill;
- Your complaint failed to mention that, following entry of the divorce decree you cleaned out the safety deposit box, vandalized the home and refused to turn over or destroyed personal property, all of which was done without informing me as your lawyer which has now resulted in contempt of court proceedings being instituted against you;
- On several occasions while in public, you approached me and made overt comments of a sexual nature and at the same time requested that we meet for drinks, which I refused;
- Without notifying me, you obtained a Protection Order against your spouse after the decree was entered based upon perjured testimony under oath and after dismissing the initial Protection Order as part of our settlement agreement.
There are fewer and fewer lawyers choosing to practice in the domestic relations area because of the demands placed upon them and their staff by clients, the significant exposure to malpractice they have because of the complexity and number of issues which are required to be dealt with in most cases and because many clients like you do not appreciate the effort expended on their behalf in trying to deal with their problems, many of which are created by the client themselves.
Our office wishes you the best of luck in obtaining new counsel in dealing with what will undoubtedly be years of additional bickering with your ex spouse. Our advice to you: Spend the money. Get some help.
Your Former Divorce Lawyer