Most people on the street do not have the highest opinion of divorce lawyers. When meeting someone and telling them what I do for a living, I get various responses, often beginning with “Oh…. [inset long pause here].”
Is this unwarranted bias against lawyers and against divorce lawyers in particular? Are divorce lawyers hovering at the bottom of the food chain along with other much-maligned professions such as auto accident lawyers and used car dealers? And are these opinions justified?
I come in contact with a lot of other lawyers. I read what other lawyers write. I read how lawyers are dissatisfied with their work. I listen to them complain. I watch lawyers fight huge battles over very small wars at the expense of their clients. These lawyers often delude themselves into believing that they are just doing their jobs by aggressively advocating for their clients.
Fighting is a must. And I like to fight a good battle in the courtroom. But the fight must be conducted responsibly, according to the client’s instructions, and only after the client has been fully advised of the law as applied to the client’s case.
What about the reality of divorce litigation? In a divorce case, what about the reality that there is usually not a winner or loser? What about the reality that children are hurt in the fight? What about the reality that litigation often consumes what people have worked so hard to obtain? These realities are where so much dissatisfaction comes from about divorce lawyers.
I as a lawyer cannot control the fact that litigation is expensive. It takes lots of time to fight these fights.
And I as a lawyer cannot control my clients if they are dead-set on being unreasonable.
But I as a lawyer have a duty not only to advocate for my clients but to also be their legal counselor and provide candid advice.
Being a divorce lawyer is not an easy job. It requires tough and aggressive action in litigation to protect client’s rights. It also requires the lawyer to give candid advice and counsel about terribly sensitive issues.
If I have a client who has committed adultery then I have to break the bad news of what that fact might do to her request for alimony under South Carolina law. If I fail to give that advice, I am doing my client a disservice, even if that is not what she wants to hear.
A good divorce lawyer does not just listen to the client and follow the client’s instructions without providing such candid advice. It would be malpractice for me to aggressively fight for alimony when I know that the facts work against my client in each and every way if I do not provide my client with the candid advice. I would be wasting my client’s money. I would be wasting the court’s time. And I could be jeopardizing other issues in the case that could be more in my client’s favor.
Ultimately, I must follow my client’s instructions and either fight the fight my client wants or get out of the case. But before I fight that fight, I am absolutely ethically obligated to advise my clients honestly, candidly, and competently.
I believe that if a divorce lawyer takes the time to know the client and the client’s case, takes the time to explain each aspect of the client’s case to the client, and follows the client’s instructions after the client has been properly advised, much of the dissatisfaction would disappear. But client beware, if you want that type of competent treatment by your lawyer, it takes time and does not come cheap. A good divorce lawyer will cost you. But if you need a good divorce lawyer, the cost will be worth it.