I attended an event recently where several family lawyers and family court commissioners were in attendance. Chatting with a former family lawyer turned commissioner whom I have known for 20+ years, the following exchange took place:
Commissioner: I haven’t seen you in a while! You must be settling your cases without my help.
Me: I figure my clients hire me to solve problems, not create them. No offense, but I try to avoid you in professional settings.
Commissioner. None taken. The good ones keep their clients out of court. Keep up the good work.
Let’s be honest: going to court pays well. The hours of document drafting, preparing for hearings, and the inevitable objection that follows when one or both parties are dissatisfied with the result mean the billable hours rack up. It also means the case – and the family conflict – drags on and usually escalates. My cynical side tells me this is why many of my family lawyer colleagues seem to thrive on – and drive up the conflict – in cases. My wiser side tells me this is why I am successful with my solution-based practice.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not shy away from taking cases to court. Some cases, which are rare in my experience, need our court system to achieve the correct result. To be honest, I enjoy court, and I am good at it. While I try to keep my clients out of court, if I am there, I am there for a good reason, and our judges and commissioners know that. Ironically, confidence in my courtroom skills makes me a better advocate for my clients outside of court. Knowing I have a solid court option in my back pocket allows me the freedom to fully explore out of court solutions for my client.
My clients choose to work with me because they value my approach. They want someone with chops to argue their case in the courthouse but with skills and wisdom to resolve their case miles away from buildings filled with marble and people dressed in black robes.
One of my firm’s founding partners would always remind us to take the high road: the view is better, and you meet wonderful people along the way. I call my high road the Gracious Road and I am blessed to have the freedom in my practice to take this. It takes courage – and confidence – to take the more Gracious Road in family law. I look forward to seeing you on it.