Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I was consulting with a fellow today.  Of course, we were talking about his case, the strategy we would employ and the strategy that he could expect from his opposing counsel.  I told this fellow that we could probably settle this case tomorrow for very close to how it will settle in three to six months time, except for the opposing counsel, who won't let the case go that quietly, quickly or economically.

It is all about volume.

My firm handles around 200 cases each year.  In family law that's really big.  Some firms are not so fortunate.  They handle maybe 30 - 40 cases a year.  This means that they have to make more money off of each case just to keep their lights on, not to mention pay for their mortgages, cars and vacations. 

Family law is complex and full of subtleties, but it needn't be expensive.  As I have often written, cases could be settled quickly, accurately and affordably almost all of the time.  But there is more at play than just the facts of the case.  The opposing party might need time to adjust.  The children might need time to settle in.  Or opposing counsel might need to churn the file just to stay afloat. 

Please keep in mind that I am not writing about most family law lawyers.  As I have often written, most family law lawyers are not just good people, they are great people.  They are honest, compassionate, scrupulous and abundantly fair.  But, as I have also writtten, a minority of my peers are not so scrupulous, do not have the family in mind or at heart, and even work against their client's long term interests for the sake of short term gain. 

An attorney who handles few cases might decry my firm's volume.  They might say that they can dive deeply into a case, understand it forwards and backwards and give the case the case more attention that my firm can because we handle so many cases.  First of all, who is paying for that deep diving?  And our track record supports that we understand our cases backwards and forwards and provide just the right amount of affordable attention.

If you've studied my firm, you know that our talent runs deep.  Not only am I available to work on cases but so is my Senior Associate, my other Associates and my paralegals.  They are all supported by our excellent staff who keep our machine well oiled and running smoothly.  We do family law the way I think it should be done: affordably, honestly, ethically, accurately. 

I guess the bottom line is that some firms don't have enough business to keep themselves affordable.  And that's a pity for everyone involved.

Michael Manely

Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome home, girls.

As you may have noticed, we handle many international cases and many of those cases are custody cases invoking the Hague Convention. 

The Hague Convention I'm referring to pertains to international jurisdiction over children in custody disputes.  It most often is used when a spouse flees with the children to another country.  Nation states that are signatories to the Hague have treaty obligations to each other to accept pre-determined standards to confer jurisdiction.

My firm has a wonderful track record on Hague cases.  We have excellent working relationships with other attorneys across the globe and probably more international family law experience than any other Atlanta firm.

The case I'm writing about tonight just had a major development today. 

We represent the father, who is American born but his parents are originally from Greece.  The mother is from Cyprus.  The parties take an annual vacation to Cyprus to visit the mother's parents and siblings.  In the summer of 2008, the parties had their second daughter.  Their oldest daughter was then four.  In September, as in year's past, the parties flew to Cyprus.

When it came time to return, the mother said that neither she nor the girls were coming home.  The mother stated that it had nothing to do with the father, she just hated Georgia in general and Cherokee County in particular.  The father tried to run with the girls a few days later, but was physically stopped by the mother's brothers at the airport.

When the father returned home, he hired us.  We filed a divorce and Hague action in Cherokee County before the Honorable Jackson Harris.  The mother went to ground in Cyprus and hid out for months.  We pursued the Hague action internationally, getting the State Department on board and then getting the action moving in Cyprus.  The mother was finally found and served in Cyprus about a year after she had fled.

Cyprus held its trial over the course of a month in March and April of this year.  Our office was fortunate enough to be a part of the Cyprus trial team each day as the strategy was developed and the questions were prepared.

On May 4, Cyprus gave us her ruling.  The mother must return with the children to Woodstock, Georgia, by Friday, May 7.

On May 7, the children arrived at Hartsfield and the father met the plane.  The mother was still acting as though she could control the courts so she quickly hurried the children off.  We soon got beyond that barrier and, after an afternoon long visitation yesterday, the father got to take the girls home today. 

Fortunately for me, the father was kind enough to stop by my office so that the staff and I could see the girls and weep for joy at their safe return.  Seeing those girls beem at their daddy was one of the most satisfying moments I have had in my career.  And I'm here to tell you I've had many satisfying moments in my career.

There are still some battles to be fought in this matter, all safely here at home.  But for now, all is right with the world. 

Welcome home, girls.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The life of a family trial lawyer is not all glitz and glam, high stakes drama in the courtroom and high impact negotiations over latte's.  Sometimes we family trial lawyers have to do paperwork.

And I'm not talking about brief writing paperwork.  That can be gruelling and thrilling all at the same time.  Making a written Motion, preparing a brief, researching the law can captivate your mind like little else.  Your thoughts can narrowly focus as you craft your argument.  The turn of a phrase, the exact case to make your decisive point can be exhillarating and keep you on the tip of your toes and edge of your seat.  Your brief can feel like a work of fine art, to be appreciated by the known world, much like that kid in Christmas Story imagines his Red Rider theme will be appreciated by his teacher.

No, I'm not talking about anything so laudable.  I'm talking about paperwork like catching up on reviewing discovery responses and writing letters in response to other letters and pouring over contracts for vendor services.  All the stuff that you could appreciate as a needed respite in a quiet office, but after the fast pace of trial life, seems more like watching paint dry.

And that was my job today.

It's necessary work.  The pillars of litigation must be placed before the contest of court begins.  And it's productive work.  As you know from reading this blog, more often than not cases do not go to trial, they get settled.  I had one opposing counsel call me today to thank me for the very professional tone of my letter and trusted that it would prove a turning point in working toward a resolution for a divorcing family.  Of course, she then asked for a continuance from the rapidly approaching trial.

The time spent in the office while working on such paperwork helps me reacquaint with the staff and touch all the matters that are not so close to resolution as to require my hours before a Judge.  This time spent in the office allows me to remember how much I enjoy Amy's coffee and the camraderie of the paralegals and support staff.  It allows me to admire the way the paralegals manage all of the matters, the clients with their day to day needs and opposing counsels who cannot gain my immediate attention because I'm off arguing something in court.

So, the paperwork can be drudgery, but it can also be a breather.  A breather with a lot of coffee thrown in for good measure.

And tomorrow?  High stakes mediation.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Canton of Cherokee County

I think I have lived in Cherokee County, particularly in Canton, more particularly in the Superior Court, for the better part of the past two weeks.

I like our quaint office there.  It is a quiet space, just off the atrium in the Babcock building.  No bustle, little noise, just perfect for diving in to complex issues as you do the final prep for your trial.

And I've "discovered" the R&M Sandwich Shop located cattycornered to the Courthouse entrance across the Square.  I've discovered it, even though it has been there for something like 30 years or so.  I truly enjoy the Prosciutto and Egg sandwich.  What a treat.

Canton has a book store with a fair collection and a pharmacy with many things you could and probably would want in a pinch.  They supplied me with safety pins when I was most unexpectedly in need.  It even has a shoe repair shop.  In short, this town has much of what every town ought to have in its center.  It has stuff that residents need.  It is a functioning downtown.

And, once you get there, it is very walkable.

But back to Court, which, as I say, is where I live.

The past two weeks I've been in front of all three Superior Court Judges and received quite favorable rulings from each.  As you often read here, I make my living by accurately predicting what a judge is likely to do, not from any power of prognostication, but from many, many, many years of working through these issues with most of these same judges.  Still, it is a treat to present a case and have the vindication of a ruling.  As Judge recently said to an opposing counsel, "Well what objection do you have to Mr. Manely's solution.  It seems very reasonable." 

The thing about Cherokee County Superior Court is, when you come to Court, you better pack breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Oh, yeah, for lunch you can scoot over to R&M Sandwich Shop for a Prosciutto and Egg sandwich. 

The Court calendar call starts around 9:00.  Everyone has to be there then, and the Judge's could quite possibly keep you all day.  Twice last week I concluded my case in the evening.  Today I was blissfully done by lunch time, just in time to stop in a R&M Sandwich Shop for a Prosciutto and Egg sandwich.  Yum.

But seriously folks, once you get a ruling from one of the Judges, I predict that with the right advice and competent representation you'll be pleased, but getting to that point can be an endurance test. 

Michael Manely

(Mr. Manely was not paid or otherwise enriched by his ringing endorsement of the Prosciutto and Egg sandwich at R&M Sandwich Shop, except by his sheer pleasure of enjoying the sandwich itself)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Continuing Legal Education - in oil.

The who's who of Family Law attorneys shall again convene on the sunny shores of Florida's beaches over Memorial Day weekend.  We will deepen our relationships, strengthen our bonds, perhaps get past old transgressions and even further our knowledge of family law and improve our professional skills.

We gather every year in Florida.  On even years we gather in San Destin.  In addition to our work, we family lawyers and our familes do what people in San Destin do in late May: we soak up the rays, play on the sugar white sand and bathe in the soothing waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But from what I'm reading, this year may be quite different.

BP has blown an oil rig sitting some 40 miles off the Louisianna coast.  The deep water well is gushing five thousand barrels a day.  BP admits that the spill could increase to 60,000 barrels a day.  Oil is expected along Pensacola beaches within five days of this post.  It is expected all along Florida's gulf coast all the way down to the Keys within 15 days.   As of today, this spill is only one million gallons less than the Exxon Valdez spill, and it probably has weeks to go before it is shut down.  From many sources I've read, this is likely the worst man made environmental catastrophe to date.

Some say we've killed the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come.

Today, I've watched a few videos of Prince William Sound, the place where the Exxon Valdez ran aground some 21 years ago.  If you turn over a rock or dig down two inches, the oil is still there.  Reporters talked about the smell that permeates the ground. 

As I think about my family walking along the beaches we have known since my childhood, I find it impossible to wrap my mind around the possibilty that all that may be gone. 

And for what?  For greed.  BP's greed, to be sure, fighting to avoid a law requiring a remote switch to cut off the well head.  The switch apparently costs $500,000.00.  But now BP says they are spending $6,000,000.00 a day in clean up and repair efforts.  I'll bet that half million dollars looks like a bargain now.

But not just BP's greed.  Our greed.  We demand the oil.  We want more for less.  And just like there's no free lunch, you can't get more for less.  Our grandparents tried to teach us that.

So, like druggies, we've sacrificed our future for a quick fix. 

I pray the oil won't reach the beaches.  I pray they'll find a way to cap the well fast.  I'm emotionally in denial about the predicted and reported probabilities from this disaster.  I just want it all to go away, so we can do what we have always done and not worry about any consequences.  But apparently, that isn't going to happen.

At some point, don't we have to grow up?

Michael Manely

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

If you would only listen to me.

Tonight I write to my opposing counsels.

I always play straight with ya'll.  No line, no going off the deep end (okay, that time singing on the table during mediation was a bit out there but it made my point), no hostilities, no being so entrenched that I can never hear your position.  I'm not going to tell you that my client walks on water.  I haven't been that way and I'm not going to be that way.

So when I tell you what I think is the right answer, listen to me.

I know this is not your first rodeo either, but without histrionics and without error I can call it down the line almost every single time.  If I were a sailor, I could tack to any wind.  If I played pool, I could bank any shot.  If I played ball like my eldest, I could drop a ball through the second base hole for a hit any day.  So, Opposing Counsel, don't doubt it, don't fear it, use it. 

And don't stretch it out. The other day, an Opposing Counsel told me that she couldn't settle on an issue because she couldn't show any concession to her client. She couldn't show any concession to her client? She was playing this drama for her own moxie? Oh good Lord. If the opposing counsel's image needs to be protected from the opposing party, just how good do you think it's going to go down when the judge cites chapter and verse of how I said the case was going to resolve? Just how good will Opposing Counsel's image be then? "I couldn't settle for you and keep you out of court because I would look weak.  So I sent you into Court with all the stress and anguish, so that you could hear the judgment from the Judge exactly as Mr. Manely predicted. Now don't I look cute?"

No, you look nuts.

And I don't have any "in" with the Judge.  I know them.  It's my job.  But there is no special deal here.  There is just 21 years of working this street day in and day out and developing an extremely deep feel for how it's going to go down.  I just know justice.  I can predict it.  There's a right answer, and that's the answer I'm going to go for every time. Straight.  Period.

I won't take advantage of your client.  As my client said today, that's not kosher.  I'll tell you how it all plays out with all my case's bumps and bruises, warts and all, and I'll even sing your client's song when it is warranted.  So, stop the falderal and cut to the chase.  Make the deal.  Sign the docs and tell your client they had a good day, because they have.  Because, if I'm involved, there's enough justice to go around.  And nobody deserves anything more than justice.

But everybody deserves justice.

Just listen to me and settle.  That's all I'm asking.  Cause I'll tell you, while I really enjoy basking in the warm glow of the Judge ruling exactly the way I predicted, I far more enjoy getting justice done by settlement.  It is better for everyone, particularly the parties.

And its the parties that matter.

So, can we talk?

Michael Manely