Thursday, September 30, 2010

The bane of our existence.

I spoke with a young woman today who had an interesting, though not terribly uncommon tale to tell.

She is 26 years old.  Her parents divorced when she was six.  Her mother received primary custody of her.  Her mother's favorite sport around the house was to bash dad: what a scum he was, what a deadbeat he was, what a horrible human being he was.  To say that dad had no value in mom's house would grossly overstate the situation.  You get the picture.

One day, it sounded like about seven years after the divorce, out of desperate need to retain some  boy's attention, this young woman accused her father of a heinous act.  Her accusation was private, to the departing beau.  He, then, told his parents who told the young woman's mom who called the police.

Months later, tens of thousands of dollars on defense counsel later, district attorney investigations and polygraphs later, the charges were dismissed. 

According to the police, the young woman made it up.  And why not?  It's not as if dad had value, anyway. This once little girl had learned that lesson well.

Though exonerated, the father langished.  He let his business go.  It was heading in the ditch anyway since it was a rather public operation and the public wanted nothing to do with him in light of the once pending accusations.  He fell into despair and depression.  He lost his house, his cars.  He nearly lost his mind.

He saw nothing of his daughter.

Years passed.  He worked at recovering.  He started a new business, flegling at first, but used it as his vehicle to re-engage with his life.  He threw himself into the business and it prospered.  Still he remained haunted by the absence of his child who had turned his world upside down.

Years passed and the young woman grew.  She graduated from high school.  She left her mother's home.  She attended and graduated college.  She got her first real job.  She  moved into her first real apartment.  She bought her own car.  She even became invested in her spirituality on her own terms.

And, as the years passed, as her spirituality deepened, she began to mature.  As she moved farther from her mother's world, she began to construct her own.

And she eventually came to realize just how she had wronged a man she once lovingly called Daddy.

So, after a painful series of starts and stops, she called him.

He took her call.

They met.  They cried.

Now, not terribly long after their grand reunion, they dine about once a week.  Usually Daddy buys.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Oh, the things we do to each other in families.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Practicing Desperation Law

Last night I wrote about the attorneys who practice family law as though it was were a tenet of faith.  Tonight I write about the attorneys who could care less.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the zealot who imposes her convictions on you lies the "I just don't give a damn attorney."  They have more important things to do, like anything else that comes through the door.

By and large, family law is considered a peculiar specialty, as if those who practice it exclusively have an affliction.  As I wrote last night, who would sign on for this misery?  So family law cases are considered a blight, though perhaps a necessary evil for the general practitioner who handles anything that comes through the door.  They handle personal injury, bankruptcy, criminal law, commercial litigation and, yes, somewhere in there, family law.  I contend that they practice "Desperation Law." They seem to state, "I just want a retainer.  Any retainer."

Family law has its own rhythm, its own groove, certainly its own body of law, and its own bar (for those few of us who practice it exclusively).  Whether we practice in the same frame of mind or approach the subject from quite different perspectives, the exclusively family law lawyer generally knows the other exclusively family law lawyer.  We usually know each others strengths, weaknesses, quirks and pecadillos.  We speak the same language.  We understand the issues without a learning curve.

For those indecisive or disinterested souls who do anything for a buck, they are forever cast on the howling winds of rapid and irreconcilable change.  One morning they are representing a criminal defendant, wrapped up in the Fourth Amendment.  The next morning, they are knee deep in a contractual clause about non-competing burger stands, and the next morning they attempt to be immersed in a bitter custody dispute.  Jack of all trades, master of none.

I know this scenario all too well.  At one time I practiced this scenario.  And family law drove me nuts.  But I learned, it drove me nuts because I wasn't just practicing family law.  I'd attend a criminal calendar call as disinterested as I could be.  I was engaged in the sport, but the passion was non-existent.  I'd attend a commercial litigation calendar call and everyone there still seemed asleep and wishing they were on the golf course.  Not a happy crew.  Then I'd attend a family law calendar call and everyone was animated, involved, deep in discussion, negotiation, maybe resolution.  All of it meaningful.  All of it vitally real.

Eventually I determined that I should only practice family law.  I won't call it a calling, hence I would run afoul of the malady I cited last night.  No, it was my passion, my skill and my drive that directed me.  That, and family law attorneys are in court most often, second only to prosecutors.  My attorneys and I are often in Court three to five times a week.  A personal injury attorney is lucky to see the inside of a courtroom three times a year.  As I've said often, I live in the Courtroom.

So family law is home.  This is where I thrive.  This is where I can do the most good. 

I don't practice desperation law.  I won't handle anything that comes through my door, except family law.  So if you have a criminal case, you can call me because I know some great criminal lawyers to refer you to.  But if you have a family law case, call me or anyone who practices exclusively in family law.  Our passion and our practice shows.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is it a calling?

I have an unusual job.  I help people get divorced.  I work in family crisis day in and day out.  I am buried, nay smothered in daily drama.

Why would anyone sign on for this misery?

Some in my profession appear to posit that their's is a calling, that they are led to this line of work in the same way that preachers are.  And like preachers, they claim passion and deeply held, fervent beliefs.  They hold convictions and operate from dogma about how things must be.  Their client's lives become testaments to the attorney's convictions.  And the family drama plays out in moralistic terms, good versus evil and righteousness must prevail.  There is the victor and there must be the vanquished.

I definitely like what I do.  I don't want to do anything else, work wise.  I'm drawn to the Courtroom, not because it is my life's mission but because I'm good at it.  And I'm good at it because I like a good, serious legal contest.  I'm good at it because I care to be.  And I like what I do because I find meaning in helping real people obtain real solutions for real problems.  What's not to like about that? Family law fits me. 

I would hope that everyone should be able to make a living, doing what they enjoy.  It makes life richer.

But I don't hold dogmatic positions.  I don't pass judgment.  I don't exact my principles on my client's lives.  I do bring all my talents to bear on their issues.  I make solutions.

I'm not a preacher. I'm not a saint.  I'm not a voluteer.  I'm a mercenary.  I am well paid to be successful for my clients.  I am paid to advocate for their interests and paid to tell them the truth. 

So if you want someone to be a bishop over your life, to tilt at the windmills of their own past in your present, I'm not for you.  If you want to fix a problem, come see me.

So, is family law my calling?  No.  It's my business.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just drifting through.

We do not finish all the cases we start.  Sometimes the firm and the client parts company.  Sometimes our strategies no longer appeal to the client.  Sometimes the client cannot follow the firm's advice.  Sometimes the client has other issues.

I once represented a client with attachment issues.  He didn't care much who he was sleeping with.  He was not loyal or connected to any particular woman.  He thought his kids ought to live with him but he gave them no good reason to and wasn't particularly concerned if they didn't, and they didn't.

I learned that those attachment issues extended to every other facet of his life, including his ability to follow through on our advice when the going got rough.  When the going got rough, he just got going.

Good bye.  He wasn't that invested in the first place.

He was kind of the accidental tourist of the divorce world.  He spent the next several months bouncing from pillar to post and, without rudder, without plan, without cohesive strategy that he could stay committed to, I understand that he got battered something awful.  Opposing Counsel was pretty good to begin with.  This now former client made Opposing Counsel's job that much easier.

As best I could tell, he wound up disappearing.  He paid his child support somewhat timely, but he wandered off to the far corners of the world, kicking up the dust in some other lonesome hovel. 

Sometimes I remember him, like now.  I think of him blowing from place to place, unattached like a dust mite. 

I'm really rooted to place.  I haven't moved more than 12 miles from the place I grew up.  So I really can't fathom having no attachments, no strings, no ties that bind the heart.  That is my antithesis.

Sometimes we don't finish the cases we started.  Far more often than not, we do.  Course corrections, when necessary, can be a good thing. 

But to say farewell to a client who can't commit, who can't follow through, whose shiftlessness rules his life, to this day remains unsettling. 

Michael Manely

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Don't Get It.

Last week we had the hearing to end all hearings.

Actually I'm being a bit melodramatic.  It was a big hearing, potentially laying either party to waste.  My opposing counsel hails from the highest paid family law firm in all Metropolitan Atlanta.

The hearing was a long time coming.  There were many discussions about the case, the issues, and potentially how to settle it.  Time after time I came back to the same recommendation on how to settle the case, if they wanted to settle the case.

But the opposing party, through his counsel, stonewalled.  They did everything they could to put off the hearing, even at the last moment as the Court called the case.  All along they offered nothing but platitudes, empty air containing nothing.  Not one dollar, not one farthing, not one half penny was placed on the barrel head to put the issue to bed.

And my recommendation was quite modest.  It was the most likely outcome to bridge the matter to a longer term solution.  It took care of temporary issues and began to create a foundation from which the parties could work.

Still, no tangible offer ever came.

So, we had our hearing.  And the opposing counsel pulled a 12th hour surprise expert accountant to support the opposing counsel's theory of the case.  Of course the expert agreed with me that his analysis had to be flawed to get to opposing counsel's results and that the opposing party really didn't produce anything that the expert could use to verify the opposing party's contentions.

And in the end, the Judge ruled almost exactly like my recommendation expressed so long ago and oft repeated.  The modest, logical proposal is how she decided, with a little gravy thrown on for my client.

And now, in the circles that the couple used to run, comes the report that the opposing party is claiming victory.  Victory for having his extremely dirty laundry exposed to the Court?  Victory for paying thousands of dollars to an expert for nothing?  Victory for paying thousands more to an opposing counsel when the funds could have much better been used for the parties, not their lawyers?  Victory when the opposing party offered $0.00 and I proposed less than what the Judge now requires?

I don't get it.

I like trial better than the next guy, perhaps better than most lawyers, so I had a really good time impeaching the expert and this ridiculous opposing party, but I've still got to say it was a colossal waste of time and money, given that the other side could have done what I suggested in the first place.

"I told you so," just doesn't make me feel any better.

I just don't get it.