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Avvo, the Election, and Why I Have Not Posted in Way Too Long

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Avvo.com. “Have no legal Fear”. Boy, has this company blitzed the advertising world. Television and smart phones, everywhere I look, I see their ads. Now, I’ve been on Avvo since it was a nuisance (early aughts??). Now it dominates legal marketing. (See https://lafleur.marketing/lets-talk-avvo/)

What does that have to do with not blogging? I’ll tell you. I spend way too much time fielding questions all day long is what. I feel like a shark– if I stop swimming (answering questions) I will die (no new clients). The irony is  not lost on me. Be it noted that family law is the world’s worst business model. Zero repeat business, and people are at the worst and most vulnerable, and least able to spare thousands of dollars. (Be it also noted that a few practitioners serve the Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills, Tiburon, etc. crowd. They get paid well. They are also a small minority.)

It also does not help that I refuse to engage in the horrors of litigating a family fight over children. I never have and I never will. And that’s 34 years of being a lawyer talking.

But Avvo has one upside. I hear from other lawyers, every single day. Unlike most people, I love to see what I may have missed or to find out I’ve been wrong. Ironically, despite my AWFUL typing (no editing on Avvo) many lawyers have gone out of their way to endorse me. (And be it noted I am truly working on this flaw of mine.) (It may be working … no flinching realizations for a good while now…

But the more Avvo advertises, the lower the quality of the questions people post. I have taken to deleting some without bothering to respond. I never used to do that. Here’s one I love: ”

When there are deadlines to file forms related to a divorce with the court, are weekends/holidays included or weekdays only?
Location: Alameda, CA

“I’m going through a divorce in Alameda county (California) and found a rule stating that I need to file/serve a status conference questionnaire 15 days before the scheduled conference. I’m confused as to whether this pertains to weekday/business days only or if weekend & holidays are included also?”

Now, there are state paid websites for EVERY county that tell you these things. Like this: http://www.alameda.courts.ca.gov/

But hey– The public is on their smartphone and Avvo grabs these questions. So pro bono work is now the domain of all Avvo lawyer users. And yes, the public now LOVES lawyers-as long as they are free. Thanks to one of a Avvos many boneheaded features, these people can now write to you directly and tell you what an idiot you are– thus revealing their (previously anonymous) name and details. Avvo does not care (and the public does not know) that I now have a duty of loyalty and confidentiality as to these folks, and cannot take any matter adverse to theirs. EVER.

But enough about me. How about the state of American law and politics? Could they be any more depressing? Let me just say up front, I KNOW this crisis was and is and will be a step to a much needed change in ALL our habits. Letting someone else deal with it. Not fact checking or asking ourselves “does this make sense”? Labeling those who disagree with us. An inability to see that EVERYTHING has two sides. These are habits that simply must change.

But to wake up to a world where (LITERALLY overnight) mean-spiritedness is the norm, and caring for the less fortunate is not scorn-worthy? No, I did not really see this coming. Every day the news is dreadful. now, I see that way too many people get all their news from facebook. I see posts from Breitbart from ACTUAL FRIENDS. (Critiques of what is and isn’t Constitutional from a citizen of a country where Constitutional Monarchy is the  government and there are no state governments. In short, from someone who does not know  what they don’t know–but states opinions as facts.)  (A major trigger for me.) BUT there is an upside! I can now say I have experienced the power of personal interaction to bridge such divides. We each cut the other slack because we have a personal relationship. There’s a clue, here…

So, I’m here to say, enough with the naming and blaming–time to make friends. As to the mean-spiritedness, it IS disheartening, and many people will actually suffer and maybe die. But As a Baha’i, I know this end is a beginning, and is long overdue. Still sucks, though.

So, I may decide to write, for my own sanity. As usual, I will speak of things many find unfamiliar. But if just one person thinks… it’s enough.

Pro Se Roulette

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

July 2008

It’s in the news—people are in ever larger numbers attempting to navigate the turbulent waters of the divorce system with NO attorneys. The court system is the worst possible solution for any family, but to a family with an emotionally laden situation and no clue how the game is played – it is a disaster, albeit a silent one.

And no one seems to be telling them how the game is played.

I took on a case, recently, to try to help a Mom who had muddled along without an attorney, seemingly successfully—except for one detail. She could not get the final judgment papers past the clerks. Now, the clerks nave a lot of power in this system, and I am sure you can imagine the results. Frankly, they can (and do) bar the door whenever they can. Even in my mediated, completely uncontested cases, they often make the process of getting the judgment entered very difficult, although in the less populous areas I have found them to be helpful indeed. Of course, this has gotten much worse, now, in 2016, with less funding and— Avvo. Good old Avv0–the web site that leads many to think “I don’t need to stinkin’ attorney.”  (Usually, they do–they just don’t need $5,000 worth of one.) (Self promotion–see www.nobigretainers.com

In the case that inspired this rant, the Mom had no idea what to do, and when I called the clerks, they told me the “by the numbers” method—which required 2 cooperative and costly attorneys. (See below.) Big help. So, as reluctant as I was to enter those waters, I appeared at a hearing set by Dad, after the trial. (Yes, Virginia they can keep filing those infinitely!)

It didn’t take long to find out the problem—I went to court (where I sat for hours waiting to be heard… while the clock was ticking on a young mother, had to borrow the funds for me to even be there) and watched the judge ramble, change her mind, and then eventually made some order… but even I do not know what I was. Neither of the two “pro se” (unrepresented) parties )as I say and watched) had taken any notes.

What was the order? Only the court reporter has it all down—and the cost of a transcript is prohibitive. (In some courts in California, you have t pay for your own court reporter. Budget cuts, you know.) The clerks just take minimal notes, called minute orders.–and they had made errors in my gal’s case. (Errors like how many children there were.) Now I could see why she cod not he get her “Findings and Order After Hearing| signed off on.

Here’s how the game is played in the “attorney world.”

The attorneys know the law and the judge (and the rules) and each argues the position their client wants. More support, less support, more visitation, less visitation … custody… there’s always something to fight about. And of course, always one side loses and one side “wins.” (Except the kids… who always lose.)

When the judge rules, s/he orders the “winning” side to “give notice.” The Notice is written up and sent to the losing side for “approval as to form and content.” When that pleading is filed with the court—THAT is the official Order and the record. That is what counts, forever afterwards.

Now, not only did the couple I watched in court that day not know any of this, they would probably not have been able to do it if they did know. They were squabbling—and they took no notes. Each side would say—or think— the judge said something more beneficial to them. It’s human nature, when under stress and pressure. And this judge rambled and said a number of different things, in a stream of consciousness sort of way. I wasn’t sure what the order was!

There is a memorandum of sorts prepared by harried clerks for each matter: it’s called a “Minute Order” — they are short, lacking detail and often flat out wrong. They were never meant to be the entire record of the proceedings. As far as I could tell, no one had explained any of that to these unrepresented people. In the end, of there are a lot of hearings and a lot of fighting the situation becomes, I suspect, unfixable. The game is rigged.

I have always wanted to find a simple, affordable, way for people to ask me how to deal with these things. This is because the minute fees start accruing in a case where the threat “see you in court” hangs over people’s head the bell can not be “unrung.” BOTH sides will end up feeling raped, screwed, cheated… And broke. It may still be better than being bankrupted by legal fees (and yes, this happens) or in debt—but no matter what. it’s not smart to be uninformed.

I’m sure it appears to the clueless public that it is better to avoid lawyers, and wing it—but at least get some guidance. The hidden costs can be worse than they sound. And they usually are.

Categories: Avvo, divorce, law, Uncategorized

“I Can’t…” May be the Most Dangerous Thought… Ever.

When I was a little girl, my father, Ted Price, (may God be good to him) told me a story about how he climbed over the transom in a room he lived in (long long ago) because he had left his keys inside. Needless to say, this was no easy matter, but he managed it. Upon landing on the inside of the room, he bumped the door, and it popped open. It had been open all along.

That story was told to me probably 55 years ago or more, but I never forgot it. The point was obvious. Always check. Don’t just THINK you know.

I just answered a question on Avvo from a self described “single mom” who “has little.” She had apparently been renting a place (likely a home, not a commercial space, but she did not say.) She had been unable to pay the rent (job loss) and “broke the lease”. She says she “could not afford an attorney” and ended up with an agreement with the landlord to pay off the debt upon her removal from the premises. Which was… wait for it… $28,000. No typo–TWENTY EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Now, OK, this is California, and rents can run to $3,000 a month for a decent condo. She did not sound like a person who would have rented a $3000 a month apartment or condo, but who can say?

Even so, that amount of money would have been 8 months of rent, give or take, and there is no way a landlord would have won that in court if the lady/tenant had talked to an attorney. Landlords have a duty to mitigate damages, and no condo or apartment would have gone unrented for 8 months. (The scenario is worse if this was, say, a $1000 a month rental.) I always tell people that if they move without a fuss the landlord may be grateful and really cut them slack. (Many angry evicted tenants will trash the place. Avoiding this is worth a lot to a landlord.)

You see the problem? The lady had a thought: “I can’t”… afford an attorney. This thought—which she did not check out ( yes, there are legal clinics for landlord tenant where she lives)—has cost her a whopping debt, which she will not have to pay, or she will have to file bankruptcy. (Luckily, there are clinics for this, too.) Both have a cost far greater than the cost of attorney, even if she had paid. IF she had paid, which, given the availability of legal aid, is not likely.

There is a good chance the lease was not even binding to the degree this uninformed consumer thought. If she had checked, she would have found this: http://www.legal-aid.com/legal-help/housing/

She would have found out she did not have to pay any such sum, and who knows how much more. Now, if she has to file bankruptcy to get out from under this huge judgment, the next time she tries to rent, she may have a problem–as 99% of landlords will check credit. These are among the true costs of her thought.

I see examples of these problems—problems people have because they don’t “have money to throw around” —(a direct quote) and they sought no legal advice. Now they have problems that will be throwing them around for a long long time. This holds true in many areas of life, but most things become legal problems at some point. So–at some point, lawyers are gonna be in the mix.

The reason I SEE these is day after day (as you may have guessed) be cause there is a problem caused by the lack of legal knowledge. There is this web site called “Avvo”—see avvo.com. People blunder into it, because the avvo coders have created an awesome SEO system. (I have a love/hate relationship with this behemoth, but perhaps that is a story for another day.) Folks who would not know a Boolean search if it bit them –and in a way it does–type in a question and BLAM. Up pops Avvo. And I, and others like me in the site, see what a mess they have made. I am sure I am not the only attorney who gives my time, free, and my expertise to the public because we’d like to see people NOT get into such messes. But they do

It does not help that they all have thoughts about what attorneys are like and what attorneys cost and what the ease is of doing it themselves. . (The general public have long thought ill of attorneys—they have not always thought the internet made every single thing free and simple.)

But the thought “I can’t afford…” (or just “i can’t) is the most dangerous thought of all. That thought stops all investigation—even in this day and age of FREE AND EASY investigation. THAT’s the real irony.

Will my writing this change anyone or anything? Probably not. But it may make me feel a particle less frustrated. (Or not.) But hey. It’s a free country full of free information. And here is my two cents worth. And we all know what two cents buys these days.

Still, it’s true. “I can’t” are the 2 most dangerous word

A Sad State of Affairs

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

I answer a LOT of questions on Avvo. It has become the 9000 pound gorilla of the internet for people who have a legal question. (One reason for this is that no one seems to know how to do a proper search, using keywords. Avvo is set up to grab every “how…” type question.)

In any case I see several things over and over. And it’s disheartening.

1. People having children out of wedlock–with sociopaths and the ilk. (I think it may be be cause they are “alpha males.”) The results are constant fighting, abuse and NO STABILITY for children.

2. People who exhibit vast quantities of magical thinking. Their sig/oth seems fine, but they themselves  are not fine,  ergo, the courts can fix it. The ex does not follow the court orders, and is openly defying them–a BEHAVIOR issue–so (of course)  the courts can fix it. (As if.)

3. ALL of these are oblivious to what this is doping to their kids.

These children are pretty much all going to grow up with NO stability, NO idea how to deal with any sort of disagreement or confluent-and, I happen to think, no ability to form proper attachments.

I don’t know what percentage of the population this is. I DO know that  there is one man assisting people to deal with the ever growing number of “High Conflict Personality” individuals. He is Bill Eddy, LCSW, JD. (See http://www.amazon.com/High-Conflict-People-Legal-Disputes/dp/0973439645_)

One in maybe every hundred people I tell about him write to me, relieved to know they are not crazy–and they are not alone. The rest just persist in their magical thinking. I wish I had.. oops! Magical thinking!

Truth or Troll? (OrBoth?)

I figured out two decades ago that while a court battle is not about truth. I even wrote a column called “It Ain’t About The Truth” where I opined on various court cases, including the OJ trial, and the (in)famous McDonald’s coffee case.

But also decades ago I figured out that divorce was not about “what happened”? It is all about emotions and people and relationships. I realized battles were bad for about emotions and people and relationships. I didn’t need to figure out they were bad for kids—that I knew from losing my fatter due to the way my mother acted out her disappointment in my father.

He didn’t cheat on her—he didn’t drink. He didn’t say mean things. As far as I could see, he didn’t do anything wrong. He just did not, could not, fill up her emptiness.

No one else got divorced in those days. I just know that my mother had problems with men. She dated married ones a lot, and she wasn’t real good at friendships with women either. I didn’t see my father much after the divorce was finally over. Or in the YEARS between the day he left and the day he remarried in the 60s. (Then, I got him back in 1985. He died in 1990. I’ve learned more abut him from my baby half sister then I ever led when he was alive. But that’s a good thing.)

So seeing the mess that came from the clash of courts and families was not rocket science to me. In the early days (California had been no fault for decades in 1983) many lawyers seemed to feel the same way, so we settled every case. Even though I was pretty new, I was always good at negotiating and settling cases (remember that first case I wrote about?) so I did well. REALLY well,

But right about the time I came into law civility was on the wane, and by the time my consulting career came to a crashing halt, I could see there was a real need for divorce practice to change– so I set abut changing it. In the mid 90s I started my mediation practice. In the 2000s I had started a collaborative group in Orange County. I kept doing good work for couples who knew that court was bad …until the economic collapse of 2008.

But despite all slow but steady change in divorce practice, it just “wasn’t done” to say that court was flat out bad for families. I mean, I said it in essays on Divorcenet, but not to other lawyers or even to the public. From the first day I placed my bio on Divorcenet I had calls—many of the public seemed to know the courts were not the place they wanted to be. But when I said this to a Family Court judge on legal setting, her face went frozen in shock. When I tried to tell other lawyers not everyone wanted to fight they scoffed—or worse.

But now this fact is being stated and HEARD—thanks in part to Mark Baer, with whom I had become friends, thanks to social networking. (and with whom I am now not friends—thanks also to social networking.) I am even now—-seeing attorneys speak up on Avvo—and have been told I started it. (!!)

So I find it disheartening that so many people are hearing him and thanking him… but all attorneys. Not the public. The he public still loves in wishful thinking land.

I also find it disheartening that so many anonymous “askers’” on Avvo call me a troll for saying the same thing. I also find it disheartening that when we got into a nasty misunderstanding, Mark opined—ON SOCIAL NETWORKING—that I was all wrong and he was all right. (This is never the case —and we both know it.)

I find it disheartening that no matter what different ways I try to explain things, I often cannot be heard by people who 1) ask for my help and 2) are so invested in the way they see their problem that they find any suggestion that there is any other way to approach to be, or feel like, an attack on their entire being.

I find it disheartening that one of my stubbornnesses is I keep trying—and almost never get paid.

So I guess we humans are all pretty stubborn. Study after study has shown that people think OTHERS are off course but they are not….others are wrong but they are not… still. Decade after decade. What seems obvious to me—that in any dispute BOTH sides think they are right—and in a certain sense they both ARE right—seems to be one of those things where I am in a minority.

Is this because I am an “HSP”? (A real anomaly of 20% of humans and decidedly mixed bag… see http://richawriter.hubpages.com/hub/Its-Good-To-Be-Sensitive-25-Wonderful-Aspects-Of-Highly-Sensitive-People)

I don’t know. I DO know… this is a truth. (Two truths). No one starts out out expecting to be Bad and Wrong, and yet someone they married says they are. Judges seem to agree half the time. (All the time?) And…courts suck for families. 99.9% of the time.

An Inconvenient Truth

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I am active on the highly market-effective but (IMHO utterly toxic website Avvo every day. Yes, I climb it because it is there.

It is populated (I have been able to discover) by people who go looking for an answer to a legal question and up there due to heavy SEO action by the site. Their SEO really is that good. Some of the googlers could find the correct answer to their question if they were better researchers, but many (probably most) don’t know the words that fit their situation. But if it involves a family member they go to “Family Law’ and there they are in my feed.

If it is something I don’t know (The details of loss of parental rights, for example) I can always fin the answer in seconds using Google—but I know the magic words. Being a lawyer, I do. The public does not.

So for the vent portion of this blog I will point out that once I Avvo they are met with responses that in a majority of cases are self serving—lawyers are on there trolling for paying work. Their responses are not designed to provide service to the public. (Yes, Virginia lawyers are asked to provide our expertise “pro bono publico”). These responses are often simplistic—“file for a court hearing”—or wrong. (”Your judgment may have expired.”)

Others just don’t know anything but the few things they have picked up doing whatever they do. Litigated divorce, mostly. But family law brings in tax issues, real estate issues, bankruptcy issues, immigration issues (fraudulent marriage), collections (Family law judgments are “evergreen” and never expire) and many other areas of law.

Silly me, I have always made it a point to know stuff. Especially stuff that is relevant to the practice of family law—and any other area that keeps people out of court, like prenuptial agreements and trusts.

As I say—silly me.

But the one area I am still passionate about, although I have moved out if California and have VERY FEW paying clients is getting the word out that fighting a court battle is not helpful and that alternatives exist. (I have not seen a single other attorney inform the “asker” of this fact—EVER. Recently a few have chimed in after I did, bless them.)

So my new mission is to help the many people who find them selves entangled with what Bill Eddy, problem solver extraordinaire, calls the “High Conflict Personality.” These are the bane of courts and all around them,

A brief bio:
“William A. (“Bill”) Eddy IS CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF HIGH CONFLICT INSTITUTE, LLC, IN San Diego, California, AND Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California with over FIFTEEN years’ experience representing clients in family court. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

He is very clear that this—the “HCP” is a common obstacle to courts and litigants alike.
“An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
All-or-nothing thinking
Unmanaged emotions
Extreme behaviors
Blaming others

All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs tend to see conflicts in terms of one simple solution rather than taking time to analyze the situation, hear different points of view and consider several possible solutions. Compromise and flexibility seem impossible to them, as though they could not survive if things did not turn out absolutely their way. They often predict extreme outcomes if others do not handle things the way that they want. And if friends disagree on a minor issue, they may end their friendships on the spot – an all-or-nothing solution.”

But it gets better- he has tools for helping courts, ex-spouses and even governments deal with this pattern of behavior.

I downloaded and am internalizing his book “Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns [Kindle Edition]” available here:

BIFF is an acronym for Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm.” The trick to making headway with these people is to have, wait for it… empathetic listening skills. I full understand that most people who have been enmeshed with this conflict for what seem like forever will have a tough time with the empathy—I count myself prone to this myself. But the tools for communicating in the way Bill describes are learnable. And, in my opinion, this the only hope for the ex spouse and co-parent of such a person. (It also works with obnoxious friends and family too, of course.) It takes practice, as this review by a lawyer acknowledges: By David J. Spellman
This is an excellent book.
Bill Eddy, an experienced lawyer and LCSW, is an expert on “High Conflict People.” In fact, the chart on Axis II on page 15 is alone worth the price of the book! Bill advises that we respond to communications from High Conflict People with BIFF…a response that is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
I see the wisdom in Bill’s approach. But it is a challenge to my lawyerly instincts, because of the old legal maxim that “silence is assent” I tend to be sure to address and refute each allegation, point-by-point. But that just feeds into the dynamic of the High Conflict Person with whom I am communicating! This is a very wise and helpful book.

The hardest part (after mastering the tools) is that the system—courts—is do not yet begin to grasp that there is no hope that punishing these people will reform them. So I have Bill’s blessing to blog my heart out in hopes the PUBLIC will get the word.

Finding this quote yesterday inspired me to FINALLY write this first such blog:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained. “
o Mahatma Gandhi Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

You see, some lawyers are High Conflict People too. And one of those was my tipping point. He lives to insist I am wrong– it matter not what I say, it is wrong. He is blind to irony, humor or EVEN BEING AGREED WITH. He will find a point to argue. Happily for me another women lawyer has begun to call him out. (He is unfazed but it tickles me. But I digress..)
o
It is an error to think and act as though punishing an HCP will stop their flawed thinking and bad acting. (Reasoning also does not work.) Heaven help this lawyer’s clients.

But in any case, if you are wondering why your (ex) wife wants to make an issue of some book fines from school, even when you did nothing to incur them, or in any way bring them about—like a frustrated dad I spoke with via Avvo… this may restore your sanity.

I dare hope so.