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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.

R E S P E C T

April 10, 2012 1 comment

I have been telling the stories of my early days in the legal profession. On the whole they were fun. It all felt quite miraculous—I had gone from a lowly sergeant in the USAF—one who was often resented as I was the only women or in an early infiltration of women into a previously make career—electronics. Then, little more than 2 years after I drove from Biloxi to Los Angeles I was a lawyer! No one could say I had accomplished nothing or was not smart. I had proved I was—and now I could do amazing things.(No one realizes how many things you could do on your word alone back then.) Being an attorney was indeed an amazing source of power. But it was still fun then. There was no public and ugly sniping between counsel, and no one seemed to hate us… yet.

There was no attorney advertizing back then. For decades—nay centuries—it had been taboo. (Yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but it is true.) “The organized bar traditionally took the position that a lawyer was not permitted to actively publicize his services. In effect, it was presumed that every lawyer had an established clientele, or that a lawyer’s reputation for good work would inevitably lead others to seek out the lawyer’s services. Under this approach, direct publicity for lawyers was strictly controlled.[1] Morgan, Thomas D. (2005) Legal Ethics, p. 145. Thomson-BarBri. ISBN 0-314-15633-X.”

Even now, we are not permitted to “solicit”—I know I know—hard to believe but again… true.   “A solicitation shall not be made by or on behalf of a member or law firm to a prospective client with whom the member or law firm has no family or prior professional relationship, unless the solicitation is protected from abridgment by the Constitution of the United States or by the Constitution of the State of California. A solicitation to a former or present client in the discharge of a member’s or law firm’s professional duties is not prohibited.  (http://avvoblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/ca-attorney-advertising-rules.pdf)

Bates was decided in 1977 but the trend to change the culture did not catch on right away, and Larry Parker was not up and running in 1983. He was admitted to the Bar in 1973 but the “My attorney got me…’’ ads were not everywhere. The infamous “Larry parker got me 2.1 million” ad aired in 1986 so I guess the die was cast—but it was not until the OJ Simpson trial (in my unscientific opinion) that things got REALLY bad.

What the public does not know is that of Larry got the guy in the ad 2.1 million he’d have had to have been a paraplegic. The ad was so misleading (an attorney may not  “(3) Omit to state any fact necessary to make the statements made, in the light of circumstances under which they are made, not misleading to the public…”  that the California legislature passed what I call the “anti Larry Parker” law. Prest-0 change-o–the ad changed to “Larry Parker got me… You know the story.” Thus Larry avoided actually saying anything misleading–while equally clearly doing JUST what he did with the original ad. Making it sound like anyone could get rich quick. People still believe this. It has never been true.

As an attorney it disgusted me. It still does.

So why am I bitching about this today? Because I busted my butt to help the son of a friend and got… well no respect. No appreciation. Almost no money—and then asked to AGAIN jump in and help the lousy businessman/son… only to be told I had “not done anything.”

No one would EVER think that to be asked for help and then be unable to deliver it (because necessary documents were never provided) would upset the attorney. We all know attorneys are—let’s list:

  • sharks
  • bottom feeding
  • worthy of being buried under the sea
  • rich
  • heartless
  • NOT worthy of braking for…

WANTING to be useful, helpful or able to give an accurate answer? Ha.

Well GUESS WHAT? THAT (being unable to give a good answer) made me crazier than the UTTER lack of appreciation. It STILL bothers me that I cant be sure this kid had any cause of action because he could not be bothered to fax me the contract. He thinks he can find an attorney to do this “on contingency.” This will so not happen. But hey–the ads make it sound easy, right?

No, there is no respect. Thank you Larry Parker. And thank you Robert Shapiro, Legalzoom and the entire misleading advertising industry.

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Surprise—You’ve Been Promoted!

March 6, 2012 2 comments

As some of you will recall, I went to work for Grayson Maxwell & Sugarman before I knew whether or not I had passed the terrifying Bar Exam. I wish I could say I remember those first months well-but I don’t. I remember I had to get a “professional” wardrobe—after all, my last job was in the USAF and I had green fatigues on every day! So I did. That I recall.

I seem to remember doing some really boring things like updating practice guides. The law changes every time a new case comes down—and sometimes when a legislature changes things. So the handy-dandy guides which tell lawyers what the law is and how the heck to do various things (trust me, we can’t read the statutes either—they are gibberish) change about twice a year.  These are in large ring binders and only some pages have to be replaced and if you mess up and replace the wrong page the books are FUBAR forever. BORING. This is my WORST thing on the planet Earth… Mindless tedium with stress. Thank God now I never need to do this any more.
But at least I got familiar with the darned things—they are very very useful. In any case, I suppose the partners must have given me SOME real work to do…for reasons which will soon become clear. Because what I do remember is the day I got my Bar results. Now this was back when there were two ways to find out—wait for the mail or go down to downtown LA and look at the posted results at the State Bar offices.

Those of us with jobs (and a low desire to suffer crowds of stressed out humans) waited for the mail. So one fine day in late November I was at work when I got a call from Jeff. Remember him? He was my boyfriend at the time and my class mate and fellow results awaiter. (He had sworn, when we were taking the test in 2 different locations, that he blew one of the essays completely…) Seems he had gotten the mail….. The results were in the mail… And HE HAD PASSED!

So I knew for sure MY mail had MY results—we lived not that far apart. And I knew if he had passed I didn’t I would die. So my bosses took pity on me, and let me go home right after that call.

My job was in Glendale (Glassell Park, really) and home was Sierra Madre. It was probably a half hour drive at non rush hour—which (to the best of my recollection) this was. So at, maybe,  3:30 I got home and parked at the top of the long sloping driveway. The mail box was at the bottom. We had been told a fairy tale that if you got a thick envelope it meant you had failed (I guess because they return your essays.) In any case, I went down the hill and opened the mailbox and there was a thick seeming envelope from the State Bar. ALL I REALLY remember is the looking at the contents of the envelope–on the ground–as I tried to see what,exactly, was in there. Then I remember seeing the words “The Committee of Bar Examiners is pleased…”

I read no farther. I think I called Jeff and then work. I felt oddly numb. Relieved the ordeal was over—but not elated as I had expected.

What else I don’t remember is if the partners waited… or if they fired the other associate immediately. Seems they had planned to ditch her if I passed. Bingo—I had a full caseload. I’d been promoted!!! I was an attorney. A real attorney. Clueless me. Oddly depressed me. Clients lives were in my inexperienced hands. Oy vey. (I wonder if the ditched associate still hates me?)

Stay tuned…

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Left Brain Right Brain

February 19, 2012 6 comments

Yesterday I did a play day. No papers to grade, no research to do—sunshine all day. I went for a hike with a friend and her two dogs, then we just did whatever we felt like all day.Of course, my left brain fired off a few “shoulds” but I told it to shut up. It mostly did. One of the benefits of hanging out with a friend is my left brain leaves me in peace.

Today I did some things I “needed” to do but they did not take all day. Naturally, that left my left brain—aka the Rational Mind—a lot of time to criticize. I “should” at least blog. Or jog. Or DO something. Anything, really.

Today I had an epiphany. Right brainers don’t live in the same strait jacket. If a sculptor isn’t sculpting on a given day there are not 2 gazillion “success” coaches telling him he (or  she) SHOULD be sculpting every day to achieve the “goal” of creating.

Writing is “creative”,  but there are so many people who think they “should” write every day. (I never did believe that, and I still don’t—but my writing has never been “normal”. I do very little editing. What I want to say comes out, either done or mostly done, most of the time. And if I don’t do it for a year it is still just fine.)

But law—law is all about the left brain. Geez—no wonder lawyers are bloody miserable. Left brain all the time.  The left brain is the prime source of the “lie that has to die.” So I shall be an artist.  For now, photography. Next? Dunno. It will be fun to see!

But  here’s the strange part: even in law school was not doing the whole thing “left brained.” For instance, one of the things you must learn in law school is legal research. (Never mind that most lawyers end up doing boring, repetitive mundane tasks that require NO research whatsoever.) I liked this. I have the mind of a sleuth—I love solving mysteries, solving puzzles–and doing legal research is puzzle solving. (EUREKA MOMENT- no wonder I like “House”!!)

Is there case law on this? What does the case law say? Does it help or hurt my client’s position? Had  that case law been periods or amplified? Many question MANY books. State law cases, federal cases —circuit courts, Supreme court—a veritable wonderland of clues and meandering labyrinths. Did I shepardize it enough?

Most law students agonize over knowing when they have done enough research. Lawyers do too, if they are working in a case.

I didn’t. I just knew that I knew when I had done enough. Of course, I never said this. I knew better. I am not sure how much  of this—of so much that I see now—is pure “intuition” (the right brain—see Jill Bolte Taylor video here) and how much is the “guidance” …about which more later.

Bu I do NOT regret learning law or doing law…but I think I will change hemispheres now.

What I did NOT go to law school to be…

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

“Competitive,  a situational pessimist”–these are two of the three qualities another “integrative lawyer” described as what her assumed audience went to law school because of, or to become. (The last was self reliant.” That I have been.)

Now I am beginning to wonder… am I REALLY weird? I know there are a few people reading this so feel free to provide a response. Am I the only non competitive lawyer out there? (I have been competitive in a few situations–but it has NEVER been my real motive for any activity.)

I drove across the country to go to a unique law school to GROW. To BECOME. To be able to make a difference in the world-my world and the world at large. As a child I really did not have a voice, so it did occur to me, after several years in the human  potential movement, that this was a huge benefit of being a lawyer.When I spoke on behalf of a client, my voice was heard. But I went to law school to be of service. I said as much in my essay, to gain admission to SCALE. They (the admissions committee) seemed to think it was a good motive!
But my inner driver–and I was indeed driven–was much more about knowing stuff and about  justice, and not at ALL about being competitive. Lucky for me SCALE took much of the competition out of the program by using nontraditional grades, and stressing learning above being “best.”  All my life it has been painfully obvious that for every winner there was a loser and that winning all the time was impossible. It never motivated me. Never.

Seeking truth and justice is very different from seeking a win or seeking to prove someone else is “less than.” Can I be alone on this mind set, in law? I suspect not– but when  one has been enrobed with the mantle of “lawyer,” the projection and preconceived notions tend to hide what and who is REALLY inside.

Which is one reason lawyers are so often  miserable. And if only person can win, then of every two lawyers on a case one is going to go down in defeat.

I knew I was “different” even in SCALE because we did some sort of personality inventory one day. I don’t think it was Myers Briggs,but I know it charted us in quadrants and I was the ONLY one in the upper left quadrant. I think I was shown as more of a risk taker then everyone else. (This is true. Not physical risks– risks like.. driving to LA to go to SCALE!)

And take these sort of risks I did. And do.

Now if I just knew why…

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