First he lies on one side then he lies on the other side. Ordinarily I don’t make a habit of repeating lawyer jokes. And not because I don’t think some of them are funny. In fact, my sense of humor is such that I will pretty much laugh at anything—including myself and my profession. That’s why I don't have a problem with lawyer jokes. However, I do have a problem with lawyers who behave in a way that personifies the negative sentiments infused in the lawyer jokes.
There is nothing at all funny about the stories I have heard about lawyers behaving badly. On the third Thursday of each month, I conduct a legal self-help workshop called Breaking Up and Moving On! It is designed to provide women going through divorce with free legal advice.
The workshops are always well attended; some months there are as many as fifty women present. The participants share one horrible story after another about the circumstances that compelled them to attend the workshop. Sometimes I have to fight back tears as I listen to women describe the physical abuse they have suffered from an alcoholic or drug-addicted spouse, how they are losing their home because of a spouse gambling addiction or the years of humiliation they have suffered as a result of husband’s philandering.
Listening to these stories breaks my heart. But they are not the only horror stories I hear each month at these workshops. It is the stories the women tell about their attorneys that really cause my blood to boil and my pressure to rise. Last month, a woman shared this story: She hired a well-known local attorney to handle her divorce case, which included claims for alimony, custody and property settlement.
Eighteen months had passed, she had paid $20,000 in legal fees (she had the cancelled checks to prove her claim) and none of the issues had been resolved. She said whenever she called the attorney’s office she was forced to speak with her assistant and on the rare occasions when she did speak directly with the attorney, the attorney would never give her straight answers to her questions. And to add insult to injury, a few days later she would receive a bill for time the attorney spent on the phone giving her the run around. So she stopped calling and decided to attend one of my free workshops.
I created the workshop to help women who do not have attorneys. I assumed that women with attorneys would not need to attend a free workshop to get their legal questions answered. My assumptions were incorrect, because much to my surprise at least one-third of the women who attend these workshops have already hired an attorney. And they don’t come to bad-mouth their attorney; they come hoping to get answers.
What is the moral of this story and stories like these? The most important thing about being a good lawyer is something lawyers do not have to go to law school to learn. It is called the Golden Rule. The lawyer that’s right for you will treat you the way he or she would want to be treated. The wrong lawyer will do unto you whatever you let him or her get away with while at the same time getting as much money as he or she can out of you. The bottom line is this: women who hire the wrong attorney are no better off than women who have no attorney at all.