Saturday, March 20, 2010

Don't Do What Shakespeare Said To Do To Lawyers But Do Be Very Careful When Dealing With, Gasp, Lawyers

Divorce is hard. No matter what. All the cliches, all the jokes, all true. The thing is that there's pain and failure, fear and tumultuous emotions, memories that morph back and forth, trying to find The Moment it all went bad. The Moment you gave up because that was the less bad choice. Things  get divided even if you both think the silver is yours and there's no sentiment to it; just the facts please. It's almost done, lawyers are on it, retainers paid. Nodding helplessly at the size of the retainer, the  hourly fees that begin at 350., trusting that this stranger will help us navigate treacherous places and make it all move forward to the point that my someday-to-be-former husband and I can say we're friends, it's amicable, that there won't be our own private War of The Roses. Here's my story ...

My lawyer is with a rather good firm and I am looking at an officer of the court: I trust him. He tells me he'll need to work with a forensic accountant. Of course, that makes sense. There's no emotion in columns of numbers. They both send me statements on heavy paper with a watermark, expensive paper: there are six or seven pages  itemizing quantities of work and time. I shift a little  in the months to come, wondering why phone calls are billed at quarter hour increments, even one I'd made just to ask if he was running on time. A separate statement for costs.   If only opposing counsel were reasonable, my lawyer sighs, glancing  at his flat screen somewhere to the left of me to check the score of a baseball game. There will be more fees for subpoenas and there should be a deposition. The simple efficient division of property, the easy agreements, the efficiency of time ... that will not happen. It will be months before the now team of lawyers can look at everything and the bills will be for more than the one lawyer, who promised this wouldn't happen. The forensic accountant is well-known; my divorce will not be memorable to him. He's gathered and copied paper that will fill eighteen bankers boxes but somehow he is missing four pages and can't conclude his due diligence, a phrase that made him shake his head. The sixth month and the team of lawyers, paralegals and research assistants as well as the forensic accountant's firm are very busy and can't get to the paperwork received. Dave, the lawyer who once lived in my guesthouse, tells me to find another firm. The forensic accountant has stamped "draft" on a few worksheets, needs more times and money to begin the reports I need; drafts of reports will be considered "hearsay."

The new silver-haired lawyer is even more kindly, comes to my house and promises to resolve this within six to eight weeks.  "It's gone on too long and I knows what you need." He leaves with the retainer tucked into his polished black leather briefcase. "Six weeks" he said, but at the sixth month,  he tells me he needs more money. I am "unreasonable" when I  protest; monthly statements were mailed to the wrong address.  He is fired in the eleventh month, and still I have not been inside a courtroom. There are people who have been divorced, married and divorced again. This is the third year; the boxes and boxes of papers are no longer timely. Current paper is required.

The next lawyer seemed to be a kindly elderly lawyer and best of all - he shook his head at all the things that had not been completed and said he would do it for a flat fee. That's all he wrote and we signed it. When his eight months were over, his fraudulent taking of funds meant for his Client Trust Account, I discovered that he had done something rather serious that warranted the blackest mark before losing a license - Public Reproval. I sent away for his records, presuming one thing and sitting down hard as I read pages and pages. Arrested for making a false police report, but not just a nice ordinary one, one that alleged his having and then not having missing sex tapes involving some members of the loose Reagan Kitchen Cabinet. The NY Times sent an investigative reporter to his trial and discovered that he had never been the dean of a small law school as claimed. Five years of probation and five years of mandatory psychiatric care and back to work, even working with his city's lawyer referral service. 

 I thought I might be able to resolve this with opposing counsel myself; after  listening to him efficiently tell me why I should resolve it his way, he told me I needed an attorney. I thought of those small, wiry dogs that yip not bark, jump excitedly and pee a little each time when I hung up: he was right. I just wanted this to end.

My old friend Dave sent me to someone who listened to the whole story and sat back. As it turned out, my experience was not the standard and she couldn't help me. Just counting the boxes would overwhelm but she knew someone and just maybe ...

She asked questions, told me what she needed to see, and then did what she said should be done. It was over in under three months, four years after it had begun.

The forensic accountant who had collected all that paperwork that filled eighteen bankers boxes called me today and wondered if he could have a check. It seems he continued billing me after he was fired. 

My lady lawyer makes a very nice cappuccino. She sat back and said very gently this could have been avoided with a simple prenuptial agreement; she does those too. If you are in Southern California, you would be well served to meet her. Send me a private message if you need an attorney you can trust.

And please leave a note if you're suddenly worried that the rather famous lawyer sitting across from you could have been one of mine.


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