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May 2007

Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers - Why the Good Hearted are Scarce!

It wasn't until yesterday that I realized why good-hearted Rhode Island divorce lawyers like myself are scarce. 

First, let me clear up what I mean by "good-hearted".  When I say that I am referring to a Rhode Island divorce lawyer that is good-hearted I am thinking of one who cares about the person and not just their case. 

A "good-hearted" attorney cares about your family, your case, your financial situation, both your legal and non-legal issues, and your mental and physical health.

Good-hearted lawyers are willing to work with you on their fees and payment plans.  These lawyers are patient to some extent when you make excessive calls and he or she understands when you may be a bit more emotional and a bit less reasonable.  This type of attorney doesn't bill for every single minute of every call when you call to vent, complain about your spouse, or even about the attorney's own performance.

So why aren't there Rhode Island Divorce lawyers like that all over the place?  Why is it so scarce to find one who really cares about and may even be willing to compromise their own time, their fees, etc... because they care about you as both a client and a person?

I discovered the answer in the mail some time ago. 

First, a little background is appropriate.

I undertook a client for a substantially reduced fee.  The work involved was substantially more than anticipated, especially at the beginning of the case as my client got into some difficulty as emotions ran high in the divorce.

By the time the client received the first invoice, I was owed me another $1,500 in addition to what I had been given, even after I reduced my rate by almost 50%.  That will give you an idea of the amount of time that was required.

The client was understandably upset as a person helping to support two children and seeing a bill for monies that weren't readily available.  I felt horrible.  I know how hard it is to struggle for money.  I know how hard it can be with two children.  I know money can be tight.  I was moved by the client's situation and so I made the choice to compromise for the betterment of the client, for the children, and since I didn't want to hurt a good family I made the client an offer.

As a good-hearted Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer, I told the client that if the $1,500 was paid immediately I would consider it a flat fee and not charge the client a single dime thereafter for my services no matter how long the case lasted.   The client was agreeable to that.

Later the client called and was coming in with the $1,500.  As the client spoke with me, my heartstrings were tugged as the client asked me to reduce it to $1,300 and please wait for the other $200.  I verbally agreed.  By the end of the conversation, the client had reduced the amount being offered for me to continue my services to approximately $1,050 with a promise to pay the remaining $400+ as soon as possible thereafter but no later than the entry of the Final Judgment of Divorce.

Good-hearted, I overextended myself and I agreed.  Remember, that at this time I had already performed that work for 1/2 my rate and it was already due me for my services.  Now I was waiting for $400+ and trying to finish the case for her and get a good result.

A year later, the divorce was put through after preparing for trial on four (4) separate dates that were spread apart.  Dozens of hours were spent.  During that time I didn't see a penny.  During that time I followed-up on the client's calls and issued subpoenas at my expense for the client's case.

Finally, the Final Judgment did not enter because the Marital Settlement Agreement which was to be formalized into a document and presented to the court was not agreed upon with opposing counsel.  Disputes arose regarding the terms of the agreement, who was responsible for what, and which person was in contempt of an Order which was now only on the record of the court and not in a court Order.

On more than eight hearing dates after I had made the agreement with the client, I hoped I would receive the last $400 that was done a year prior.  Nothing came.  On about ten (10) occasions the client told me that the agreement we had made was not fair and the client promised to compensate me for me all my time after the house was sold.  The client continuously repeated that I would be paid the 50% reduced agreed upon rate when the client received compensation from the proceeds of the sale of the parties' house.  I told the client that I was very happy to hear that and I would continue representation.

Without getting into detail I developed a medical issue during the case.  Though I was determined not to let it affect my practice, the possible medical consequences were such that it was apparent that ignoring this "sign" (for lack of a better term) could cause me some severe medical issues beyond what was already occurring.

I made the mistake of mentioning this to the client, believing that the client would respect that I was providing the information to her by way of information and explanation for not getting back to her as quickly as I normally would.  By this point in time had the client paid me per our agreement her bill would have been over $6,000.  Yet I had been waiting for a mere $400 in what ended up being a bad business decision though also a caring one for the client's situation.

Finally, a disagreement arose between myself and my client.  The client was being rather unreasonable under the circumstances.  The client's expectations were well out of line with what the client could reasonably expect a court to order under the circumstances or a lawyer to do to try to achieve.  They were also out of line with what any attorney should be expected to do with a year of work without compensation and another $400+ still owed from a year prior for what amounted to something merely vindictive against the spouse.

Lawyers are people. I tried to discuss it reasonably with the client.  The client's unreasonableness at this juncture prevented me from objectively and zealously advocating for the client's interests.  

I determined that I had to withdraw from the case since I was no longer willing to act as the client directed.  Though there were many issues and other incidents that lead to the disagreement with the client, it was this last triggering event by the client's demands that caused a rift that prevented me from representing the client as was required by my ethical code of conduct.  I filed a Motion to Withdraw as well as a Motion for a Lien on the House Sale Proceeds to obtain the remainder of what I was owed.

One day the mail came.  The client filed a Rhode Island Disciplinary Complaint against me.  Essentially it is the client's position that (1) I did nothing for her, (2) that she paid me for my services in full, and (3) that I am a liar.  Lastly, she disclosed that my problem with her and my withdrawal was unethical.

Why aren't their more good-hearted Rhode Island Divorce attorneys out there?  This could be is precisely why!  The amount of work I did for this client was tremendous.  The amount I charged this client was ridiculously low. Some of it was my own family time.  

In the end, what was the reward for my efforts, for my good-heartedness, and for the substantial hours of work I performed without being paid?   It was a Disciplinary Complaint.  Wow!  So I was forced to defend my reputation and spend additional time responding to her claims that I am a liar and clear indication that the client does not even want to pay me the remaining $400+ that I was owed over a year ago. 

In the end, I received an informal reprimand for cutting over 66% OFF this woman's actual bill to try to help her during a tough financial time.  Can you imagine receiving a reprimand for trying to help someone?  In the end, I received nothing for all the extra time and costs of my services.

So ask yourself, how much does a good-hearted lawyer have to go through before the good-heartedness is drained.  It's an interesting question.  

It's a question I will certainly ponder because I know there are still good people out there. I also know there are those out there who are takers and who are "entitlement" minded.  I don't make a fortune and though I'd like to, I refuse to do so at the expense of good people who are going through the turmoil of a divorce. 

My sympathies go out to those clients who need an attorney who is good-hearted but they can't find one because of people like my former client have destroyed most of a lawyer's faith in human-kind.

Could this be why they are scarce?  Possibly.  This is only one of many stories I could tell.  I know of many other attorneys who are no longer good-hearted due to similar situations.