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I'm Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall and the focus of my law practice is on Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law.  I would like to preface this article by stating that what follows is my opinion regarding divorce and family law practice within Rhode Island.  There are countless divorce lawyers in our state that would not only disagree with me but would also prefer to see me disbarred rather than sharing my experience with hundreds of lawyers throughout the state simply because my articles inform the consumer and prospective client.  With that said, let me begin.

My philosophy about the practice of law is what I have come to call "Client-centric." 

What is that, right? 

It is a divorce law practice centered on your needs as the "client."   Now, since clients are the life-blood of a lawyer's practice.  A divorce lawyer must abide by all legal and ethical requests made by the lawyer.  Now, you may be thinking. . "Wait a minute, isn't every divorce lawyer's practice "Client-centric".

My answer is a resounding "No".   Yes, Rhode Island Divorce lawyers like myself rely upon clients in order to put  food on the table for their own families, to pay their own bills, and to provide for their own retirement.  However, the question I put to most Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers is this.  What standard of living are you creating for yourself at your clients' expense?   This is partially what I mean by "Client-centric."

Let me give you an example.  I drive a 1998 Chevy Cavalier with 130,000 miles on it.  I have this car because it fits my goal of maintaining a "Client-centric" divorce law practice here in Rhode Island.

The car has working air-conditioning for the summer season.  The heat comes on quickly in the winter.  It is comfortable, looks reasonably professional, and it gets me from here to there.  It gets excellent gas mileage and because it is an older car, the automobile insurance costs significantly less than a BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Hummer, and other status symbol cars driven by many of today's Rhode Island's divorce and family lawyers.

In truth, as a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer I am proud to drive this 1998 Chevy Cavalier because it is one of the best examples of my "Client-centric" divorce law practice.  That is why I drive it and that is why I choose to keep it.  Why?  Because it is better for my clients that I do so.

Could I get a newer car that gets good gas mileage, is comfortable, has air-conditioning and heat and looks professional?  Absolutely, but that comes at a price.  More money would have to be spent to get a newer car.  More money has to be spent on insurance.  More money may have to be spent on gasoline at today's outrageous prices.  That money would have to come from where?   My clients!  If it's not a necessity and doesn't benefit my clients then it doesn't get purchased, plain and simple.

Certainly I wouldn't mind a newer car with new bells and whistles, but NOT at the expense of my clients.   When I have a car that does its intended job there's no need to get a new one.  My standard of living and my ego do not require a fancy car.  After all, whatever car I have comes from income and benefits received through my clients . . . and let's face it. . .  when the chips are down it's not a lawyers's fancy car that gives you legal advice or goes into court to argue on your behalf at a divorce hearing.

In my opinion, most Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers are not even close to being "Client-centric."  In fact, most divorce lawyers in Rhode Island seem to be "Lawyer-centric", a practice concept I have chosen to depart from with great haste.  A "Lawyer-Centric" approach does not fit into the philosophy of my divorce practice because I choose not to achieve a higher standard of living if it means doing so will be at the expense of my clients' hard work and hard earned money.

In my humble opinion, as the title states, I believe that "Clients Deserve Better!"

The idea is whether you as a client want to engage or remain with a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer or Family Law Attorney who is  "Lawyer-Centric" or "Client-Centric." 

The difference is relatively straight-forward.  In a "Lawyer-centric" law practice, the focus is upon meeting the needs of the lawyer(s).  For instance, the needs of the lawyer include the lawyer's overhead expenses of having an office, telephones, facsimile, internet access, legal reasearch services, office rent, paper, copiers, office supplies, secretarial support, grounds maintenance, electricity, heat, water and sewerage costs, town/city equipment taxes, long distance charges, bank fees and any other expenses the lawyer must pay for before he or she even receives a dime in income. 

Secondarily, the lawyer must consider how much he or she has to pay for his or her own personal expenses for their own family, including a home mortgage, car payment, equity line, credit cards, gasoline expenses, home heating costs, central air-conditioning costs, electricity, telephone costs, high-speed internet costs, cel phone costs, home insurance, life insurance, auto insurance, business clothing, student loan payments from law school, possible daycare/childcare expenses, possible health insurance payments and monthly co-pays for medications, etc... to say little of entertainment, vacation costs, summer homes, boats, even airplanes for those lawywers with a higher standard of living.

If you take all of these financial expenses together (as I mentioned in the previous paragraph), it's fairly easy to see how many divorce lawyers in Rhode Island would focus on themselves as lawyers and their financial burden rather than on their clients.  After all, that's quite a heavy load a lawyer might have riding on their shoulders and they want to make sure they make enough money to cover all the office expenses and home bills from their client fees. 

Where does that money come from?  Where else?  You . . .  their clients!

Now you might be saying, that my analysis is a bit unfair because all divorce lawyers aren't (or can't be) like that.  Certainly I must say that my opinion holds true for most divorce lawyers in Rhode Island who have a practice focused on divorce and family law on a full-time basis.

Ultimately, if you see your attorney driving a Jaguar, a BMW or Mercedes it might be a good exercise to remember that you as the client are paying for that car.

It is certainly not a stretch for me to say that when you sit in a fancy law office waiting room reviewing a magazine until the secretary brings you to your Rhode Island divorce lawyer's office for your appointment that you consider a few things. 

If you are a client of that lawyer, consider that you are paying for that secretary, you are paying for the central air conditioning that keeps your lawyer and his or her other clients and staff cool during the summer.  You are paying for the heat in the winter that keeps your divorce lawyer and her or her other clients and the lawyer's staff warm in the winter.  You are paying for the lighting in each room that you pass by as you are led to your divorce attorney's office. 

There may even be a direct correlation here.  The fancier the office, the bigger the building, the larger the parking lot, the larger the grounds that need to be maintained, the nicer the car your lawyer drives, the more your lawyers the law firm has intheir office, the more you pay as a client to cover those expenses.

There may even be a correlation between your Rhode Island divorce lawyer's hourly rate and retainer and his or her desired standard of living.  In either event, you . . . the client . . . pay for all that!

People often complain that lawyers "charge too much."  Well this might explain it.  If you add all of this together for any lawyer, it's a fairly huge financial burden to bear.  Yet this is what people have come to expect.  Clients expect that it will cost "too much" to retain a good divorce lawyer.  Client's want to have an attorney with a fancy office, free parking, nicely kept grounds and a sharp looking outfit when you meet the lawyer in their office.  Ultimately, clients cringe as their initial meeting comes to a close and they wait for the financial bombshell to drop as the Rhode Island divorce lawyer states how much it will cost you for his or her services and what the initial retainer will be.

There you go.  The amount you pay a lawyer is not necessarily determined by your divorce lawyer's time, skill, competence or experience.  What you are really paying is dependent upon the lawyer's building, car, lifestyle, summer home, boat, airplane, vacations for weeks to the Bahamas, Hawaii or some other exotic place, private schools for their children, etc... 

What does it cost you to retain the lawyer?  It depends upon the lawyer and everything the lawyer has to bear financially.  That's what I refer to as a "Lawyer-Centric" approach to Rhode Island Divorce practice.  Everything revolves around the lawyer in the "Lawyer-Centric" approach.

Now let's change gears for a moment and consider a more modern approach.  We're in a recession and most divorce lawyers continue to do the same thing they've always done for decades, with few exceptions.  Yes, you guessed it . . . the Lawyer-Centric approach to divorce practice.  Why?  Because that's what they are used to.  Noone likes to sacrifice or compromise anything from their law office or from their lifestyle.  Everyone wants to move ahead and make more money, including lawyers.  Everyone wants to do everything without reinventing the wheel.

Yet here is the rub.  Times have changed.  Just about everyone has affordable access to the internet, servers, computer programs and technology that now allows us to take projects that once took two and a half hours and compress them into one hour or less.  Though we are in a recession, we also have access to newer, more advanced technologies that enable us to do things faster and more easily, the rates of lawyers not only in Rhode Island divorce proceedings but in many other areas of law have not budged.

The theory behind this is that many lawyers believe that simply because they have taken advantage of these new technologies to speed up their work, that they should not be deprived of the income that they would have received if the lawyer had chosen not to use the new technologies.  So what happens?  Lawyers end up billing the client for 2 1/2 hours of work when, in fact, the lawyers time may have been reduced to 1 hour due to new advances in technology and new software run on highly advanced computer systems.

Now certainly there is a cost to the lawyer for purchasing the technology, perhaps maintaining the technology equipment and such, and that needs to be paid for as well, yet at some point that should be considered "paid for" and the client should reap a benefit from that in the form of a reduced hourly rate, doesn't that make sense?

It reminds me of a toll bridge that pays for itself in its first two years of use but goes on collecting revenues for the state for another 20 years without any reduction for taxpayers.  Why?  Because now the monies are used to pay for other things in the state that the "powers that be" see as essential to the Rhode Island lifestyle.  Just as the monies collected from clients that have more than paid for the technologies used by the lawyers will go to pay for higher incomes, better cars, longer vacations in Arruba, etc...  Yet it's rare that the client gets the financial benefit of these advances in technology even if they are talked up as a selling point by the lawyer to get your business.

Here's where I come in.  You see, I don't like the "Lawyer-Centric" approach.  The reason I don't like it is simply because it continues to promote the notion that lawyers are all money hungry, greedy, overpaid, scam artists who are only out for themselves and everything they can get from you. 

The fact is, there are good attorneys out there who give their clients the benefit of everything financially possible.  Some lawyers are generous to a fault with their time and have harnessed every economical technology, software, product, and service for your benefit as a divorce client. The ultimate result that you get is either a lower rate or faster service reflected in the lawyer's billing.  That's the "Client-Centric" approach. 

The Client-Centric approach to the practice of divorce law (or any specialized area of law for that matter) is focused on the needs of the client.  The lawyer's focus then shifts to serving more clients for less income and less rewards in order to reach his or her own financial needs.  Yes, it means the lawyer may have to work harder and longer hours to achieve his or her personal financial goals.  However, with the Client-Centric law practice you end up paying for your divorce lawyer's time, skill, and experience and the maximized resources he or she uses.

I heard the term "Client-Centric" used by attorneys in a large firm as far back as two decades ago.  Unfortunately, the term was used in a different context.  As used at that time and by that firm, it meant to network further into a client's existing ties in the community to bring in more clients.  In otherwords it was a networking technique which continued to benefit the law firm by wining and dining the client and by using financial resources of the firm to essentially "schmooze" the client to build trust and get more client referrals, etc... 

I will not say that this was a bad business move.  After all, businesses (particularly law firms) are out there to make money and to continue to network and therefore survive.  Yet at what point does the client get a true financial benefit from today's technologies?  The use of a "Client-Centric" approach as I initially heard it used was merely a means of manipulated marketing.  It is not a wonder why lawyers do not have a good name today if this is a marketing method being circulated nearly two decades ago?

Well, it is a new millenium and perhaps I am a new pioneer and advocate for the client.  Money is not the "end all" and "be all" of things.  Personally I would rather make considerably less money and reap the rewards of a child properly returned to his mother being falsely accused of being a drug addict and of abusing the child.  A reasonable payment for my skills and hard work, a thank you card from the mother and the hug from that child were payment enough.

Yet here is the problem?  These Rhode Island divorce and family law lawyers are hard to find.  I will not say that I am a dying breed.  I will say that I am a growing breed and I hope that I can convince more divorce attorneys to go the way of the true "Client-Centric" practitioner, especially in divorce and family law.

Families here in Rhode Island are in need of help and healing.  In my humble opinion, most of the damage done today to our Rhode Island families is within the divorce and family law practice.  It can be helped financially by taking a Client-Centric approach in a divorce law practice and focusing on the needs of the client and the family unit.

I urge my fellow Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers and Family Law Practitioners to adopt a practice philosophy focused on the needs of their clients and not upon their bank accounts.  Material possessions are not the measure of a person's worth or the success of a person's life.  Though material possessions may provide enjoyment for a time, they do not provide the happiness and fulfillment of living a good life and helping our fellow men and women.

Turning around the idea of the stereotypical divorce lawyer will not happen overnight.  It will take time and the diligence of more than just myself and a few other practitioners.  In time I am hopeful that the black eye that lawyers have with the public will dissipate and people will see us for what we truly are and who we were truly meant to be  . . . servants of the people.

Authored By:

  Christopher A. Pearsall
Money Making Entrepreneur and Attorney-at-Law
70 Dogwood Drive, Suite 304
West Warwick, RI 02893

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