In my years of practice as a Rhode Island Divorce * Lawyer I've seen my share of lawyers and their tactics for settlement. Their tactics give a significant insight into their views on the philosophy of settlement if they consistently take the same approach.
All in all I can understand and appreciate why the public looks at most lawyers with a sense of distrust and even disgust. Each person who comes to see us as lawyers has a certain objective in mind and they come to us as the profession whose job it is to obtain that objective with the law and our skills in its use as our weapon. After all, it is called an "adversarial system" for a reason and a lawyers code of ethics requires us to represent our client's interests zealously provided our representation is within the bounds of the law.
Personally, Rhode Island Family Court is a different animal, so to speak, at least in my humble opinion. Just consider divorce itself as one aspect of Rhode Island family law. What is a lawyer's resolution tactic for a divorce?
Let me give you a few settlement views that I've heard stated by a few Rhode Island divorce and family law lawyers over the years.
Divorce Attorney A: I fight for whatever the client wants for as long as it takes or until they are out of money and then I withdraw from the case.
Divorce Attorney B: You have to budget. If I know I need to bring in 50 clients for the year and make five thousand off each client to make what I need to make for the year then I see how I'm doing for the year and if I'm making more money than expected I may try to settle the case early if the client might be a good referral source. Otherwise I will keep going until I get to three quarters of the budgeted amount and then settle their case.
Divorce Attorney C: If I take a client who has very little money then I'll try to settle the case right away. I mean we all want to get paid, right?
Divorce Attorney D: Settling the case isn't really up to me. It's up to the divorce client. If the client isn't getting everything he or she wants then I keep fighting until they get it or they tell me to give in on the point. As long as the client is paying me then I'll keep fighting.
Divorce Attorney E: If a divorce client is willing to settle right away but I see something that he or she is legally entitled to in a divorce then I'll push that point if I feel it's something they should get. Sometimes you have to churn things up to make a divorce client worth taking. When I've made a reasonable amount on the case then I let things cool off and the client will usually lead me right to the settlement table because it's too emotionally draining.
Now, I want everyone reading this to realize that these are only five perspectives out of thousands of divorce lawyers in Rhode Island. This does not mean they are representative of all Rhode Island divorce lawyers because five (5) simply does not equate to thousands. There are good divorce lawyers out there. The hard part can be finding the ones with the type of settlement strategy you are looking for.
I would imagine that some people would find these strategies appauling and typical of every lawyer. That simply isn't so and I urge everyone not to take that idea from this article. My point in writing this article is to point out something rather simple. In all my years of practice, I don't recall an divorce attorney stating in my presence a settlement philosophy that makes sense not only for all couples but for the court as well.
So let me state, for the record, my settlement philosophy and explain it briefly. If you like it, GREAT! If you don't like it... then I'm probably not the divorce lawyer for you. I'm even happy to put my name to it as a quote because I believe that if a client truly knows where the lawyer's head is at then he or she can avoid wasting time if I'm not the type of lawyer he or she is looking to hire.
Attorney Pearsall: Make sure the client knows his or her rights and alternatives and then settle the case within the client's desires. If the opposing party is being unreasonable and the client wants you to fight for his or her rights, then if you can't reach a creative compromise, hunker down and do what needs to be done to fight for the client.
If I were to spell things out my philosophy of divorce settlement, I try to settle every case right from the outset to prevent damage to any minor children, to the client, to any future relationship the parties might want to preserve and to resolve the matter so that the possible mental, emotional and financial damage caused by the divorce is minimized. This helps the parties and the court.
When I meet with prospective clients I keep it a bit simpler when I explain my philosophy. It goes something like this:
I try to settle every case as early as possible. Reaching settlement saves you money, time, stress and aggravation. If settlement isn't possible, then I do what needs to be done within the bounds of the law, ethics and a genuine sense of morality.
If you like lawyers, you probably won't like me. There are very few lawyers that I know, like and trust. Personally, I find it hard to see how other lawyers do not have the same philosophy I have that settlement should be Priority #1. The only real benefit to not settling a divorce case quickly goes to the divorce lawyer through payment of additional fees.
Divorce is already hard enough for people, even when its amicable. People have to plan on a new and changed lifestyle and usually additional costs and responsibilities. Especially when there are children involved, it should be most important, in my humble opinion, to resolve the divorce and preserve the parties and as much of the remaining family unit as possible.
Divorce is a legal step to moving the parties along to a new and different lifestyle. It's hard enough as it is for the spouses and children. I would hope other divorce lawyers in Rhode Island would think as I do and help the remaining family unit or relationship to survive and have the best chance at thriving.
Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
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