While medicine has the Hippocratic oath, there is nothing similar that applies to the legal profession, “And that’s a pity,” observes San Diego lawyer and divorce mediator Shawn Weber.
“Not only divorce, but across the board, so often our profession does more harm than good. Lawyers rationalize behavior that is criticized by judges as mean, unnecessary and calculated to inflame the situation instead of helping the parties achieve a fair resolution.
“In the name of ‘zealous advocacy,’ especially in family law matters, the legal profession often succeeds in inflicting lifelong harm to spouses and children. There is a reason people call us sharks. I want us to become more like dolphins,” Weber says.
“However,” he believes, “There are steps that clients can take which will minimize a result so negative that relations are damaged permanently, where the parties will not walk away feeling bitter about each other and our system of justice.
“It starts with taking an active role and not merely ‘just going along’ with whatever your lawyer wants.”
He points out six mistakes clients often make that frustrate a better outcome in any type of case, from divorce to a business dispute.
Mistake No. 1: Don’t concern yourself with your dispute resolution model. Just let your lawyer pick it for you.
Consequences: Attorneys have a vested interest in charging as high a fee as possible and will direct you toward the process that will yield the most billable hours at your expense. Not every family or business dispute requires marching off to court. There are other paths to resolution that lawyers should discuss with their clients, such as:
- Negotiation: The parties themselves attempt to resolve the issues. There is no third party involved to help find a solution. Success depends on each coming to the negotiation with a good faith desire to work together for a mutually satisfactory outcome.
- Collaborative Law, also called, Collaborative Divorce: Each party has a lawyer who works with the other side in an effort to resolve the issues. Typically, if there is a failure to settle the matter, the lawyers end their representation of the clients, who must then start over with new attorneys. This typically saves a great deal of money, and with lawyers who have good client control, cases get settled in much less time than by going into court.
- Mediation: There are two types of mediation and mediators, facilitative and evaluative. A facilitative mediator helps the parties discuss the issues and, hopefully, reach a mutually acceptable solution. Evaluative mediators propose actual dollar-and-cents solutions in addition to facilitating discussion.