Litigate or Mediate
By Georgia Petrie, Attorney
How many times have you been to court? Unfortunately for some, too many times.For others, never. As an attorney, countless times have I been in court handling family law matters like divorce, custody, domestic violence, support issues and the like. One of the largest complaints I receive from clients and other litigants is their anger and frustration when they see their attorney talking, laughing and having what appears like a good time with the attorney for the other side. Clients get it in their heads that something foul is afoot, like there’s some conspiracy against them because the attorneys get along and have friendly conversations in the courtroom halls. The truth is, clients should want the attorneys to get along, no matter how much they hate the other party. It saves time, stress and, most importantly, money when the attorneys are friendly with each other.
What litigating parties need to understand is that certain areas of law are specialized. In many counties, the same majority group of attorneys handle the same kinds of cases and see each other all the time. A community is formed in this situation and bonds are created when attorneys work on multiple cases against each other. It’s not always true that attorneys form these friendships but many times it is. Attorneys become personal friends, sharing lunches, meetings and war stories. Attorneys are human too and need these bonds to assist in keeping stress levels down. They need to be able to call upon each other for consultation, opinions and practice suggestions. In the long run, it will only help you in your case.
I once had a client who hated the other side with all of her being. Likewise, her husband was bitter and angry. She wanted to hire a “bulldog”. There was no way the parties could resolve their issues themselves and both wanted the other to suffer. When we got to court, she was so angry that I was having a friendly conversation with the attorney for her husband, she threatened to fire me. Once I spoke with her, however, and asked her to trust me, she calmed down and waited patiently. Through peaceful, friendly negotiations, I was able to accomplish all of her goals for her case. She got everything she wanted, the division of assets was fair and the children had a stable schedule that both parties could work with. We set boundaries and had very specific orders, eliminating as much potential confusion as possible. We were spared the incredible expense of having to be involved in multiple hearings and trial by coming to an agreement on all the issues.
When attorneys do not get along, it’s as if the parties are handling the case themselves. It’s much more difficult to reach agreements because emotions and personal feelings get in the way of figuring out what is right. Arguments ensue and more time is spent on fighting over who is right rather than resolving issues. The end result of this situation? The client pays fees that would otherwise not have been incurred. A highly contentious litigation with attorneys who do not get along can be stretched out for years costing the client thousands of dollars in fees, with the end result virtually the same as if a compromise was reached and the money kept in the family.
And why would people do this to each other? Because it’s a matter of principle? In the world of litigation, principle will get you nowhere but the poorhouse. Swallow your pride and put prinicples aside. When hiring an attorney, make sure they get along with the other side. Trust their advice and let them do their job the best way that they know how. They do, after all, represent your best interests.