As we are in the middle of March Madness I am amazed by the skill and dedication of these young men. With only five of them on the court at a time, their ability to work so well together (or at least on most of the teams) to reach a common goal of a “W” is inspiring. With the same set of tools as every other team, the question is how those five individuals use those tools (ball, net, court) and their teamwork to achieve their goal.
This is a combination not unlike what we experience as family law practitioners. Are we really so different? There are (usually) five of us working toward the same goal: two parties, two lawyers and a judge all aiming to reach a fair resolution. Sure, our definitions of “fair” may differ, but we are all working with the same tools. So, is it really necessary for all cases to start off on opposite sides? Why can’t we at least try to start on the same team? A team of five can accomplish much more than two teams of two with one referee.
How often are we, as practitioners, asked: “How long will this take” or “When do you think I will be divorced” or “How much will this cost”? The answers to these questions hinge largely on the five players involved. Will the attorneys work together with a mutual respect for the law, or will it be a fight for every penny, every lamp, and every holiday? It is painful when attorneys, rather than diffusing the tension and refocusing the emotions of a client, take on the client’s cause, however irrational or emotionally charged that cause may be, and run with it. (The exception to this of course is that sometimes a client is truly being wronged and a petition for exclusive possession or order of protection is essential, or it becomes necessary to fight fire with fire). But why must the attorneys be the ones to throw the first punch? Aren’t we supposed to be the professionals?
It should be our intention to engage in positive communications with the other side to find common ground on any issue, and to truly consider the pros and cons of our client’s situation and seek a healthy emotional resolution for both parties, and their children. A part of our role as counsel is to explain to our clients the reality of what they are asking for, and the financial and emotional impact of their choices. Not counseling our clients in this manner is providing them with a disservice. A family law matter is so much more difficult when an opposing side fights for the sake of fighting; that sees you, the opposing counsel, as a true enemy, worthy of insults and dramatic commentary, rather than a fellow professional worthy of respect. Such behavior is a foul on the basketball court, but sadly such fouls are not called nearly as often in the courtroom. Just like a college basketball team can play a clean game without fouling, it is possible to adequately represent a client without resorting to unprofessional tactics against your opponent.
When confronted with an opposing counsel who insists on being disrespectful, I am reminded of the age-old motto we teach our children: “If you can’t say anything nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all”; so I bite my tongue and secretly wish for a substitution of attorneys. However, that doesn’t solve the bigger problem that such an approach doesn’t get us anywhere but an unhappy client and a bigger bill left for both sides to collect.
So, I am drawn back to the team of five young men on the basketball court with a single ball, a net, a court and 40 minutes of playing time. These men are younger than we are, and in better shape, but they understand that the game is about working together. Although their individual statistics may be
worth something to them on a personal level, in the end they are on that court to get a win, however the individual points and rebounds add up, a win is a win, So although the five on our team aren’t necessarily designed to work together and we aren’t playing for a win, who says we can’t all play nice together and shoot for a fair resolution? (pun intended) As my boss (he wanted to be a part of this article in some fashion) says with nostalgia from his sports coaching days for his kids: “You are my opponent, not my enemy”.
About the Author
Tiffany Alexander is a Partner at Hoffenberg and Block, LLC, a full-service Chicago Family Law Firm serving clients from Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will and McHenryCounties in Illinois for over 45 years. She focuses her legal practice solely in the field of family law and has done so since being admitted in 2005.