By John Castellano, Partner, Hartley, Maxwell, Castellano
Novelist Agatha Christie said, “Good advice is always certain to be ignored, but that’s no reason not to give it.” Whether or not Ms. Christie’s observation is true, we often treat good advice like it comes from an adversary. Our firm’s experience points to a simple solution: Better decisions come from surrounding ourselves with trusted people and asking for their opinions… and then heeding those opinions.
Clients pay lawyers for legal advice. For us, “legal advice” means the application of law to the facts of a case in order to counsel a client on what to do (or not to do) next. Our advice is not cheap. Yet with so much on the line, both financially and in the immeasurable terms of time spent with their children, it can be a challenge to get clients to follow advice. This can be frustrating for clients looking for great results – and it’s really frustrating for attorneys wanting to deliver those excellent outcomes.
For example, one attorney I know advised a particular client to “walk away” from any conflict, even if provoked, while the parties were still residing in the same home, to minimize the possibility that the other party will falsely allege domestic violence in order to strengthen his/her child custody case. Opposing party initiated a heated discussion; rather than “walk away,” as advised, the client followed opposing party from room to room during a loud argument. Opposing party claimed fear of violence; and, predictably, the custody waters were muddied by a temporary domestic violence restraining order.
Another attorney I know advised a client, a victim of domestic violence who had obtained the protection of a restraining order, to follow the restraining order and not have any contact with the domestic violence perpetrator. This attorney specifically admonished the client not to initiate any contact with the abuser. The attorney counselled the client that the court might view contact with the perpetrator as evidence of a lack of fear and, therefore, that voluntary contact would be used as evidence to support a dismissal of the restraining order. Sadly, the client pursued contact with the perpetrator, against the attorney’s advice, and as a result, the Court terminated the restraining order.
Attorneys, and family law attorneys especially, need to remember that our clients are going through one of the worst times of their lives. We are not psychologists, but we are open to the possibility that this also means that clients may not be in command of their best decision-making skills when they are embarking on a family law dispute.
Attorneys need to recognize this fact and clients need to follow the advice they are paying for, working as a team, with the attorney providing options, pros and cons for each option, and an ultimate recommendation upon which the client can make an informed decision.