As a Rhode Island Lawyer focusing my practice exclusively in the area of Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law, I have learned that when people come in for a consultation they want to tell me their story and they want to be told exactly what they want to hear.
Yes, despite the fact that every divorce lawyer may not portray a realistic scenario to the potential client, clients need to realize that a lawyer may tell them exactly what they want to hear.
If you skimmed that last paragraph which was only one sentence long and you have already forgotten it, then . . . my dear reader . . .WAKE UP!
I'll repeat it because it is so crucial and I'll even be more blunt. Some lawyers . . . to get your business . . . will tell you exactly what you want to hear! They may give you results that are not realistic not just for your divorce case but for ANY divorce case.
Lawyers are businesspeople and they get hit by economic times too. Without clients they don't have income. Without income, many of them can't afford that cushy little porshe or mercedes they drive. Without income, they may have to consider making a late payment on their house or their summer home. Without clients, the lifestyle a lawyer may have developed for him or herself doesn't last long. So the lawyer needs to bring in clients.
That may be you! Wouldn't it be nice to go into a divorce lawyer and give him or her a quick snapshot of your life with your spouse and kids and then he or she tells you how everything is going to be fine, that they've dealt with this scenario a million times before and that if you hire them, then they will deal with all that anxiety for you and it will be over before you know it. Imagine a lawyer telling you that all this stress you are feeling right now is needless because the lawyer is going to get you a great divorce settlement and that you should let him or her deal with it and your troubles will be over.
Now, here you are all comfortable and feeling that this lawyer is going to take care of all your divorce troubles when he tells you the cost. If you are especially stressed out, are you likely to agree to provide him or her with a $3,500 retainer at an hourly rate of $250 per hour? Most people will find a way to do so because the lawyer is offering a solution to divorce stress and anxiety in your personal life. What is more painful to you? The stress and anxiety at home or parting with a few thousand dollars. In many instances the stress outweighs the money.
Some, but not all lawyers will do this. Let me give you an example that came up recently but I'll change the players and the issue itself to protect the privacy of the individual involved.
Clyde met with me for a consultation. Clyde wanted to divorce his wife Cassie. Clyde and Cassie had a fight and Cassie told Clyde that he could go ahead and divorce her because she'd be set for life. Clyde didn't know what Cassie was talking about so he asked her. "Well", Cassie snapped, "I've already been to a lawyer and he already explained to me that you're going to have to pay me alimony and I'll be doing just great and you'll be broke." Clyde looked at her in disbelief.
"Really?" Clyde stated in disbelief. "Yes.", Cassie answered. The lawyer told me that you'll have to pay me alimony "indefinitely". Clyde answered, "I don't think that's true Cassie. You may want to check with another lawyer."
Cassie got angrier. "I don't need you telling me what to do. I've already seen a lawyer and I know what is going on and my lawyer said you're going to be paying me alimony FOREVER!"
"I don't think that's how it works Cassie. So you may want to check with another Rhode Island divorce lawyer." Clyde was urging her now.
"Nope. I like this guy and he's told me exactly how it's going to go for you and I like that just fine. So go ahead and serve me with the papers because I don't like the way you're handling the money as it is."
In this situation it isn't hard to see what has happened. Cassie went to a lawyer for what was probably a free consultation and she told the lawyer what was probably only her side of the story. The economy is hurting and the attorney figured out what Cassie wanted to hear in order to hire him as her attorney. So the attorney painted Cassie a very rosy picture and told her exactly what she wanted to hear in order to get her as his divorce client.
Only too often this is the rule rather than the exception.
It is best to remember the old adage. If something sounds too good to be true. . . it probably is! The easiest way to get a divorce client is to tell him or her what they want to hear instead of being honest about the process and what may or may not occur.
If a lawyer is pressing you to engage him or her as your divorce lawyer, usually this is a warning sign. If you don't hear a few things that put you on edge during a consultation because they cause you to worry a little, this is another warning sign. If you hear everything you want to hear AND you are pressured into retaining the lawyer's services quickly this is a warning sign as well.
On rare occasions when there is an uncontested divorce or when the parties have good respect and communication with each other, then it is reasonable to hear everything you want to hear from the lawyer. Otherwise, if the lawyer doesn't raise some possible issues that give you cause for concern, then you should consider whether the lawyer is just telling you what you want to hear just to get your business, especially if the lawyer stands to gain a substantial hourly rate off the arrangement.
In the end, be careful. If you hear exactly what you want to hear when there could be issues of alimony, child support, visitation, placement, retirement plans and real estate division, then you should shop around by selecting lawyers who are known to routinely practice divorce law before the Rhode Island Family Courts.
Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
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Copyright 2009. Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
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