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Episode 54 - Things You Should Consider When Hiring a Divorce or Family Law Lawyer

Episode 54 - Things You Should Consider When Hiring a Divorce or Family Law Lawyer Image

11/20/2018 9:02 am

Hiring the right lawyer for you in your situation is a critical decision. Often however, people do not know what to look for to make sure the lawyer they are interviewing is right for them. In this show, we talk about the information that people should be considering when deciding to hire a lawyer. We answered questions such as: "Does the law school the lawyer went to make a difference? How important are awards? What should I consider when reading on-line reviews? Should I hire a specialist? Does the size of the firm matter?"

Transcript

Todd:                    Six months ago, I needed to buy a new smartphone, so I did what most people do, I went to Google. I typed a search in, and it is amazing how much information is out there regarding which phone to buy. That got me to thinking. What information is available regarding hiring an attorney, and not just an attorney, but the right attorney for you? The answer I've got really is there wasn't much out there.

Leh:                       There isn't, which creates a great opportunity to talk about it.

Todd:                    It does, because look, it's so interesting because the fact that choosing the right attorney is incredibly important, but people often spend more time researching what phone to buy, what restaurant to eat at, other issues, than on the attorney that they're considering to represent them in complicated litigation, that could have a long-lasting impact on their lives.

Leh:                       In their defense, there's a lot more articles out there to whether to get a Google Pixel or iPhone or what not, than there is about hiring a lawyer.

Todd:                    That brings us to today's show.

Leh:                       It does. Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio, on News Radio 106.7. Here, you will learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

Leh:                       Most of the time, we do take a topic, or a question, or a problem that someone's facing and we explore it. We dive in deep and address the challenge that's been presented in a way that hopefully provides the listeners with some valuable information. That's what we're going to do today. We're going to hopefully give some more information for listeners, so they can make a really good decision when it comes to hiring the right lawyer for them.

Todd:                    Absolutely. We're going to address a question that many people should be asking, when they're confronted with a legal problem. What should I look for when it comes to the lawyer or law firm that I'm going to hire to help with the divorce or similar legal matter? In answering this, we're going to address some obvious things, and some not so obvious things. At the end of the show, you're going to have several take-aways to help you choose the right lawyer for you.

Leh:                       Let's dig in.

Todd:                    Absolutely.

Leh:                       let's start with the obvious ones.

Todd:                    How about does pedigree matter?

Leh:                       When we say pedigree, we probably should say what law school did they go to, where did they go to undergrad, that sort of thing. For family law, it's so different than so many different other areas of the law. I think my short answer is no, it doesn't matter.

Todd:                    I agree with you. Unless you're a show dog, pedigree really doesn't have anything to do with it. It's I have seen people from some of the top law schools in the country, go into court and it's borderline embarrassing. They can't litigate their way out of a paper bag. And then I've seen people who have gone to schools that maybe don't have that same-

Leh:                       Reputation.

Todd:                    -reputation, and you look at them and you're like wow, they know what they're doing. They are confident, they know their way around the courtroom, they understand the issues, they understand the law. Especially as it relates to family law, I agree with you 100%, and pedigree really does not matter, which is why you have to spend the time to understand who you're hiring and get to know the attorney to see what they're abilities are, not just their qualification, what their actual abilities are.

Leh:                       I'm going to add to that too, because you and I have both seen some absolutely brilliant lawyers, when it comes to understanding the law, but family law ... That works great in a securities environment or something having to do with politics and the law surrounding politics, and that sort of thing. But family law, it's impacting people's lives at a personal level, so there's a high level of emotion. When you have some of those people with these high level intelligence, or IQ, sometimes you don't see a very high level of EQ. What happens is you have someone that's very, very smart with an amazing resume, but when they explain the resolution to the problem, or say, "Here's how we need to deal with it," but they do it in a way that doesn't connect with the client, the client may not listen, because they don't emotionally trust the person giving the information.

Todd:                    And the message is lost. I agree, which is why sort of we'll use Meriwether & Tharp as an example. We will spend a lot of time on what we call "intakes", where we will talk to people on the phone. The reason we do that is because we understand that people need to get to know us. They need to actually hear us, speak to us, and therefore, we will talk to people in the phone. People will call and immediately be connected. They'll jump through a couple hoops, just to give a little bit of basic information, and then they are put on the phone with an attorney, so they can really start to understand who it is that will be walking into court with them, what the firm is about, and get some of these questions answered.

Leh:                       Right. That gives them a chance to understand a little bit more about us. We put a lot about us on our website too, so people can read about it. Let's go to the next sort of obvious one. Do awards matter, because you'll see things out there like Avvo superb rating, or these are some of the common ones that people see in at least the family law and the criminal industry and that sort of thing. You don't see it in a lot of the high corporate litigation per se, but you definitely see it in this. Super Lawyers is another one.

Todd:                    I gave myself three trophies last week, and I think it's pretty impressive.

Leh:                       You did?

Todd:                    I was number one in each one of those competitions.

Leh:                       Did your wife give them all to you?

Todd:                    My daughter.

Leh:                       Your daughter, okay.

Todd:                    What people don't understand is many of these awards are, for lack of a better way of putting it, it's pay to play.

Leh:                       Some of them are.

Todd:                    Some of them.

Leh:                       Some of the are very-

Todd:                    Some of them are-

Leh:                       Some are very legit though.

Todd:                    And some of them are relationship based, where it's not actually coming from the clients that are being helped by that attorney, but other people that they know in the industry. Again, are they tools? Yes. Are they incredibly valuable? No. Keep in mind, some of these tools, we partake in that basically, or utilize those tools, I guess is what I'm trying to say, and our attorneys have top ratings but again, when we step back and we really look at how we got those ratings and other attorneys got those ratings, does that really, or is it going to tell you exactly who the attorney is, and what they can do? No.

Leh:                       I think that's an important point. I think it's a factor that people should consider. If you've got a situation with a lot at stake, maybe financially, that is something that you can consider, but I think going back to it's not the ultimate deciding factor, just because they have a number of awards behind their name. I say that and I have a number of awards if you look on our website.

Todd:                    My daughter gave you three other trophies, right?

Leh:                       She did? Add those into what I already have, wow, I'm just awesome. It comes back to I could be the best possible lawyer out there, but if you don't feel comfortable with my advice, you may make the wrong decision through the process. That should be a factor that you look at. If you find someone that seems like you feel comfortable ... We'll get into the sort of not so obvious factors later, but definitely, it's something to consider, because there are some out there that I think the awards are ... they're not as merit-based as they should be, but there are some that are merit-based.

Todd:                    As opposed to some of the awards that the way that they are given, and whether or not that you are selected to receive that award, how about reviews?

Leh:                       I think reviews are very important. When I say reviews, there's two types of reviews. There's some websites that allow lawyers to review other lawyers, and then clients to review. There's I think Lawyers dot com allows for a peer review by other lawyers. Avvo's another one that has peer reviews, where other lawyers endorse other lawyers, and then you've got client reviews. I think you've got to sort of take all these together as a package.

Leh:                       When you're looking at client reviews, I want to make one important point here. You may read one or two bad reviews. As lawyers, we can't really respond to those bad reviews because perhaps we had a client come in and they wouldn't listen to our advice. We told them, "I'll make this argument for you in court, but I'm 99% sure it's a losing argument," but they insist, and we're their advocate, and we do, and then they lose, and then they blame us and write a bad review. Because of the ethics rules, we can't respond to that. We can't tell everybody else, this is what really happened, because we're not allows to. When you read those reviews and you see 10 fabulous reviews and then one one-star review, you need to take that into consideration, so don't necessarily eliminate one lawyer because he or she had one bad review, but the rest of them were phenomenal.

Todd:                    Once again, you shouldn't be only considering reviews, when making this determination. You look at someone, this is what I'm going to say, if you look and somebody has 10 reviews, if two of them are incredible, two of them are terrible, and the other ones are good, but nothing ridiculous, then that's pretty normal. You can't make everybody happy all the time. Some people, even though they got-

Leh:                       Especially in divorce.

Todd:                    That's right. Now, if you go to someone and they have 50 reviews and 49 of them are bad, at that point, maybe that should be an influencer, in terms of making your decision as to which attorney to hire.

Leh:                       I think that's going to offset any amazing awards they may have. If they have a number of awards by their names, but nobody seems to like them, him or her-

Todd:                    You can't ignore that.

Leh:                       You can't ignore that. You've got to look at the entire package. Up next, we're going to share with you some not so obvious tips that will give you the insight you need to hire the right lawyer for you.

Leh:                       Welcome back. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are the partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio, on News Radio 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at Atlanta Divorce Team dot com.

Todd:                    Today, we are talking about what to look for and what you should look for when hiring a divorce attorney. We just got done talking about what I'm going to call the "obvious things": does pedigree matter, what about any awards the attorney has been awarded, what about reviews. Those are all factors and those are some of the obvious things that you should be looking at, when deciding on who you're going to hire to represent you. Those obvious things aren't the only things you should be considering. We are also going to be discussing and are discussing some of the not so obvious things, that need to be considered.

Todd:                    We're now going to jump into some of the not so obvious things. Here are two big questions we're going to dive into. Leh, when we say this, what does it mean, "Generalists versus specialists"?

Leh:                       I'm going to break this, family law is separate from any of the other areas. Some people may have heard like these big firms like Alston and Bird and King & Spalding, and they focus on some of the top corporate law and those type of related areas in the country. But when you start getting into family law, you don't have those big corporate firms doing family law. You either have generalists or specialists. When I say, "generalist," meaning the attorney handles a wide variety of areas of law, so they may do criminal law, personal injury, and family law and divorce.

Leh:                       Then you've got the specialists, and that's what we are at Meriwether & Tharp. All we do is family law and divorce. We specialize in that one area of the law. Some people, in a situation where there's an advantage to hiring a generalist, at least on the surface, on the surface, generalists will charge a lower hourly rate than a specialist, because they're practicing in all these different areas, so they don't have the special expertise so they charge less. On the surface, like I said, that sounds good, but in our experience in litigation ... and keep in mind, when I say litigation, I mean just the process of going through a divorce. We're very resolution focused. I'm going to get into what being a specialist, how that helps someone resolve their case, rather than litigating, but I'm using that term loosely here.

Leh:                       When you go through a case, when you have a generalist, who isn't familiar with the judge, who isn't familiar with the legal process of a divorce, the total cost, attorney fee cost can be much, much higher, because they spend time doing things that don't need to be done. While they're actual hourly rate's lower, they spend more time working on the file than perhaps a specialist does.

Todd:                    Yeah. By specializing in this area, and I can speak for us because this is what we do, we are able to not just deal with the issues, but we're able to efficiently deal with the issues. We recognize where there are inefficiencies in a case, we can come up with, which we have with different processes, and different ways to tackle different issues in a case, as efficiently as we possibly can. Every person that we have on the staff is trained to deal specifically with family law and family law related issues, which makes basically the work that we're doing much more efficient than someone who is trying to juggle some PI work, and some criminal defense work, and some family.

Leh:                       And we say, "PI work," we mean personal injury.

Todd:                    Personal injury.

Leh:                       Yeah. We decided to specialize years ago, because we felt like we could deliver a better service to our client, and there's a lot of firms that did the same thing, because when we specialize, we can actually, while our hourly rates on the surface may be higher, we don't spend time going down paths that either we know the judge doesn't care about, or just aren't going to be productive towards resolving the case, because we've handled so many.

Leh:                       The other thing is we ... this is sort of this not so obvious, the sort of the unknown factor. We develop a great level of experience about the process and the consequences of certain decisions throughout the divorce process. What I mean by that is we deal with emotion daily. If there is someone's about to make a decision that we, in our experience is going to cause the other side to emotionally get upset, we will caution the client towards going down that path because, based on our history of dealing with cases, the case could suddenly become twice as expensive because of all the emotion and the turmoil that decision will make.

Leh:                       Secondly, in that same area, when we decide to ... somebody comes in, we've seen this all the time, somebody enters a parenting plan, and they think it's a great idea, and we go, "Well, hang on a minute, we've seen this type of parenting plan multiple times, and in almost every situation they wind up back in court just a year later. You can do what you want, but we don't recommend this." It's that experience factor.

Todd:                    That's right. Where a generalist maybe has handled a few of these cases, but hasn't handled the modifications and the contempts that come afterwards, when a plan that uses that kind of language breaks down. Absolutely, and it goes with anything, there are attorneys out there, if you're looking for a criminal defense attorney, there are attorneys out there who are dedicated to the practice of criminal defense. And then there are some who are more generalists, and they handle a whole bunch of cases, and look, sometimes it's because they want the flavor of a whole bunch of different, interesting things that they're handling.

Todd:                    Sometimes it's just a finance issue. It's, "I would love to be only a criminal defense attorney, but I don't have enough work, so I will take some personal injury cases and I'll take some family law cases," or, "I just want to do family law, but I'm not getting enough work, so I'm going to try and do some other things to make some money." But whatever the reason is, that's not a bad motivation to earn a living, but whatever the motivation is, by spreading yourself out too thin, you don't get the benefit of really deep diving into each of these issues, and not just figuring out what works at the beginning, but on the back end, once it's in practice, what works, what doesn't work, what judges like and don't like, and what happens when things break down.

Leh:                       I think that, and to follow up on that point, when we specialize, we're not just specializing in family law, I keep going back to family law is very unique. There is so much emotion involved. There are third parties involved, children, so it's critical to up on top of psychology that's relating to this, not that we're psychologists, but-

Todd:                    We work with them daily.

Leh:                       We work with them all the time. We work with Guardian ad Litems. We learn which ones we think are ... with anything, there are some that are better than others. There are some guardians that are better for certain types of factual situations than others. When we, as a firm, handle these all the time, then you start to identify, oh, I've got this fact patten, here's the guardian we need on this case to dig into this.

Todd:                    This is what I would say, if I'm summing up the advice that we're giving here. Just because somebody is a generalist does not mean that they are a bad choice for you. What we are saying is that at that point, it is opening up the need, creating the need for you to dive a little bit deeper when you are interviewing the attorney, better understand what they know, what they've experienced, and make sure that they have the experience to guide you and counsel you, no matter what the issues might be, because again, sometimes you start with one case, and by the time you're done, it is a completely different case, meaning 100 more issues have popped up. It just means you have to really dig deep and make sure that that person is going to be dedicated to your issue and has the knowledge and experience to deal with it.

Leh:                       You know what? I'll add one more thing to that. When all we do is family, the law is always changing. Every month, there is another case coming out from the Supreme Court that maybe tweaks the law, changes the law, dramatically overturns the law. I actually get an email about that and forward it to the entire firm every couple of weeks. We actually have another attorney in there, who sort of digests the case and breaks it down, so we stay up on the law. But unfortunately, a generalist, if you're spread across several practice areas, you don't have the time to stay up on the area of the law, and I've been in court with a generalist, who completely missed a couple cases, and I won a hearing because-

Todd:                    They just weren't aware.

Leh:                       They just weren't aware, which worked great for my client. I guess, if you've got sort of simple, uncontested divorce with very little finances involved, so there may not be any tax situations or credit situations, then a generalist might be a better fit for you, but you've really got to think through this. There's a reason why we specialized in family law. We felt like we could deliver a better service to our clients.

Todd:                    What about solo versus firm, in terms of if you're hiring what we call the solo practitioner on their own, doing all the work, versus going to somebody who is part of a bigger firm. What are the benefits there?

Leh:                       I'll start by saying what's the number one complaint that the State Bar of Georgia, who governs lawyers, what's the number one complaint they get from clients?

Todd:                    I'll call you back and let you know.

Leh:                       Or I won't call you back.

Todd:                    Yeah, not calling back, not returning calls, not being responsive?

Leh:                       That's the number one complaint. I think that's the biggest challenge for a solo practitioner, is that they get busy.

Todd:                    And I was one before I joined, before I became a partner. I had-

Leh:                       I could never get a hold of you. Just kidding.

Todd:                    Absolutely. You kept offering me the job for 10 years. It is hard, it is much more difficult when you are trying to balance all these things, and all these cases, and just being available. Sometimes people are just not good at it, and sometimes people just can't be good at it because they're just trying to juggle too many balls.

Leh:                       Up next, we're going to continue to go into the difference between a solo environment and a firm environment, and explain the challenges a solo practitioner has, and we're going to continue to give you some not so obvious tips to hire the best lawyer for you.

Leh:                       Todd, I don't know if I ever told you this story, but years ago, we're talking probably 15 years ago now, maybe around 2002, it's about the same time the Georgia Bar came with this new department to handle the complaints from clients when someone wasn't returning their calls. I got one of those calls from the State Bar saying, "One of your clients just called you and says you're not returning a call." I was like, "What?"

Todd:                    And seven days later, you called the bar back. I'm kidding.

Leh:                       No, but what happened is obviously, I was horribly embarrassed, but it wasn't that I was ignoring the client. It was I went through this period, where I was in court almost every single day for two weeks straight, and so I'd come back from court, I'd grab the file for the next day. Thankfully, my paralegal would prepare me. I'd stay up half the night getting ready, and then I would go in and try the case the next day, I'd come home, and so I never even had a chance to even check my voicemails, because I was so focused on being ready for the hearing the next day for my client.

Leh:                       That was actually when it was just Bob, myself and a paralegal. We were really small back then. But that was a huge turning point for us. We started realizing that this solo concept isn't entirely fair to the clients. I was busting my ... I was working I don't know how ... I would say I was working 18 hours a day during that two weeks. It was insane. It wasn't that I was purposely ignoring the client, but it wasn't fair to the client, I our personal opinion, and that's actually when Meriwether & Tharp started to make changes in how we practice law, and changes to move more towards a team approach.

Leh:                       I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are talking all about the things you should consider when choosing the right lawyer for you in your divorce or family law case. This is Meriwether & Tharp Radio, on News Radio 106.7.

Leh:                       Todd, let's keep talking about the team approach, because you were solo before you came over and joined us.

Todd:                    I will tell, very quickly, a story where we were put on a calendar, had a case, complicated case. We were put on a calendar that was a few months out. We had been taken off and the court had notified us that we were removed from the trial calendar that was happening, basically, at that time, during that week, and said, "Yeah, we're moving you to about two months from now." That was great. I was doing some other stuff in my office, and the next thing you know, got a call from the court saying, "Yeah, you need to be here," not can you be here, "you need to be here in two hours." Meanwhile, we had already told the client, we had already sort of put everything away.

Todd:                    The good thing is we were, for the most part, prepared. But as you know, there's a lot that goes into having a final trial. I know that things would have been different. I would have done it, I would have pulled it together, and I would have gotten to court if I was still a solo, but I wouldn't have had the benefit that I did have, by being part of a firm. Within minutes, I had a partner, I had two other attorneys and I had three paralegals standing in my office saying, "What do you need?" We were able to very quickly put everything together, and basically, I was able to go to court and do what I needed to do.

Leh:                       Kick some butt.

Todd:                    That's right. If I was a solo-

Leh:                       That wouldn't have happened.

Todd:                    It would have been a lot more stressful, and hopefully I would have been able to get it all put together, but it would be a bigger problem than it was.

Leh:                       That's why we like the team approach. That's why we developed the team approach. A lot of times, [inaudible 00:26:04] and we have series of teams at Meriwether & Tharp. I'm sharing this information, it may sound like a sales pitch, but-

Todd:                    It's just to give an idea of-

Leh:                       I'm just giving the idea and something to think about, so maybe you're listening, but your case isn't here where we're located. Think about these things. We have series of teams, we've got teams that are made up of a paralegal and two lawyers. The big advantages, just like to give you an example of that, the court suddenly changes their mind and says, "You know what? We changed our mind. We want you to show up in two hours." The cool thing is yes, that creates a moment of stress, but then all of a sudden, the team is in your office. You turn around, you're ready. You show up to court, and then the person on the other side's a solo, and they are panicked. You're ready and they're not, and you're like, "Let's go forward."

Todd:                    There's also cost savings, because a lot of times we see it because we'll see it at the end of a case, where we let's say have had a case against somebody who is a solo, and they've done all the work themselves, so every letter, even basic letters that were written to let's say the clerk of court, everything was done by the attorney at the attorney rate. Daily ... I actually spoke to somebody today ... daily, I will talk to people and explain our process and why it saves money, because we recognize everything doesn't need to be done by the lead attorney. That's why, with our teams, we'll have a senior attorney. We usually have a younger attorney, who bills at a lower rate, a paralegal at an even lower rate, a legal assistant at a much lower rate. We will do our best to put work into the hands of somebody with the lowest billable hourly rate, without jeopardizing-

Leh:                       For that task.

Todd:                    Right, for that task, without jeopardizing the quality of the task. Obviously, a legal assistant, and we have some fantastic ones, some that are either in or going to-

Leh:                       Paralegal-

Todd:                    -law school or-

Leh:                       We actually have some in law school and in paralegal school.

Todd:                    We have incredibly talented legal assistants. But of course, we're not going to give them a big brief and motion to write, but you know what? The younger attorney can start at a lower rate, a simple motion. The paralegal can do some work, hand it off to the senior attorney, so you end up saving a tremendous amount of money, something else you can't do as a solo.

Leh:                       I want to say in the last few years, I've seen so many cases where we went to court, and in one situation, our fees were $10,000 and the other side was $40,000. Another one, our fees were $20,000, the other side was $52,000. And then there was one where it was really ... it was a jury trial, I think ... ours, this is going to sound like a lot, it is a lot, $150,000, the other side $380,000. It really shows up at the end. There are some cases, where our fees are more. That's usually there's other extenuating circumstances surrounding that, but as a whole and on average, our fees are lower than ... because we do set up systems and we know that certain tasks are best performed by certain people on the team. And then it helps, so let's say while you were in trial on that case, other members of your team were fielding calls for the other clients, so they didn't sit around waiting to be heard. Sometimes they may wait for the lawyer, they're okay waiting for the lawyer to come back from trial-

Todd:                    How about this? Today, I ended up having to field some calls for one of our attorneys, who was in trial, took their paralegal with, and so there wasn't another attorney assigned to the case to deal with an issue, but because we're a team, because we have other people that can jump in, I jumped in and I dealt with some issues. Again, I'm not saying, do not take this to mean anybody who is what we call a solo practitioner, is not worthy of your business, is not worthy-

Leh:                       Right, because you and I were both solos.

Todd:                    It's we are talking about challenges that a solo practitioner will have that somebody in a bigger firm will not.

Leh:                       But the question, some firms are big, they're just a big collection of solo practitioners, so that's important to ask, like how do you work together and that sort of thing. I do want to make sure we make this other point clear, because sometimes people say, "Well, that sounds very impersonal. You have somebody handling this task, and somebody handling that task." This part can be counterintuitive. When you set up these sort of people performing certain roles, it allows the primary attorney on your case to actually be more personal. Here's what I mean by that. Here's a good example. I'm going to try to not give too many case details, because we just got this case. A case comes to us. The client was unhappy with their prior counsel, a solo. Case comes in, it's the middle of litigation.

Leh:                       The lawyer gets the case, and at first his initial gut reaction is, "We need to do this, and we need to do this, and we need to do this," sort of some very aggressive positioning, but we're resolution focused. What he did was he sent the lawyers underneath him and one of the paralegals to gather information and process things, while he made some phone calls and he thought about the situation. He actually came up with a game plan that was much less expensive, with a high ... and this is the very beginning ... but rather than taking the litigation to the next level, he's working on a strategy that may ultimately help win the case for the client.

Todd:                    You know what? The client in that situation, is not just ... it's important that the client is taken care of, almost more important than that is the fact that in this situation, the client feels taken care of. That is so important because if you are unhappy with your attorney, the relationship will start to break down. Once that relationship starts to break down, you lose trust, you lose confidence, and then it becomes very difficult to work together. I can't count the number times something has happened, the relationship breaks down, and the next thing you know, people are knocking on our door saying, "I don't like my attorney. I don't want to work with my attorney." One of the first things I'll say to people is, "First of all, before you make a leap, talk to me. Tell me what broke down, what is wrong. Maybe it's just you need to pick up the phone and call your attorney," and sometimes that happens and sometimes the relationship is so far gone, that unfortunately, they have to make the leap.

Leh:                       But you and I have both talked to people to go back to their attorney and gave them specific steps on, "I actually know that attorney. They're a great lawyer. Maybe they're really busy. Why don't you go and do X, Y and Z with the lawyer, and see if you can reestablish your relationship. If that doesn't work, then give us a call back." But that happens all the time. We're called, as lawyers, to be very professional, even with sort of our "competition".

Todd:                    That's right.

Leh:                       Up next, were going to explore how hiring a law firm with a system mindset increases the personal care and your chances of reaching a positive outcome in a divorce case.

Leh:                       Hey, everyone, welcome back. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio, on News Radio 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can call or visit us online at Atlanta Divorce Team dot com.

Leh:                       Today, we've been talking about what you should be looking for when hiring a divorce or family law lawyer. We've kind of talked about at variety of things, some obvious things like awards and reviews and that sort of thing, and we've also talked about not so obvious things: what's the difference between a generalist and a specialist, what is the different between a solo practitioner and someone who works in a team environment to help you out. We talked a little bit about what we do and why we think it's better, and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to hire us, but look for a firm that sort of takes the same approach.

Leh:                       Where we left off was systems.

Todd:                    Let's just into that, systems. Obviously, everybody knows what the word means, but in the context of family law litigation and representation of clients, what are we talking about here? What does it mean when you ask the question, "Does a firm have systems in place?"

Leh:                       What it means is that when you have a certain situation that there are group of people in the organization that take action, and they have a predescribed action to take, it basically creates a level of orchestration and predictability for the clients. I want to pause here, because some people go, "Well, that sounds like a fast food restaurant, very orchestrated, very predictable, and that sort of thing. That's not very personal." That's a fair question or a fair critique. What we've learned is that the systems actually allow us to be much more personal.

Todd:                    I'm going to build on that a little bit, because I agree with you. It allows us to be more personal, but a big problem is when balls get dropped, when things aren't done that need to be done, or if parties talk about something, not parties, but if somebody talked to their attorney, "Hey, I think we should do A, B and C," and that's not memorialized, and then A gets done, but B and C are forgotten or whatever, having systems in place allow for a level of efficiency in the sense that yes, it is a little bit formulaic in terms of, okay, here's our system and we're plugging these components into it, this information into it, and were going to do for you A, B, C and D, and we are able to say, "Hey, we did A, we did B, we did C, we did D. This is what we talked about. This is what you were expecting. We met your expectations and your case is on a good track."

Leh:                       Right. I'll say that a lot of people, their response is, "Yeah, but my situation is unique. I'm different," and that's true, but the law is the same. The law and the legal process is the same. The legal process may differ from county to county, and judge by judge, but still within that context, it is the same.

Todd:                    It's still the four core areas of divorce, what we call the four core areas. We're still dealing with child support issues, and if we're dealing with child support issues-

Leh:                       Child custody.

Todd:                    -we have to deal with a number of things, and child custody, there are a number of things that need to be done, so on and so forth.

Leh:                       We reach ahead of time, we try to have the client start gathering information, and it's all done formulaically, but here's let me give you an example of ... try to give an example of how it allows someone to get prepared. When you go to trial, or mediation, we do a lot more mediations than trials, because our resolution focus. When we ask the client to start gathering information, as that information comes in, the paralegal begins to process that information, which allows ... then the lawyer can sit back and go, "Okay, here's the information. I didn't have to spend my time gathering the information, so I can focus on here's the picture, now how does this picture plug into the law, how does this picture, what sort of parenting plan can we come up with for this family with these extracurricular activities, with mom living here and dad living there." It gives us the opportunity to sort of custom make parenting plans, based on the situation.

Leh:                       But, if you didn't have those systems, the lawyer would be chasing down the financial records and be chasing down this git of information and that bit of information, rather than lowering lawyer focusing on you and the big picture, he's looking at all the details, or she's looking at all the details and chasing them down, so they actually have less time to deal with you at a personal level. That's what you really need. You want that lawyer thinking, looking at the 40,000-foot view, not caught up in the trees.

Todd:                    When we say the personal touch, or dealing with you at a personal level, we're not talking about you're talking every day about nonsense. We're talking about someone being able to have a real conversation, something that has to do with dealing with your goals, dealing with what it is you're trying to accomplish. You're in this case, you don't want to be in this case, or maybe you do, and there are a number of things that you want to and need to accomplish. It allows the attorney to slow down and say, "Hey, all the other stuff is in order. Everything's put away, everything is processed, and now let's sit down and really talk strategy and let me understand what you want to accomplish, and I'm going to let you know can we accomplish it or should you even want to accomplish that you think you want to accomplish."

Leh:                       When the systems allow the information to be gathered quickly and efficiently by staff, by paralegals or younger lawyers in some situations, it allows that lawyer to ... You're paying them for what you really want to be paying for them, their strategy in the case, their thought process on how to get this case to a resolution, so you can move on with your life in a good way, because especially if there's kids involved, you want to be able to resolve this so you can co-parent with your spouse, because at the end of the day, if there are children, the divorce does not end the relationship. It ends the marriage, but not the relationship.

Todd:                    Let's move on to the next thing, and probably last topic we're going to talk about. It's extremely important and it's what I'm going to call ... There's two components to this. It's overall philosophy and temperament.

Leh:                       You know what? Before we get there, I think a good question that we may want to answer real quick, that just popped into my head-

Todd:                    Sure.

Leh:                       How do clients know that there're systems in place? How would they know that there might be systems in place, and I think one thing to look for is, I know that may sound strange, but the website. Does the website, does it give you information? Does it help you out or is it just a big resume for the lawyer? Because if you check out our website, our website's actually designed to help the client get information, so that they can ask us better questions. It's laid out literally from the left to right, if you go across our menu, through the whole divorce process. If you've read our whole website, you could really understand the whole divorce process, or custody modification process, from a big picture. Start there, look there, and then ask the lawyer all kinds of questions. "How do you handle it when you're in court, like I have an issue?" Ask the lawyer-

Todd:                    How do you process documents. There are a number ... at this point, we have ... good golly, a hundred processes, if not more, that are all used to the benefit of our clients. You have to ask the right questions. Now, let's talk about-

Leh:                       Philosophy.

Todd:                    -philosophy. The reason it's so important is because it is the difference between the resolution focus that we're talking about, and what I'm going to call the "bulldog mentality". We have some people who will call and they will say, "I need a bulldog, somebody who's going to fight for me." We have to explain to them what it is they're really asking for, because if you want somebody who's going to be a bulldog that's going to bark for the sake of barking, all that's going to do is ramp up the cost, expand the amount of time you're litigating, and at the end, the only thing that's going to change, you're probably going to come out with the same resolution, but the bottom line is you're going to be paying two or three times as much.

Leh:                       Oh, and also have a very angry and upset ex-spouse on the other end.

Todd:                    That's right.

Leh:                       That's why we take the resolution approach. It's better for the clients. We tell people right off the front, if they're looking for someone just to come in there and fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, we're probably not a good fit for them. How many times have we seen, gosh even this year, over the last two years, situations where the other side was a bulldog ... Now, let me make this point clear: resolution focus does not mean you roll over. It means nice but firm, and looking for ways to resolve the case. We had one of the fine attorneys in our Atlanta office had a jury trial. The other side was barely wanting to offer anything. She just held her ground, was nice but firm, went to trial and got I think $800,000 or $900,000 more than they were willing to offer at settlement.

Leh:                       We've had two jury trials, I think David Beaudry, one of the other partners in the firm, has had two jury trials the last couple years, where if the other side just refused to take a settlement offer, and they asked for a jury trial ... I don't know what it is with these jury trials ... and they asked for a jury trial, David's client made out fantastic with the ruling from the jury, much, much better than the offer that they wanted to take. So the bulldog wound up getting a worse deal for their client because they didn't look at the bigger picture.

Todd:                    Here's the quick analogy that I use when I talk to people all the time. The analogy is we are similar to ER doctors. ER doctors don't wake up every day hoping for a gunshot wound victim or a car crash victim to come through their doors, but when those cases come in, it's what they do. They are ready for it and they can handle it and help the people. We don't hope and pray for divorces. We don't hope for litigation that requires actual in-court litigation. But when it comes, we're ready. Ask the questions you need to ask, in order to understand whether or not your attorney's going to push you towards or away from in-court litigation.

Leh:                       Right. Hey, well that pretty much wraps up this show. Thanks so much for listening. You can read more about us and find out more information on atlantadivorceteam.com. You can also email us questions at [email protected]

Speaker 3:           This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.