Have you ever had someone need your help and you were able to help them? Maybe it was something big like saving someone’s life… or maybe it was something small like helping someone lift their heavy bag into the overhead bin. Maybe a friend didn’t know how to get their little one to sleep at night. Or you gave your son or daughter a hug when they needed it most.
Wasn’t that an amazing feeling? I bet you felt really great. That’s how I feel when I am helping clients through their divorce. It’s amazing.
But, I didn’t start my legal career intending to be a divorce lawyer. In fact, when I went to law school (1986 to 1989) I didn’t even study “family law”. I wanted to be an international corporate commercial lawyer wearing a pin-striped three-piece-suit and putting together the big international deals. My plans were scuttled when I entered the real world. I found corporate law unrewarding. I am not dissing corporate lawyers but for me it was painfully boring. It seemed the only lawyers having fun were the big wigs at the top and I didn’t want to work 30 years before I enjoyed my job. So I searched for something more exciting. Going to court seemed like more fun but when I met my first divorce client, I knew I had found my passion.
You might think it was the court room drama, or the passionate pleas for custody of a child, or untangling the financial webs of a family business that attracted me, but no, it was the crying.
I have clients cry in my office almost every day. And no… they aren’t crying because my fees are too high… they are crying because going through a divorce means their whole world has been turned upside down. They need help.
If you are divorcing, maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you feel the “Hollywood dream” of living happily ever-after has been destroyed and you feel like are a failure. When you hear the phrase “from a broken family” doesn’t it just make your stomach flip?… now your kids are from..one of those. The fear is overwhelming. How will you pay the bills? What will your relationship with your kids be like? How will the rest of the world judge you?
It’s at this point – when clients are feeling their worst - that they step into my office for the first time. “Wow!” I thought to myself in my early days as a divorce lawyer, “What an opportunity. I can be my client’s white knight rescuing them from the despair of divorce!” I felt I could give them the answers they wanted and steer them toward resolution of the legal issues, and into their new life. It felt great. I was in control and helping.
Today, I still feel great helping my clients through their difficult days but now I do it in a different way. I am not a white knight. I don’t presume to know what is best for my clients. Instead, I help them discover their core concerns so they can make priorities and find creative solutions that work best for their whole family. I give them a wonderful gift by referring them to other professionals who can help them such as a divorce coach (to work through the emotional issues), a financial specialist (to resolve the property and support issues) and a parenting coach (to develop the best possible parenting plan). I give them the support they need so they can get through their divorce with the least amount of pain (financially and emotionally). I help them analyze their choices, explain the range of legal results, help them resolve difficult issues and I ensure they have a legally binding agreement when it’s all done.
One of my brothers is a pediatrician. He says he does it because he loves helping children heal. Wouldn’t that feel good… to help a sick child feel better?
I practice family law because I love being able to help people get better too. My clients may start off crying but in the end they will have closed the door on their past, survived the transition (what I call the "hallway of hell") and they will be ready to open a new door to their future. Wow. I am a lucky guy to be part of that kind of healing… and it sure beats “corporate boardroom boredom”. (By the way, try saying that ten times really fast. “corporate boardroom boredom, corporate boardroom boredom, corporate boardroom boredom….whew).