When did lawyers become entertainers and prize fighters? I ask myself this question as I drove into the office listening to yet another barrage of “lawyer ads” on the radio. While aggressive legal advertising is nothing new, it used to be limited to personal injury law where the lawyer will either protect the client from the “evil insurance company” or aggressively get the client their due. What has been surprising is an increase in ads with such an aggressive tone in family law.
Some law firms advertise that they keep your gold-digging spouse from taking what is rightfully yours or stick it to the other side. This type of attitude has become pervasive, not only in advertising, but seems to be increasing in the courtroom. It is no wonder that rates of depression and other debilitating psychological problems are on the increase in our profession. This is no surprise given the adversarial nature of our work, especially in the practice of family law.
I increasingly speak to attorneys in other parts of the Commonwealth and the country who discuss the difficulties they have – not with their clients or opposing parties – but with their colleagues. I am very lucky to come from a part of the Commonwealth where there is an extremely collegial family law bar. The majority of us still pick up the phone and talk to one another before filing motions and finger pointing as we walk into the courtroom. Unfortunately, this is not the case in all parts of Virginia or the country. A quick review of any Virginia Lawyers Weekly reveals the number of litigated family law cases involving nearly every issue possible.
This “gotcha” attitude is not only destructive to us as professionals, but is incredibly corrosive to the families we are trying to assist. Let’s remember that none of us went into this profession to just fight endlessly. Hopefully, most of us began practicing family law to actually help people. The “gotcha” attitude only increases the difficulties and problems the families we should be helping are having in one of the worst and most traumatic times of their lives.
The purpose of your Family Law Section is to concern itself with all aspects in the field of family, domestic relations and juvenile law in the Commonwealth of Virginia as stated in our By-Laws. One of those concerns is ensuring that we have the highest quality bar available to provide services to the public. As members of the Family Law Section, please take a leadership role in ensuring that civility and professionalism are encouraged in all aspects of our work.
The next time you have an opportunity to extend a courtesy, such as a continuance or extending a deadline to a colleague, do so. In the long run, these courtesies come back to reward you ten-fold and help bring your client’s case to closure more quickly and amicably than objecting and forcing a needless hearing. It is up to us to lead by example to ensure that when people quote Shakespeare they stop quoting as their favorite quote, “the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”
Richard E. Garriott, Jr. (Rich)