We tend, I think, to gravitate to areas of practice where we are most comfortable. Although economics sometimes require an occasional sortie into areas we would otherwise prefer to avoid, for the most part we gravitate to things we more or less like and with which we feel most comfortable. By the same token there are areas which we try to avoid even when economics logically dictate otherwise. Ultimately, we pick our own poison.
One area of practice I have studiously avoided is divorce law. Whether because of upbringing, disposition, lack of patience or, more likely, lack of skill, I just didn’t feel I could do that practice. My instincts have been proven correct.
Several years ago one of my partners had a scheduling conflict. He asked me on short notice to cover a pretrial motion to modify temporary alimony in a domestic case that morning. He was senior. I was junior. I was available. I covered.
Our client was a man in his thirties who measured life’s accomplishments by a financial yardstick. He was the plaintiff seeking to terminate a short, unhappy marriage. He came to the office late, shortly before court. He had been told at the last minute that I’d be covering.
People going through marital strife are often agitated, angry and uncertain. Our client filled that bill and then some. Moreover, like all clients, having chosen a specific lawyer, he didn’t appreciate learning that someone else would be “covering” his case at the last minute.
My task was clear. I had to put him at ease, instill a sense of confidence, assure him that his substitute lawyer would protect him today when his money was at stake. Time was short. We were running late.
We reviewed the financial affidavits; assured his was accurate; determined what he could afford to pay and what the guidelines called for. We reviewed how he should truthfully answer--but not volunteer-- any questions when he testified. He was impressed with my knowledge of the file, my preparation, my apparent belief that he was right and that we would prevail and pay not one penny more than he wanted to.
But this was an angry client. He was not pleased that the most important decision he had ever made--the choice of his life’s companion--had been a bad one. He bristled. He had been wronged, grievously so. He seethed. This would be a problem. If this anger bubbled over, the judge would hold it against him. He had to vent, to let it out before we got to court so that on the stand he could convincingly portray the role of the honorable spouse who had been wronged.
Time was now even shorter. We began our walk to court.
As we neared the Courthouse he told me how long he’d been married, how hard he’d worked, what a good provider he’d been, the house he’d bought, the gifts he’d given, and the expensive honeymoon in Hawaii. He’d done everything, he explained, with not an ounce of appreciation. He didn’t ask for much, he said. He just wanted her to understand. But she just wouldn’t. She refused to even try.
I commiserated. I empathized. I said I understood.
“Nah”, he said, “You can’t understand. Listen, how many times I gotta throw the spaghetti against the wall before she learns I don’t wanna eat at six o’clock”.
He was right. I couldn’t understand.
I don’t do domestics. My instincts were right.