Beware of a Shark in the Water

Some matrimonial lawyers present themselves to clients as legal “sharks,”  hired guns who can make the kill and rip up the opponent’s counsel and the client. A shark promises prospective clients that he will combatively go after the client’s spouse to “take them for all they’re worth.” Such belligerence increases the tension between the parties and drags out litigation, making for larger legal bills. Larger bills benefit the shark, not the client. “Divorce litigation is not a test of wills between attorneys, but is, rather, a test of the relative knowledge and skills of the attorneys,” writes one attorney.

Some bitter, twisted and angry clients turn to a shark to do battle. In their view, the overly aggressive attorney promises to get them a better result. Aggressiveness has its place in litigation. However, it has no place other than an attempt at impressing a client “with theatrics that often have no substance in the law.”

No amount of theatrical posturing by a shark results in a client getting anything more than he or she is entitled to, because much of the value of the financial settlement in a divorce action is already spelled out statutorily.  In other words, the law specifies many of the things for which each party is responsible and to which each party is entitled. Case law – the tens of thousands or actual decisions made by judges regarding more specific issues that serve as legal precedent – defines many other areas of the law. Some economic issues – such as spousal maintenance, credits for the increased earning capability of a spouse, business evaluations and a fair share of those assets – may be negotiated or litigated, and in that case, an energetic attorney who pursues client’s interest is necessary.

The lawyer who strikes “warlike poses at every phase of the litigation is only performing for the sake of their client, and not necessarily accomplishing anything positive in bringing [the case] to a conclusion.” Remember, the judges rarely concern themselves with the emotional matters that underlie a divorce case. Attorneys who present themselves as being flag-bearers for emotional issues are often just manipulating the often tender sensibilities of a person going through a divorce.

Unnecessarily aggressive litigation increases the cost of the action, drags out the case, and in the end magnifies the pain and suffering of clients. Attorneys who submit motion after motion, and insist on litigating cases through the court system regardless of the issues at hand, are guaranteeing themselves many extra hours of billing, without being able to guarantee a better outcome.

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