We have all seen cases where one of the parties is unreasonable if not out of control. I am not talking about taking a hard of aggressive legal position. I am not talking about taking an aggressive if not unreasonable settlement position – at least to start. I am talking about a client that refuses to abide by an agreement or an Order. I am talking about a client that intentionally misinterprets an agreement or an Order because on this occasion, the clear interpretation does not favor her – only to take the exact opposite interpretation the next time when it would be to her favor. I am talking about someone with oppositional defiance disorder and/or someone who automatically rejects something, even if it is to his or her benefit, simply because it was suggested by the other party or opposing counsel. I am talking about someone who could either tell the truth or lie, with no greater advantage in lying, but lies anyway. I am talking about someone that cannot help to put their kids in the middle to hurt their spouse, knowing that they are probably hurting their kids in the process. There are many other examples I can give based upon my many years as a divorce attorney.
In a perfect world, when this happens, assuming that it is not opposing counsel that is actually causing the problem in the first place, you would hope to be able to tell your client that cooler heads will prevail. Surely you would like to be able to tell your client that opposing counsel will get control of the situation and put the matter back on track, right? Too often, the answer is no. Why is this the case? Sometimes, especially early on, counsel will take their client at face value, without seeking proof or verification. That is to be expected to some degree though a better practice might be to get more information before going off half-cocked. But more often than not, that is not the reason at all. In fact, sadly there are too many practitioners out there willing to do anything that the client wants, without consideration for how it impacts their client in the long run, or their personal reputation. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that an attorney should not zealously advocate for their client’s position. They have to – that is their ethical obligations. But before furthering the crazy and/or throwing gasoline on the fire, is it not better practice to try and get a situation under control. Does it really make sense to unprofessionally echo a client’s unfounded attacks to deflect a provable, documented factual account of that client’s misbehavior? Does it really make sense to let a client take an action or file a certification that will hurt them in the long run? Though, on the other hand, when a client asks why the other lawyer is doing something in furtherance or defense of the bad behavior or why they haven’t stopped it, I have to remind them that we have no idea what advice the other party was actually given. Sometimes, it is as simple is that as long as the client is paying them, they will do anything that the client says, no matter if it is good for the client or not.
Again, don’t get me wrong. There are bona fide disputes. There are reasons that motions have to be filed. There are reasons that things need to be litigated. But there are things that have no business not being brought under control. When the lawyer absurdly enflames things further and/or defends the indefensible, they become part of the problem instead of being part of the solution. That is unfortunate for the parties, their children and the system. More and more, it seems that there are too many practitioners that are all too willing to give credence to the unreasonable or out of control, as opposed to trying to put a case on the right track towards resolution. That is unfortunate.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.