When you're getting divorced, you have a lot to lose – financially and emotionally.
For most divorcing clients, “Winning” isn’t about getting everything you can out of your ex-spouse, but it’s hard to acknowledge that when you’re dealing with all kinds of hurt and heartache. It feels impossible to stay clear-minded, balanced, and focused on reaching a settlement that keeps you in control of the things that matter. Here’s where the need for personal attention plays its important role – to help you figure out what’s worth fighting for.
The doctor changed everything.
He was a smart, accomplished, highly respected surgeon, as well as a fantastic businessman who owned a medical practice and other complex business interests. I had worked with him on various corporate, transactional and tax matters. But now he’d come in to speak about his impending divorce. After listening to his story for a while, I shifted into aggressive NYC battle mode. I’d formulated a strategic game plan in my head and ready to move forward – full speed. My client was going to get it all!
I had the winning legal strategy. But this doctor – this brilliant doctor – was a wreck. The stress of the divorce was so intense he could barely function, let alone make decisions that would affect the rest of his life. I was a young lawyer at the time and was really confronted and uncertain how to proceed. I didn’t have the experience of working with highly successful people going through divorce – I’d only worked on the business side. Why wasn’t he able to get on board so I could win his case?
I’ve always believed: When in doubt – find someone who knows more than you do. So, I met with one of my old mentors – who graciously shared his personal experience of divorce with me.
The moment you begin thinking about the possibility of divorce – you’re already stressed and worried.
Life as you know it – has changed.
You feel the pressure and you’ve heard the stories.
Friends taken to the cleaners by their ex’s lawyer.
Children devastated by divorce – stuck in the middle – pressured to choose – not speaking to a parent.
Retirement plans divided – futures lost – lifestyle lost.
Sleepless nights of worry.
Desperately try to keep it together – focus on your children – focus on business.
Try to exercise – eat right – focus on your health, sometimes.
Struggle to put one foot in front of the other.
Push away thoughts – Push down feelings.
All while your life is disrupted, decisions made for you, feeling out of control, and experiencing a whole list of “uncomfortable” feelings.
After a lifetime of thinking as a couple, how do I now protect myself, my interests and my future?
My mentor then advised me to go back to my client and truly listen – avoid the temptation to offer solutions – until I fully understood what my client wants now and how he wants his future to look.
I immediately went back to the doctor – he spoke – I listened – and listened – and listened some more. In the midst of speaking about everything he was experiencing – he stopped abruptly – and with a sullen look on his face he disclosed that he was most concerned about his children. He worried that he would irreparably damage his relationship with them by aggressively battling their mother into a lopsided settlement; or worse an ugly public court battle. That’s what kept him up at night more than anything; that was his biggest fear.
I really could have messed up his life with the very aggressive divorce battle plan I had crafted. I got a bit sick to my stomach thinking about that – my need to win. It was a harsh reality to admit to myself that my aggressive (win-it-all) approach was more about me than the needs and desires of the doctor. He always knew he would make more money in the future.
At that moment I realized that by deeply and truly listening and treating each client as truly unique person; the client and I – together – could craft a better strategy that focuses on their picture of success.
Sometimes, the NYC aggressive rambo litigator is the right approach. And other times it can lead to disaster.
“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
But always keeping a battle plan in my back pocket – if necessary.
I saw the benefits of understanding my client as a truly unique individual. And I also learned the strategic advantage (in negotiation and litigation) of better understanding the thinking and motivations of my client’s spouse. So, consistent with my commitment to lifetime learning, and my desire to further understand the inner workings of people, I studied for another graduate degree, an MS in Psychology (Individual and Business Performance).
As I continued to grow as a person and a lawyer, my strategy options also grew. Mediation became a much more useful tool going forward. And non-litigated / negotiated divorce also became an effective option.
IPennLaw: small – selective – personal
When I opened IPennLaw, my divorce practice, I chose to keep my practice small – selective – personal. As a result, your experience working with me will be quite different from how you’d work with a typical solo or multi-lawyer firm. While you travel through divorce – you deserve personal attention.
I am a one-lawyer legal practice for a reason: to be fully and personally involved with each and every client. I’ve been a lawyer and accountant for over 30 years – representing and counseling individuals, families and businesses. My professional career began after business school (MBA in Accounting and Taxation) and law school, by working for two of the “Big Four” accounting firms, PriceWaterhouse & Co (now PwC) and Ernst & Young, and a large downtown Atlanta law firm, Hansel & Post (now Jones Day). More Details: Education and Career Path.
These prestigious firms provide exceptional sophisticated services to their clients and I learned and grew personally and professionally while working there. But most professional firms, especially large ones, are not designed to provide personal attention to their clients.
This may (or may not) seem obvious, but lawyers aren’t trained to understand the psychology, the needs or the personal objectives of individual people, and rarely have the desire to engage deeply enough with their clients to effectively and compassionately help them during extreme emotional times.
We lawyers are trained to understand the law, provide legal services and win-win-win for our clients. Always about winning – without really listening deeply enough to clients to help them uncover what winning means to them – for the present, and for their future.
Although I’m a one-lawyer firm – I’m not working alone. Marilyn is my indispensable partner – in both business and marriage. Before joining me at IPennLaw, Marilyn was the Accounting Manager at a multi-unit restaurant company (where I was formerly Chief Legal Counsel/CFO). She handled all the accounting work and payroll for eight separate companies and its 200+ employees.
And while I’m a damn Yankee who moved south from NYC, she has genuine Atlanta street cred: her grandfather was one of the original owners of the Highland Bakery in Atlanta (back when bread was still delivered by horse-drawn truck). The Louisiana side of her family’s southern roots are also deep: she’s also a third-generation Vanderbilt University graduate.
Marilyn will usually be the first person you talk to when you schedule a call. She’ll listen to your story and provide notes for me when I follow up. Marilyn will also guide and help as you gather together the mounds of financial records required in every divorce case – and she’ll then work with me to organize, build the databases and analyze all the financial data.
If you need help or advice with creating parenting plans, Marilyn has years of experience in organizing and scheduling: make use of it! And if there’s anything else you need to keep your divorce as stress-free as possible, Marilyn and I will both be there to help.
“The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities…It is best to win without fighting.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War