My approach to litigation and how I treat clients are guided by the following principles:
I’m prepared for trial but poised to settle
Every litigation firm touts its willingness to go to trial. Indeed, perhaps the most overplayed images on law firm websites are mahogany gavels and ornate courtrooms, preferably of the nineteenth century variety. The reality, however, is that well over 90 percent of cases settle before trial.
Unfortunately, a drab conference room table in a downtown office building—where most settlement negotiations and mediations are hashed out—makes for less compelling imagery, so law firms continue to peddle the gavel-courtroom-jury box motifs in their marketing materials. From a client standpoint, the legal system’s preference for settlement is a positive development.
Trials are certainly dramatic and exciting (for the lawyers), but they provide little upside to clients. Trials are expensive, emotionally exhausting, and unpredictable. Entrusting your child’s future in a custody case or the survival of your business in a commercial litigation case to one judge or a jury of strangers is a risky gamble. In my experience, it is often in the client’s best interest to reach a non-litigated settlement if possible, particularly in child custody matters where the parties will be required to maintain a relationship after the dust from the case settles. I have successfully mediated and negotiated a number of mutually satisfactory agreements that avoided the pain and expense of litigation.
However, despite the improbability of trial, the best practice is to develop every case with the expectation of trial because doing so optimizes the likelihood of settling on favorable terms. Of course, sometimes parties are unable to reach a resolution and going to trial is necessary. In that instance, our preparation allows us to smoothly transition to the trial phase of the case with well-developed themes and a strategy for winning.
I don’t make promises
I am committed to being open and honest with my clients at every stage of their case. To win business or placate a client, some lawyers sugarcoat their advice, over-promise, or fail to speak hard truths about the merits of a client’s case. I don’t. Clients can rely on me to be completely candid about the strengths and weaknesses of their cases–even when they don’t want to hear it.
I practice law with civility and integrity
I believe in fighting hard but fair. Attached to every engagement letter a new client signs is a copy of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed. This creed is an aspirational code of conduct that aims to promote civility and fair play within the legal profession. While not mandatory—lawyers are not formally punished for failing to adhere to the creed—most attorneys strive to adhere to its precepts. I certainly do.
Acting in accordance with the creed means, for example, that if the opposing side requests an extension on a deadline in good faith, I will grant it; in turn, I expect the other side to extend the same courtesy. In addition to the creed, there are formal rules of professional conduct that I will not violate under any circumstances.
Litigation is inherently contentious and can bring out the worst in both lawyers and clients. I am always willing to go to the mat for my clients and play hardball when it serves their interests, but I do so in a manner consistent with my legal and professional obligations.
The law is not a 9 to 5 business. Especially in the family law context, fire drills and other unexpected issues can and frequently do arise outside of normal business hours. You can always count on me to promptly respond to e-mails and field calls at odd hours. I also recognize that sometimes clients just need someone to listen so they can vent about their case. While I’m not a therapist, I am always willing to serve as a sounding board for my clients.
I will be handling your case at every step
At many law firms, clients will have their initial consultation with the main partner—the face of the firm—only to have their case shuffled off to a less experienced associate. After the retainer is paid, the client will rarely hear from the attorney she thought she was hiring. The main partner will parachute in for an important hearing, but the day-to-day aspects of the client’s case will be delegated to staff. This is not always a bad deal for the client.
Associates and staff are billed out at lower hourly rates than partners and therefore can deliver a better value for routine tasks that don’t demand a more experienced attorney’s expertise. But ask yourself this: If the main partner—the attorney you actually hired—is not engaged in the day-to-day rhythms and demands of your case, will that attorney be as prepared to shine in the spotlight at that critical hearing or deposition?
My firm goes a step beyond the typical law firm business model. I will be handling your case from beginning to end. I will be preparing the pleadings, answering your questions, developing case strategy, and standing by your side during all the critical moments of your case. I can provide this level of attention while still delivering value because I don’t have a bloated overhead, and I leverage technology to streamline my practice. For the vast majority of cases, one attorney is more than adequate. If your case truly requires additional legal help, then I will co-counsel with other capable attorneys on an as-needed basis.
Instead of a large permanent staff, I rely on technology and shared staff to accomplish routine administrative, non-legal tasks. My billing and case management functions are handled by cloud-based software rather than people. My physical office is cost-efficient as well. If you visit my office, you will see that it is professional but modest. I don’t have an expensive long-term lease at a fashionable address (I am close to the courthouse, however).
My office isn’t adorned with pricey oil paintings. In more traditional, image-conscious firms, you will find these supposed markers of success and competence. You will also pay for them. I prefer to let my results speak for the caliber of my practice.