Workplace standards in many law firms remain in the Dark Ages.
According to this study, bullying and lack of respect plagues many law firms. The study does not say what field of law attracts these types, but I can imagine that those who practice in Family Law fall into two categories:
The bullies and the bullied.
I’ve come to know many attorneys across the United States. Very few Family Law attorneys who work outside of the prestigious, well-known firms can’t hack it in Family Law. The collusion, intimidation and harassment from attorneys who “belong to the club” shuts out many younger, well-meaning, truly family centered attorneys, and this is very commonplace in this area of law.
What does this look like? Attorneys screaming and yelling in the hallways of court on Short Calendar day . Refusal to return calls and emails, keeping the opposing party in limbo. Being hung up on. Long-winded, nasty voicemails. Being ignored during trial compliance. All of this forces the cooperative attorney to be unprepared for trial.
Last fall, five minutes before trial was set to begin, my own attorney was accused by a judge of being on drugs during my hearing, and as a result – we lost an entire day in court, and my entire file was moved 40 miles away to another courthouse! All because someone thought it was a good idea to target and intimidate my attorney, who was on the verge of tears when we started. How could she possibly advocate for my 10 year old in this state of mind? We had been preparing for 14 months at this point, just to have it all sabotaged by high school bullying.
Attorneys have had vehicles broken into and tires slashed while parked at the courthouse. All because they won’t push their client to settle and accept the horrific “agreement” in which his/her client walks away with no rights to their children.
The dynamic between Family Court attorneys, I have observed, looks like the very nature of the “high conflict” parents that courts love to prey on and exploit. The bully, and the bullied.
So, what to do? Attorneys can’t go to Human Resources to address this. They are basically independent contractors. Who do they complain to when they are being threatened and harassed by opposing counsel?
If you are an electrician who gets lots of contracts from a company who builds new housing developments, and you are constantly being mistreated by the same plumber, having fingers pointed in your face, called names, and yelled at in front of your colleagues, what would you do? You could probably approach their licensing board, or the general contractor, or you could simply tell the general contractor that you won’t be accepting contracts if this plumber is working on a project. Eventually, the plumber would get so many complaints that he would be naturally bidded out of the industry. This is how free market and competition works.
We all have an incentive to not be a bad person, because we want business and we want to be trusted in our community.
It doesn’t work that way in Family Court. Attorneys who are friends with judges will plot together to intimidate the other attorney so much that the attorney pushes their client to “settle”.
Who pays the price?
Your children pay. Many attorneys would rather just exchange emails with difficult opposing counsel and procure a settlement. The idea of working with them in the court setting can be crippling for honest Family Law attorneys.
I’m convinced that Family Law attracts either narcissists, or attorneys who truly want to help families. Some are very kind and want to help, but they are swallowed up by the bully-types.
In Family Law, there’s no incentive to promote a positive and safe community, and the people who receive complaints are also members of the Bar Association. Without private oversight, ethical attorneys are forced to pursue a different field of law.
Similar to the high-conflict personalities that lie in the consciousness of the parent who wants to remove the child from the other parent, we are seeing the same type of personality in Family Law attorneys. It’s no wonder that we have so many issues in this industry. Narcissists and trouble-seekers work to keep this parallel universe known as Family Law going strong!