Family Law and the August Onslaught

I recently wrote an article for the UNT Dallas College of Law publication Accessible Law. The publication is aimed at educating the public on various legal issues.  My article, “Understanding Court-Appointed Attorneys for Children in Family Law Cases” also includes a nifty infographic that contains nearly all the information from the article for those who prefer a shorter read.

The article is aimed directly at the questions that litigants and family members may have about court-appointed attorneys.* It brings to mind all the years I spent practicing family law and dreading the month of August–and not because of the Texas heat.

About this time each year, those of us who have spent hard time practicing family law know it is coming: the inevitable August onslaught. Something about the end of summer causes many family law clients to reconsider their possession/support/situation and they pick up the phone and call a lawyer to see what can be done. Often these calls require the lawyer’s immediate attention or an emergency motion of some sort.

Keeping family law clients happy at any time of the year can be difficult. The high stakes combined with the average client’s lack of experience with the courts often results in unreasonable client expectations about what a Judge can do for them. This is a lethal combination for family law lawyers who too frequently find themselves the subject of a frivolous State Bar grievance.

And–let’s be honest–some grievances simply cannot be avoided. Certain clients will always be willing to hop online and file a made-up grievance out of spite or anger and, in the interest of protecting the public, the State Bar has made it incredibly easy for them to do so. It takes no more time and effort than a negative Yelp review after a bad restaurant meal.

So what can be done to reduce the risk of such a grievance being filed against you? To start, three things: communication, documentation, and education.

Failure to Communicate under Rule 1.03 is frequently cited by disgruntled clients (family law and other) as the reason for their grievance. It requires (1) that a client be kept reasonably informed about the status of a matter, (2) that a lawyer promptly comply with reasonable requests for information, (3) that a lawyer explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions. What is “reasonable” is not determined by the individual client’s anxiety level, but in order to lower that anxiety and the risk of being grieved in the first place, document everything that you can.

Education for the layperson like the kind provided by the UNT publication Accessible Law  is an important component that enhances effective client communication. Providing your client with articles, books and helpful website links will ultimately help them make more informed decisions. For family law lawyers, it may also reduce the August onslaught.

*Thanks to Rachel Li for her input and feedback on the UNT article.