by Clinician and attorney William Eddy.
Perhaps the single biggest decision in handling a court case involving a Blamer is selecting the right attorney. Interview at least three attorneys before choosing the one you want to retain as your advocate.
Ideally, you will find an attorney who:
Has experience in your court: It helps to have someone who knows what the various judges are like and what to expect in their courtrooms. There is some variation between counties, so it is best to get a local attorney who knows the local rules and is respected by your judge.
Is easy to communicate with: You want an attorney who is open to your input and concerns and will work closely with you in handling the surprises and legal maneuvering common to cases involving a Persuasive Blamer.
Understands difficult personalities in family court cases: While you may not find an attorney with specific knowledge of Borderlines and Narcissists, some are better than others at handling the common manipulations and false statements of "difficult personalities" in family court cases.
There are presently very few attorneys who recognize and understand the patterns of Persuasive Blamers. Therefore, you should focus on finding an attorney who meets the first and second criteria.
If you can find an attorney who is experienced in your court and easy to communicate with, open-minded, generally accessible (returns calls) and willing to share decision-making with you, you may be able to educate them on the personality issues.
The booklet The ABC‘s of BPD published by the Personality Disorder Awareness Network, is a short booklet designed to inform legal professionals about BPD. Go to www.BPDCentral.com to see when the booklet will be available. You may also want to purchase another copy of this booklet for your attorney.
There are many attorneys out there now who have some understanding of mental health issues and may be familiar with difficult cases. While there are familiar patterns to many family court cases, attorneys just do not see them as personality problems. They view the Blamer as a jerk, a liar, or an incredibly frustrating opponent.
Yet many are familiar (from lots of experience) with what works and what does not work in handling the "opposing party" in a court case, even if they do not understand why. Ask about their experiences with "difficult cases."
WHERE TO LOOK?
Following is a list of some of the people who may be able to help you find useful information.
Mental Health Professionals
I suggest that you contact a mental health professional who frequently works on legal cases who will be able to refer you to a good attorney.
For example, there may be a psychologist, clinical social worker, or family counselor in your county who regularly testifies at court or does assessments for the court. You could call your local mental health organizations or referral lists for such a person, or call a local psychiatric hospital or counseling clinic.
Explain your case and ask for referrals to three attorneys you could interview. You are more likely to find an attorney you can work with this way than to make cold calls through the phone booklet.
Family and Friends
These may be the next best source, as someone may have had a good experience with an attorney who can give you a referral to an attorney who regularly deals with the issues in your case. Ask around, then interview the attorney yourself.
If necessary, call the lawyer referral service for your area. Most County Bar Associations have one. They usually give out three names and encourage you to call and interview the attorneys yourself.
If you have time, go to the court where your case will be heard and observe attorneys interacting with each other and arguing their cases. If you like the way one handles their case, go up to him or her afterward and ask for a business card.
However, be careful not to assume that the most aggressive in court will be the most beneficial for your case. Some attorneys appear very aggressive, but do not have a good reputation and may be presenting information that is misleading or wrong.
Just as you want to adopt an assertive approach, seek an attorney who appears knowledgeable and respected by the court for being assertive rather than dramatically aggressive. You will have a judge, not a jury, so dramatics often fall flat in family court.
I remember one judge saying to a dramatically aggressive attorney: "Now that you‘re finished venting, I‘m going to look at the facts of the case."
Clerks at court are not supposed to give legal advice. But they are familiar with the attorneys who regularly come to court. Sometimes they will give you hints about who is good and who to avoid. You might ask a clerk, "If I had to choose between so-and-so and whats-her-name, who would you suggest?"
WHAT TO ASK?
Keep in mind that you are forming a close relationship with someone who may really help you or may turn out to be of little assistance. There is a wide range of attorneys and you will want to find one who fits with you.
Do not take an adversarial approach to interviewing and developing a relationship with an attorney. It will only hurt you in the long run, because the attorney will consider you a difficult client and be less motivated to go the extra mile in handling your case.
Questions to ask a potential attorney:
Q. How do you usually communicate with your clients?
Look for answers that include usual response time on returning phone calls of at least 24-48 hours, depending on the urgency of the issue.
You don‘t want an attorney who will not speak to you, but will have all of your concerns handled by an assistant, associate, or secretary. (It‘s okay that they have staff, but don‘t let this be a substitute for your contact with the attorney, when you want it. On the other hand, it may save you money to speak with an assistant or associate on issues you don‘t need to address with the attorney. You just want accessibility; you don‘t always have to use it.)
Ask if is it easy to schedule an appointment with the attorney if you want to discuss issues in the case. When you speak with the attorney, notice if he or she is distracted by other matters (phone calls, papers to review, etc.).
Does this person seem attentive? Are they a good listener, or do they interrupt and take over the direction of the conversation before you can explain your concerns? Do they jump to conclusions about your case? Are they honest with you about periods when they will be unavailable, about the weaknesses your case, and about their experience?
If you are not comfortable with the attorney‘s answers, interview another attorney. However, keep in mind that attorneys can be tied up with all-consuming court cases for a few days at a time. They may return your calls, but a day or two later. They may have a staff member contact you.
But if the communication feels good when you do talk with the attorney, then the relationship may work well. Remember, when your case is going to court you will want your attorney to be just as absorbed in it and less available to others at that time.
Q. Do you prefer to negotiate or go to court? About how many cases have you settled this year? About how many cases have you taken to court for hearings or trials?
Generally, you will want someone who will attempt negotiations at first. Negotiation efforts may be able to keep a case from dramatically escalating into a huge prolonged, unnecessary court battle. This works, even in some cases of Blamers as discussed in Chapter 3.
On the other hand, if negotiations fail you want someone who is comfortable in court and knows the ins and outs of court procedures in your county. If they routinely take all cases to court without sincere efforts at negotiation, then they may be less likely to care about the outcome of your case.
You want someone who is committed to solving their clients‘ problems using whatever methods are appropriate, rather than someone who applies the same approach to all cases as a matter of unconcerned routine, whether its negotiation or court.
Q. Have you ever handled a case like mine before?
Ideally, they will say yes. Some attorneys may have had lots of experience with your type of case, and others will be relatively new. Experience matters a lot in the law, as there are so many details, rules, and tools that can be used. It is often helpful if the attorney is familiar with your judge and how your judge handles cases like your.
If you like an attorney but they do not have much experience on issues like yours, see if they have a colleague or mentor with whom they can consult. Sometimes a new attorney will spend a lot more time on your case just for the learning experience. This can benefit you if they have a more experienced attorney available for consultation who can point them in the right direction.
On the other hand, an experienced attorney does not have to reinvent the wheel. A more experienced attorney will know what tools they can use in handling your case and may have some legal research and documents they can use from similar cases recently handled.
Q. What steps would you take in handling a case such as mine?
There is no right answer to this question. Mostly, you want to see if their steps make sense to you. See if they explain things to your satisfaction. This will give you an idea of whether they are familiar with the common problems of a case like yours or if they seem to be guessing. You will also get an idea of whether you feel comfortable with their approach.
The response to questions you ask about their proposed steps will also help you decide how you feel about the potential attorney.
Q. Do you believe that most abuse allegations are true or false?
You want an attorney who does not have presumptions that abuse concerns are always true or always false. You want a skeptic who will do some research, ask lots of questions, and seek corroborating evidence. You want someone who will remain open-minded and will stick with you even if new issues and information arises.
You also want someone who will be honest with you if they think that you are mistaken or misperceiving events.
Beware of attorneys who readily accept any abuse allegations made by you or against you without question. They will often turn against you in the middle of the case when someone else makes a damaging statement against you - however false.
If they are easily emotionally persuaded, they might suddenly change their mind on one strong statement rather than weighing all the evidence. They also may have a reputation for jumping to conclusions.
Q. What is your reputation in this legal community?
This question will give you a good idea of how the attorney sees himself or herself and what is important to the attorney.
If the attorney brags about being ruthless, you may want to consider looking elsewhere. Judges tend to have the most respect for those attorneys who are oriented toward problem-solving and helping clients resolve their disputes. They do not necessarily like or respect the attorneys who like to keep fighting, escalating fees and controversy.
On the other hand, you want to avoid an attorney who sees him or herself as great at settling all of their cases. They may try to get you to settle a case that should be fought for and decided by a judge.
Find an attorney who is known for both settlement and court experience, so that they will apply the approach that is most appropriate to your case.
Q. Ask if you can have 2-3 names of current or former clients to talk to?
This is a delicate question and you may not want to ask it if you already feel comfortable with an attorney. Some attorneys will feel offended by this request, while others will want to protect their clients from unnecessary intrusion.
However, if you are unsure which attorney to hire after interviewing two or three, talking to other clients may be the way to make your decision one way or the other. The attorney‘s response to this question may tell you enough without even calling anybody.
WHAT IS A REASONABLE FEE?
Rates vary greatly around the country, but it is not unusual today for Family Law attorney‘s fees to range from $100 to $400 per hour, depending on your geographic area, the years of experience of the attorney, and the number of hearings involved in the case (which is often determined by how driven the Blamer is to bring large and small issues to court).
Have access to at least $5,000 to $10,000 for a retainer to start a very assertive approach to handling a case with a Blamer.
Keep in mind that an entire case involves several hearings, experts, many delays, and responses to ever-escalating abusive conduct and/or false allegations. This can range in cost from $5,000 to $50,000, and sometimes higher.
Also, keep in mind the future potential costs if the Blamer is back in court several times over the years.
If you get a good court order, you may have to bring the Blamer back to court to enforce it. Additionally, if you get a good court order, the Blamer may repeatedly bring you back to court in an effort to get a different decision.
If you get a bad court order (such as finding you guilty of actions you never did or the Blamer innocent of all real misbehavior), you may need to bring the case back to court again (although there are many restrictions about this and it is not always possible).
Ask your attorney if there are tasks you can do to save money. They may suggest research and gathering of information and documents. However, this is limited, as the attorney is responsible for your case once you hire him or her, and has requirements about what tasks they must do (which will explained further in the next chapter).
Be financially prepared. You do not want to be in conflict with your attorney about money in the middle of a difficult case. However, you should be able to discuss money openly with your attorney.
Many attorneys do not charge you to discuss questions about their bills, and some will delete a charge if you think it was excessive. Find an attorney you can work with, not against.
The cost of the attorney should not be the deciding factor in your selection. Just because an attorney is very expensive does not mean that he or she will pay the most attention to the needs of your case - or that he or she is the best for the issues you are facing.
On the other hand, just because an attorney may charge less than average for your area does not mean that he or she is less qualified for your case. Realistically, you want the person who has the best combination of experience, understanding of the specific issues in your case, and the ability to communicate well with you.
TWO TYPES OF ATTORNEYS
In looking for an attorney, it is helpful to consider common differences in their approaches - especially to cases involving difficult personalities.
The following is my non-scientific analysis of those attorneys I have dealt with in and out of court over the past ten years. They address the same legal issues, but advocate for their clients very differently.
1. NEGATIVE ADVOCATE ATTORNEYS
As described throughout this booklet, anyone can be a Negative Advocate if they assist a Blamer in promoting their cognitive distortions and negative, often abusive behavior.
Some attorneys are habitual Negative Advocates. They try to take most of their cases to court. They represent whatever their client says as true, with little or no skepticism or investigation. Essentially, they are representing their client‘s cognitive distortions or "negative thoughts."
This is comparable to representing a drunk while they are still under the influence - and accepting what they say as true.
Negative Advocates focus their attention on the judge. They treat each issue as a win-lose contest, with the goal of winning the most at court. Time is spent primarily preparing for court, waiting at court and presenting ("arguing") the case.
They generally do not have close client relationships. They often impress their clients, especially at the beginning of the case with their tough talk and seeming support for their clients‘ allegations and excuses.
The methods of Negative Advocates are adversarial from the start. They are focused on advocating for their client‘s "position," rather than understanding and solving their client‘s "problems."
They focus on gathering negative evidence about the other party because the negative usually weighs more in the adversarial process. Subpoenas are routinely issued, depositions routinely taken, and other forms of "discovery" pursued, often with no real goal to gather information.
Intimidation tactics are common. They treat their client as "all good" and the other party as "all bad." They often consider themselves as all good (or smart) and the other attorney as all bad (or stupid).
Negative Advocates seem to minimize contact or negotiations with the opposing attorney (or unrepresented party), as they prefer the threat of going to court.
In court, their goal appears to be to split the parties into "good spouse" and "bad spouse" in the eyes of the judge. They will raise minor issues and make them sound highly negative. They will minimize major issues and make them sound insignificant or untrue.
There is an appealing strength to their presentations and aggressive manners. They can be charming--or hostile and deceitful --to win a point. However, their tone, lack of empathy, and all-or-nothing manner may eventually be turned against their clients.
For Negative Advocates, the client appears to be a minor part of the process. Client information may be obtained and used without question. Clients may be minimally counseled about the law, how to help themselves, or how to reflect on their own behavior. Clients may primarily meet with support staff.
Negative Advocates do not seem to encourage mediation or negotiation, although they may give lip service to these approaches.
Negative Advocates tend to cost the most because court takes so much time--preparing documents, numerous hearings, and waiting around. The more issues taken to court, the higher the cost and the more money made.
Negative Advocate attorneys appear to be about 10-20% of all attorneys. However, they appear in a much larger number of high conflict court cases. They seem to be the attorneys who often represent Blamers without question.
Negative Advocates can be some of the meanest people you will ever meet. However, sometimes they are the nicest people - perhaps too nice to their clients in accepting and advocating for their cognitive distortions.
2. PROBLEM SOLVER ATTORNEYS
The focus of attention for Problem Solvers appears to be that of solving problems rather than rigidly advocating for a position. Hearings may be set at court, but Problem Solver attorneys generally make a good attempt to settle issues first based on the legal standards.
Their goal is to gather information that will help solve the problems the parties are facing. They often counsel their clients to be reasonable and to tone down their negative views of their spouses. They encourage them to consider alternatives for possible settlement.
There may be subpoenas, depositions, and other discovery. But often there is no discovery until the Problem Solver determines it is needed.
Secondly, the attorney makes an effort to negotiate with the other attorney (or party without an attorney) and attempts to settle issues along the standard laws and guidelines with some give and take. They do not try to intimidate, but rather persuade and find areas of compromise.
If negotiation efforts fail, then discovery may be pursued and the process becomes adversarial. Yet Problem Solvers can remain generally friendly and do not try to unnecessarily escalate problems. They tend to be sincere and interested in solving their client‘s legal problems.
Problem Solvers may educate their clients about legal standards and generally communicate more with their clients than Negative Advocates. They may support the use of mediation or negotiation outside of court.
Sometimes they may act as consulting attorneys for those who represent themselves. They expect their clients to act reasonably and give them feedback when they do not.
In most cases, Problem Solvers cost less than Negative Advocates because they settle many issues without a hearing. However, they can cost as much as Negative Advocates if negotiations fail and the adversarial process is pursued.
Many Problem Solvers have adopted the philosophy of the Collaborative Law movement described in Chapter 3. I like this approach and attorneys using it fit into this category in my opinion.
However, since Collaborative Lawyers will not take a case to court by signed agreement, you need to evaluate whether to close the court option when a Borderline or Narcissist is involved. The chances are good that you will end up in court on some issue, at least once.
Some attorneys have taken a mental health class or training program. They focus on solving their client‘s larger problems, which often include some need for mental health information or treatment as well as legal assistance.
By addressing the mental health issues, they help their clients resolve their legal issues. This can range from recognizing a substance abuse problem to helping them cope with a spouse with a personality disorder.
These attorneys generally educate their clients on how to help themselves and how to handle the legal problems and personal problems related to their case. They encourage mediation or negotiation. Court may still be used as needed--especially in cases needing control of abusive behavior.
Problem Solvers are the vast majority of attorneys. However, they do not get the attention that Negative Advocates seem to want and get.
THIS BOOK IS ABOUT DIVORCING NARCISSISTS OR BORDERLINES BUT IS VERY APPLICABLE TO ANY ADVERSARIAL OR ABUSE SITUATION WHEN DIVORCING.
Which Type is Best For You?
While Negative Advocates seem to be very appealing, they often escalate their cases unnecessarily and costs can be very high.
Problem Solvers seem to be more concerned about their clients and resolving their problems. They can be highly assertive when necessary, but reasonable at the same time.
Ideally, find someone who feels comfortable and can work with you through all the ups and downs of your case.
Sarah seems to have found a Problem Solver attorney, referred through the therapist she started seeing. Her husband also seems to have a Problem Solver who is open to negotiations. They may be able to work together to minimize the conflict and do what is right, even though they may not understand Blamers.
Thomas has been fortunate to find an attorney who is familiar with abuse and false allegations of abuse. He also knows about Blamers in family court cases.
It appears that Tammy has found a Negative Advocate who is uninterested in communicating with Thomas‘ attorney and who has done nothing to check out Tammy‘s claims. He expects a difficult year.
Hiring an attorney is often a worrisome task. Yet they are necessary to the success of your case, since they know the law, know what is important, and are respected by the courts, which helps in these emotion-based, limited-fact cases. Asking for referrals and personally interviewing several attorneys is best.
You are in charge of your case. Change attorneys if you feel uncomfortable. If necessary, find a new attorney before dropping the one you have, just in case you decide not to change.
Sometimes potential clients meet with a new attorney to discuss dissatisfactions with their current attorney. After a brief discussion, they often realize that their attorney is actually doing a good job under the circumstances. It is better not to change attorneys a lot - it tends to look like you are a difficult personality and may negatively impact your case in the eyes of the court.
Interestingly, while attorneys have a generally negative stereotype in our society, in surveys most clients report having a favorable opinion of their own attorney. Find one who fits for you.
An Excerpt from SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist
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