Genius? Or Idiot?

If one doesn’t begin one’s family law career with a manic-depressive temperament, one is likely to retire with one.  Because family court judges are invested with so much discretion–especially on issues of alimony, child custody and attorneys fees–even seasoned attorneys can be wildly inaccurate in their assessment of likely outcomes.  Every year I have a fair number of hearings in which I think my client’s position is a sure loser, only to prevail.  I also have a number of hearings that I enter believing my client’s position is much stronger, only to lose grievously.  It’s wonderful to “justify” these unexpected victories to clients; much harder to explain the inexplicable losses.

Human nature perceives patterns even where no such patterns actually exist.  Baseball fans have argued hot streaks and slumps for over a century but the mathematically inclined have been unable to document anything more than random fluctuations.  When my unexpected wins or losses have common elements, I tend to “locate” patterns–“that judge must really dislike me; I wonder why” or “I seem to have alimony issues figured out”–that don’t exist.  When I suffer a streak of unexpected losses I question whether I am the Typhoid Mary of family law.  And when I celebrate a string of unexpected victories…

The Greeks warn against hubris; the Christians extol humility.  Practice family law long enough and one is likely to suffer bouts of both emotions.  That’s the hazard of any occupation in which so much discretion is invested in fallible humans.  Sometimes I’m the genius and sometimes I’m the idiot.  I presume most of my colleagues feel the same.

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