I’m the attorney; not the babysitter

Posted Friday, March 25th, 2011 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, Of Interest to General Public

I had an opposing attorney call me this morning asking if my client’s plans had changed since yesterday.  When we confirmed her plans  the previous day I reminded her to let me, and the opposing party, know if her plans changed.  I hadn’t heard from her since,  so I told opposing counsel that her plans hadn’t changed.

He then asked me to confirm this again with my client.  I suggested his client contact my client if his client wanted confirmation.  He noted our clients don’t communicate well.  I suggested it’s time they learn.  He got offended that I wouldn’t take the time to make the phone calls to confirm what I’d already confirmed.

Typically, this isn’t just one phone call as it will involve me playing phone-tag with my client and then phone-tag with the opposing counsel.  Further, typically, the answer to one question leads to a follow up question–and more phone-tag.  Even if I could justify billing my client for this time [I can’t] I went into law because it’s a dignified profession and there’s nothing dignified about getting involved in petty squabbles between clients who won’t communicate with each other.  Yet opposing attorneys, especially inexperienced ones, frequently ask me to get involved in such matters.  They appear to see nothing “off” about injecting themselves into logistical issues that mature adults should be able to resolve without our involvement

I suggested to opposing counsel that I am not my client’s babysitter, I am her attorney.  At that point he shot off a letter to the judge, complaining about my behavior, as though we were two nursery school students and he was tattling to teacher.  We then received a conference call from the judge who, thankfully, fully appreciated my position.

So maybe I’m not the babysitter.  Maybe we’re the babies.  Such, perhaps, is the culture of family court.  No wonder so many other attorneys try to avoid it.


9 thoughts on I’m the attorney; not the babysitter

  1. David Wilson says:

    Amen Brother

  2. Jay Elliott says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how divorce court lawyers think they can write judges with their grievances, as if they were referees. How stupid.

  3. Greg,

    You are absolutely correct. I often encourage my clients to discuss these issues as adults for the simple reason that, adult discussion about minor issues like these often rebuilds their trust and moves them closer to resolving the larger issues in their divorce either on their own or through counsel.

  4. How often as the GAL do I become embroiled in the same sort of thing, then object to the bill for 15 phone calls, that one between the parties could have resolved.

    Great point Greg!

  5. I oppose “babysitting” in general but as a practical matter we must all do some of it. We use designated babysitters in our office to deal with relationship problems for dysfunctional clients.

    I like what Jay Elliott says about lawyers writing to family court judges. I wrote an essay on it about a year and a half ago. I shared the essay with several family court judges. I sent you a copy in a separate email.

    I may need to unsubscribe from your blog. You make me think and I do not have time for that.

    1. MJ Goodwin says:

      You are always thinking, my friend!

  6. Sally King-Gilreath says:

    But when the parents are not communicating for whatever reason and it involves an immediate issue concerning the welfare of the children, we have to be very expensive babysitters.

    1. Sally,

      As the guardian you may have to be the expensive babysitter. As a party’s attorney, I couldn’t be. If I discovered my client was doing something against the welfare of the children, it would mean that she was not following my advice. Advising her to alter her course would be unavailing. I would be left with the untenable options of ignoring this information or acting in a manner disloyal to my client. In such circumstances ignorance is bliss.

    2. MJ Goodwin says:

      As a GAL, I do adopt what I will call the “modified baby sitter approach”. I have an assistant and when things like this arise, she graciously and gracefully handles them for me. I do bill for these services. But I don’t let it get out of hand. I don’t think I would have confirmed the same conversation twice in two days. I might have confirmed it if a week had gone by. But not just a day. Like the song says, “God is great, beer is good, people are crazy.”

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