Genius? Or Idiot?

Posted Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

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.

4 thoughts on Genius? Or Idiot?

  1. ML Ramsdale says:

    I remind myself often that “pride comes before a fall.” And if I don’t remember that, there’s always a ruling aganst me.

  2. Jill says:

    The truth of this article is what keeps the family court mediation business thriving: Nobody wants to “roll the dice” by going to court if they can avoid it.

  3. Greg, you have a much better perspective than I do. When I win, it was because I had a good case and a good client. When I lose it is because I am an idiot. I find that many of my clients take losses better than I do. However, I do not pressure clients into settlements they really do not want. My experience is that many clients, particularly men, feel better after a loss at trial than a settlement after mediation.

  4. Caroline Ledlie says:

    Well said.

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