Q. I am represented by an attorney. However, I don't have a lot of faith in him anymore and now trial is scheduled in four months. Am I being paranoid in wanting a second opinion about my divorce case?
Clara - Redding, CA
A. I understand, Clara. Dissolution proceedings generate great anxiety. The circumstances surrounding the breakup of relationships, division of property and debts, sharing of custody, fears about future economics, and being a stranger to a process that one can only marginally direct or control cause difficulties in evaluating the quality and value of advice that clients receive.
Please don't hesitate to seek a second or even a third opinion about your family law matter.
We all ought to have a healthy skepticism about what professionals tell us, particularly when the subject affects us in an intimate, immediate or lifetime basis. It is not uncommon to become suspicious of one's attorney, or to lose confidence. Indeed, a major tactic which parties use to manipulate each other in high conflict divorces involves promoting distrust of the other's lawyer; a second opinion may become useful in grounding you. Your fears may be well founded, or they may be caused by a lack of understanding (most often a result of poor communication skills on the part of an attorney, or a lack of apparent empathy for your plight). In either case with these warning signs evident and some time left to change horses if that is indeed what you conclude is necessary, failing to investigate this further right now is a recipe for disaster.
Lawyers are not all created equally; some are unquestionably smarter and more poised and articulate than others, and there is a huge variation in the level of skill and commitment that individuals possess or bring to any particular case or specialty topic.
Certified Family Law Specialists are highly likely to understand the legal complexities of modern divorce, and to be familiar and comfortable with current best practices in the mental health sciences as they relate to individual and family dynamics. Most attorneys lack sufficient interest to bother to undertake the fairly grueling training, education, and testing required for certification as a legal specialist. Although certification as a divorce expert does not guarantee the outcome you desire to achieve, it does stack the odds in your favor - hiring a specialist is more likely to pair you with an experienced legal professional who is at the top of the divorce lawyer bio-sphere. If your attorney is not certified, or even if he is and you sense that his advice is not efficient or it is not making sense to you (or others), it is no sin to discreetly step away, take some breaths, and get reliable and independent feedback.
If you are feeling uneasy about the quality of the legal representation you are receiving, don't ignore the signals. Given what is at stake, why not seek a second legal opinion from a qualified attorney? At worse you may find that your anxiety has been dispelled and that the real problem with you and your lawyer involves a lack of communication or a lack of understanding by one or both of you that can be remedied; at best you may avert a developing train crash before your life and finances are thoroughly wrecked.
We don't have crystal balls, but we all possess intuition and common sense. Use yours!
We offer Second Opinions and frank and discreet, expert advice, by telephone and video-conferencing and webcam!
Thurman W. Arnold III, C.F.L.S.