The benefits of ethical business practice for the modern-day divorce lawyer are undisputable. Sure, we all wish to approach our law practices ethically, but what does that really mean for us in today’s ever-changing and continuously challenging legal arena?
The benefits of ethical business practices for divorce lawyers ends up being a win-win-win.
It's a win for you, a win for your clients, and a win for your long-term profitability.
By implementing ethical business practice, modern-day divorce lawyers can see benefits for their clients, their reputation, and their financial success.
However, what it means to be ethical has changed and evolved. In the last 30 years alone, there have been tremendous shifts in the meaning of being an ethical divorce lawyer. Society’s values, laws and technology have evolved. They have evolved a lot, particularly when we look at family law.
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VIDEO: VAL EXPLAINS the benefits of ethical business practices
I often think about what it was like when I first practiced law.
30 years ago, the primary divorce lawyer in the firm I worked, I will call him Aggressive Arnold, was considered nothing but the best in terms of being an ethical divorce lawyer.
Aggressive Arnold had many great qualities:
- Aggressive Arnold was impeccable with his fees because he never padded his accounts with extra time.
- Aggressive Arnold was always very well-prepared for all the trials he attended.
- Aggressive Arnold always did exhaustive legal research to support his clients’ legal positions at trials.
- Aggressive Arnold is a highly intelligent person, and he won most of the trials and hearings he litigated.
So, yes, Aggressive Arnold worked hard for his clients, was an intense advocate, and cared deeply about the results he got.
What used to be ethical lawyering now constitutes questionable Ethical Business practices
From Ethical Lawyer to Questionable Ethical Business Practices. That is who it became for Aggressive Arnold. Aggressive Arnold also had many problems, and the old and traditional way of practicing law had him missing out. As well, his reputation suffered.
However, Aggressive Arnold also had many problems and the old and traditional way of practicing law had him missing out on the benefits of ethical business practice:
- Aggressive Arnold had a reputation as being the most aggressive divorce lawyer in his city.
- Aggressive Arnold was a very stressed-out person. It was as if he was the poster child for why lawyers are so unhappy.
- Aggressive Arnold worked very long hours and most weekends. He had lots of cases, and many trials to prepare for. Lawyer work life balance was not anything he even considered or had time for.
- It was the norm that Aggressive Arnold brought his clients and their changing families to trial rather than settling matters by negotiating or other dispute resolution means. Although he was known as the best family court lawyer in our city, it was problematic. He took too many cases to court.
- He had a reputation for using a "scorched earth" strategy in his dealings. He used aggressive and confrontational tactics when questioning the opposing party and was so intimidating, that many lawyers refused to take cases with him on the “other side.”
- Aggressive Arnold was so hostile with other lawyers, many of them refused to speak with him on the phone and made sure all communications were strictly in writing.
- He mocked and made fun of other lawyers both inside and outside of the courtroom.
- Aggressive Arnold could often be heard yelling at other lawyers and yelling at his own clients.
The Legal Arena has Shifted
Compared to Aggressive Arnold’s heyday, the benefits of ethical business practice as a divorce lawyer have changed substantially.
Here are just some ways the legal arena has shifted:
- Families do not belong in courtrooms: There is now a much greater focus on “alternative” dispute resolution methods. Almost gone is the traditional courtroom divorce. In the past 30 years, there has been a growing emphasis on mediation and collaborative law, which can be less costly and emotionally draining for clients. In order to reap the benefits of ethical business practice, divorce lawyers must now be familiar with and trained in these methods. The best divorce lawyers are also trained as mediators.
- Kids come first: There is a much greater emphasis on protecting children's interests. There is a growing awareness of the impact of conflict on children. Ethical divorce lawyers now need to consider the children's best interests and work towards minimizing the negative effects of divorce on them. This includes guiding and teaching our clients how to reduce conflict and sharing with them the negative impact of conflict on kids’ futures.
- The Impact of Family Violence: There is a much greater awareness of domestic violence and abuse. To reap the benefits of ethical business practice, divorce lawyers must understand family violence, how it shows up for families, and how it can be dealt with legally to ensure the safety for clients and their kids.
- Use of Technology: The use of technology has grown in the last 30 years and just because someone has been in practice a long time, it is no excuse to avoid its use. To reap the benefits of ethical business practices, lawyers must be familiar with a wide range of tools and technologies, such as case management software, data processing, legal research tools, and template software to manage client data, run client cases efficiently, and communicate effectively with clients.
- The Financial Cost of Litigation is much better known: The financial consequences of dragging families through the court system is well known. Divorcing families wish to keep more of their hard-earned resources for themselves and their children rather than lining the pockets of their divorce lawyer. So they should.
- The emotional cost of litigation is much better known: Court is not only draining financially, it is tremendously stressful not only for the clients but the lawyers representing them. Clients do not want to go to court if they can avoid it. As lawyers, it is best to keep them out of the court system whenever we can.
- Awareness that our clients are going through a very difficult time: Divorce lawyers must be aware of the emotional aspects of divorce. We are now expected to provide at least some support to our clients emotionally. We are also expected to recommend or refer clients to other professionals, such as therapists, divorce coaches, and child experts.
Here are 10 examples of ethical business practices.