THE COURTS OFTEN DO NOT ALLOW ENOUGH TIME FOR TRIAL
IS YOUR ATTORNEY ON TOP OF YOUR CASE?
Good morning and welcome to our blog. If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you are going through a very difficult time in your life - whether it is a potential divorce, or other family law litigation. The first issue I thought that I would discuss is the limited time available for trial in family law cases. This is one of the largest obstacles that family law attorneys face. Our clients often may have numerous and factually (and sometimes legally) complex issues. A three hour trial (or even a full day trial) is often simply not enough to present all of the relevant facts in a case. While a party in a civil or criminal case may get a 2 week or longer jury trial to present far less complex issues, family law cases are rapid and sometime feel like a war zone. As you are probably already aware, Arizona (and almost all other states) do not have jury trials in family law cases. Rather, the judge decides all issues. This can be very nerve racking when you only have a very short amount of time to present your case, and the judge is making credibility issues which may impact your children or may have substantial financial consequences.
One of the things that a good family law attorney needs to do is map and stratagize how to get the necessary information before the Court in a limited amount of time. This may be done through pre-trial depositions, outlines and summaries, comprehensive joint pre-trial statements and other methods. I always meet my client in advance of trial and go through my outline of questions for both my client as well as my anticipated cross examination questions for the other party. The client will then get a good idea how succinct he / she needs to reply to the questions, and I can also confirm that all of the information that the client feels is important is in fact addressed (or if I do not feel that such is an important part of the case, I can discuss this with the client in advance).
I have come across numerous persons who complain that their attorney did not bring up things that they felt were important. There have been a number of cases where I felt that an attorney committed malpractice by not incorporating important client information into the trial presentation. I have been in some trials when the opposing attorney ran out of their allotted time before getting to some very important issues. In one recent case, I had to stiffle a cough - you should have seen the look on the attorney's face when the judge said "Mr. ___, you are out of time". I felt bad for him ... but not too bad.
If your attorney seems that have a good grasp of the facts, and ensures that the important facts are presented to the Court, you are probably in good hands. There are many very good family law attorneys that do a good job day in and day out. Unfortunately, as in every occupation, there are attorneys that are sloppy, burned out, overly arrogant, or are not well educated as to the many complex issues in family law cases. One way of telling whether your attorney is on top of things is whether he / she responds in a timely manner to your phone calls and emails. Family law attorneys are notoriously busy, however, if your attorney is not getting back to you within 48 hours or has not made other arrangements to reply to your inquiries, you may have a problem.
If it seems like you have to re-educate your attorney every time you talk to him / her, and your attorney seems to leave out important facts in the pleadings and the presentations to the Court, you may want to make a change or at least seek a second opinion regarding your case.
If you have comments regarding this post, and if you decide to share any of your own stories, I will appreciate if you DO NOT personally name any attorneys that you have had negative experiences with. I value my professional relationship with other family law attorneys, and I will not be able to post your comments if you name any attorneys specifically.