Pros and cons of one-year vs. two-year separation period for contested divorce litigation -- a divorce lawyer reflects

At the end of 2017, couples began to be affected by Pennsylvania's the new divorce law, which cut the living-apart period before filing contested no-fault divorce litigation, without mutual consent and without all the financial and child-related issues worked out, from two years to one year. Carolyn R. Mirabile, a partner and family law group head at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby in Norristown, Pa., looks back at what seemed to have worked better under the old law, and what improvements she hopes for from the new law. 

One Year Later On the One-Year Separation

By Carolyn R. Mirabile in The Intelligencer - Mar 15, 2018


My comments on proposed limited-scope representation rules; your comments due March 1

The Virginia Supreme Court and the Judicial Council are considering a new rule to deal with limited-scope representation, especially assistance to people who are already in litigation. My comments on it are below. The proposal, and where you can send comments by March 1, 2018, are at:

Advisory Committee on Rules of Court, Judicial Council of Virginia, "LIMITED-SCOPE REPRESENTATION ISSUES".

Overall comments — 
 
This is a very important reform. Full-scale representation in family law litigation is often unaffordable even by people who would be considered upper middle class. And it takes both divorcing spouses to prevent any particular divorce from becoming unaffordable, long-running litigation.
 
The proposed rule has many extra cautionary requirements for the attorney, or the attorney’s name and contact information, to be present in court, and on documents, even for issues where the lawyer is not involved. Please bear in mind that each of these requirements comes at a cost, not only of the attorney’s time, attention, and availability for other cases, but also by sowing predictable confusion among clients and especially their opposing parties, who aren’t involved in the limited-scope agreement. When lawyers’ names are on papers or a lawyer is present, lay people are going to assume that the lawyer is a prime mover in whatever is going on. Lay people, and even the lawyers themselves, will often feel that the lawyer has some responsibility to intervene or advise about whatever comes to the lawyer’s attention. Lawyers' instinct to be helpful will inevitably cause “mission creep” in many cases. So all such requirements should be kept to the minimum necessary.
 
As lawyers comply with these additional requirements, clients and other members of the public may feel that the lawyer is hanging around like a vulture waiting to insert herself into the proceedings and expand her involvement so that it is no longer limited. Or interfering, intruding and violating the client’s desire to limit the scope of the lawyer’s work, by writing to the client with repeated notifications of well-known facts about hearing dates, etc., whenever the lawyer is cced on something the other side sends out. Many clients already respond this way to communications that court rules and ethics rules require us to send.
 
Line comments
 
9-10 
 
 I agree that a lawyer should not be present but generally uninvolved, only popping up now and then with objections. That would be chaotic and unfair.
 
But I can also see the value in having an attorney handle only a particular motion in limine or motion to suppress. It seems fairly clear that the intent is to allow that, but it would help to make that explicit.
 
11-13
 
" A notice of limited scope representation is not required for  … (ii) services performed by an attorney before any litigation is pending”
 
Does that dispensation also apply to the requirements to “indicate” or “identify" in (1) (F), Alternative versions 2 through 5?
 
I believe it should apply. Either way, that question should be answered explicitly.
 
26 et seq. — Alternative versions of (F)
 
In all versions, the term “papers for submission to a court” is intended to be clear, but what about marital separation agreements? They are not court filings. They are binding contracts when the parties sign them, regardless of whether they are submitted to a court. But whenever one gets signed by both spouses, perhaps 95% of the time there is going to be divorce, and the agreement i8s going to be submitted to the court as part of the divorce process.
 
I think limited-scope assistance is crucial, so I oppose Alternative # 5, which essentially bans limited-scope, and Alternative # 4, which creates a presumption against it; imposes a needless requirement to essentially file a notice of appearance, and then to file a notice of disappearance.
 
86
 
“Papers” sounds vague. I think you mean litigation documents such as pleadings or discovery requests, but we need a more precise, comprehensive, understandable, and distinctive term for that.
If it’s intended to mean everything, including settlement correspondence, that’s reasonable, too, but that too would need to be clearer. Because the word “papers”, to a lot of people, vaguely indicates papers that are somehow official, binding, and/or threatening.
 
88
 
The requirement should be to notify the “sender”, not “the adversaries”. They might not be the same people.
 
 
notify the adversaries in writing of that fact
should be changed to  
notify the adversaries, in writing, of that fact
or
notify the adversaries of that in writing
 
But really, “that” or “that fact” might not make clear to everyone which of the facts mentioned earlier in the sentence it refers to, so it would be better to say, 
 
“the attorney must notify the sender that the documents received deal wholly or partly with matters outside the scope of the limited representation,"
 
107-108
 
"(D) Contacts by adversaries or co-parties on matters within the limited scope of 108 representation shall be with counsel …"
 
What about family law cases, where many couples legitimately continue some kinds of negotiation between themselves, even when they both have counsel who are negotiating at the same time? 
 
110-111
 
“copy served upon the attorney making a limited scope appearance” — 
 
Would serving the attorney require that attorney to respond and notify as required in (3)(C)? If that happens once, it makes sense or is at least harmless. But in litigation where filings go back and forth almost every week, it’s going to drag the limited-scope attorney into a lot of busy work, and confuse litigants — the client and/or the opposing party — about the attorney’s role.
 
115-116
 
(A) — attendance at all court proceedings, outside the scope,  should not be required if the rule is truly allowing limited representation. I would expect attorneys to charge for this time, and it would be a major burden on the clients and the attorneys.
 
John Crouch
VSB Council Member for 17th Circuit
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers (Formerly IAML)
and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals
 

State Bar's changes to interstate disbarment/suspension rules, and professionalism course mandate, made official

The Virginia Supreme Court has approved rule changes passed by the Virginia State Bar Council to allow more flexibility and discretion in applying the rules that (1) require new lawyers to take a professionalism course and (2) duplicate other states' and courts' punishments for ethics violations. Both revised rules take effect March 1.


Is family-court duty cruel & unusual punishment for judges who cuss out criminals?

<<According to the Tribune, Sacks “has long had a reputation for delivering strongly worded rebukes from the bench.” He was reassigned for four months to domestic relations court in 2004 for what the Tribune describes as his “profanity-punctuated lecture” during a sentencing hearing.>>

Judge's sarcasm was 'unwarranted and wholly inappropriate,' appeals court says


Pro Bono rule light on substance, heavy on compliance, penalties, lengthy definitions

What's going on in Virginia's pro-bono-reporting controversy was illuminated for me by a recent interview with law professor Richard Epstein, known for many things but first for his monumental works on Strict Liability and Eminent Domain.

"... We're now entering into a compliance culture, where if you do something wrong, the sanctions are always draconian. So you (A) have to have somebody to fix it so you don't get punished. And (B) you have to have all your ducks in order so that if something goes wrong you have all sorts of defenses ... So the compliance culture essentially requires industry concentration ... If you double the size of a firm, you don't double the size of your compliance costs. And so one of the things that Obamacare has done is that it has led to a wave of hospital and industry mergers in an effort to minimize compliance costs thereby creating higher levels of market concentration, which leads to monopoly power."

    Maybe that's why Virginia Lawyers Weekly reports that of the public comments the state bar received on mandatory pro bono reporting, the favorable majority overwhelmingly came from lawyers at big firms and legal aid agencies. I don't mean that this is big-firm lawyers' motive, but it's why the load of compliance isn't an issue for them, and is a big issue for small-firm and solo lawyers. Also, the rule lets firms concentrate their pro bono time in a few lawyers, so they can undertake big, time-consuming cases for the poor. That's a very worthy adaptation to the rule, IF there should even be a rule in the first place. And I suspect many bigger firms already keep track of all their lawyers' pro bono and extracurricular time, so they can put the results in press releases.

The proposed change only requires lawyers to fill in a number in a "How many hours" blank once a year when renewing their membership and paying their dues to the mandatory Virginia State Bar, which licenses and regulates lawyers. There's a lot more that advocates for the poor's legal needs might want to know to make the information more useful -- what kinds of law do you practice? Which of the many kinds of work listed in the Definitions section do you do? Do you do the pro bono through other institutions or just through your law firm? What needs do you think are out there? Any other ways you could work to meet them? What gets in the way of doing that? 

So the Bar only asks lawyers this one short, innocent question, about your free-will offering of humanitarian good works, where the only wrong answer is no answer. (Or an answer that's not a number of hours.) But it makes lawyers awfully apprehensive when it shows up asking that little question but loaded for bear, bristling with hooks, nets, expulsion devices, license-grabbers, long lists and cross-references. Not in a survey like the ones the Supreme Court and Bar already send out, but as part of membership renewal, in a list of questions that gravely affect one's permission to practice law: have you been conflicted of a felony, been disciplined by another state's bar, do you have liability insurance ... ? If lawyers wonder exactly what hours they should include in the number, they need to look up the lists of definitions and alternative means of compliance (which the proposed change will lengthen) in Professional Responsibility Rule 6.1 and, especially in its Commentary. To find out the rules and penalties for not reporting or late reporting, they must look at Bar Organization Rule "19. Procedure for the Administrative Suspension of a Member."  And it does it, not in a survey like the ones the Supreme Court already sends out, but as part of membership renewal and in a list of questions that gravely affect one's permission to practice law: have you been conflicted of a felony, been disciplined by another state's bar, do you have liability insurance ... ?

Just another cumulative annoyance in the process of what Virginia's great writer Florence King called being "nibbled to death by a bureaucratic duck". 

Quotation is from Page 2 of 

Richard Epstein: Why Obamacare Is Collapsing and He's Not Voting for Trump, Hillary, *or* Johnson

Q&A with the great libertarian law professor on cigarettes, global warming, foreign policy, and much, much more.


Defending marriage vs. unwanted dissolution, turning weakness into strength: Tim Kaine's first cases

"Diane married James against [her] guardian’s wishes and [the guardian] wanted to get the marriage annulled. Kaine represented Diane in a lawsuit to preserve her marriage. He fought the guardian and won, learning that the guardian wanted Diane’s dis­ability checks.

“'What started off as a marriage case in Richmond Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court ended up as a criminal trial against the guardian in federal court,' he said.

"Kaine said, 'I learned a lot from Di­ane.' including the responsibility of law practice and that what a lawyer does really mat­ters.

“'And I also learned a critical lesson that served me well through­out my career— whatever the is­sue seems to be at first, look deeper. The marriage law­suit, ostensibly filed to protect a mentally disabled person, was really the guardian’s effort to continue the subjugation of Diane and the theft of her disability payments,' he said.

From "The Education of Tim Kaine", by  in Virginia Lawyers' Weekly, May 27, 2016, p. 3.  Also available on Sen. Kaine's web site.

The article, about Kaine's talk at William & Mary's law school graduation, also includes some vital advice for lawyers and pretty much everyone else:

At one point Kaine said he sat at his computer with a mental block. Then he recalled a line from Second Corinthians, “in my weakness is my strength.” He said he understood then that “you can’t flee from your weak­nesses but have to embrace and own them as a natural part of being hu­man. I was afraid. But somehow, just admitting that to myself helped me jump back into the work and crank out all the pleadings and advocate at all the hearings right up to the last day.”

Kaine said, “This is a lesson that I come back to again and again in my life. Fleeing from your weaknesses or pretending that you don’t have them makes you weak. But acknowledging your weaknesses, which can be very hard to do, in one of life’s great mys­teries, can make you strong.”

He closed his remarks with a prom­ise to the new grads: “My clients taught me lessons that I still reflect on today, long after I gave up law practice because of the demands of full time public service. They changed me as a lawyer and they changed me as a per­son. And they will change you too,” he said.

 


Law schools' focus on case-law makes the law & lawyers elitist, undemocratic, bad at their most important job

Larry Gaughan, an elder statesman of family law and mediation in Northern Virginia, recently reflected on the legal profession's excessive focus on case-law, and the attitude that law isn't real until it has been applied in a published appeals court case. Besides the way it poisons lawyers' ability to help their clients, which he so eloquently illustrates, I think there's even more:

  1. It makes young lawyers ridiculously elitist and contentious -- they model themselves on bow-tied Supreme Court Justices hurling pompous insults at each other and at the people involved in their cases, and not on real lawyers working in the trial courts, lawyers who work to resolve disputes before they become trials, and lawyers who try to draft contracts and statutes so well that people won't even have legal disputes about them, and won't have to go to lawyers to know what they mean.
  2. It's anti-democratic: As Larry points out, major new legislation in our field -- even something as basic as letting divorce courts divide property --  is often not understood, and not really recognized, until there is case law saying what it means. And Virginia's appeals courts sometimes take the attitude that revising the details of divorce-related law is only their business, and when the legislature tries to meddle in it or to undo the effects of an appeals court decision, they seem to do their best to frustrate the legislature's aims or use the new statutes to reach absurd and unintended results, as if to say, 'see what a mess you make when you meddle in the affairs of divorce courts!' In Constitutional law, the Third Amendment and, until recent decades, the Second Amendment, are often described as a dead letter because there were no court case opinions 'making them real.'

Larry writes:

"In 1890 American law schools began to switch to the study of appellate cases as the primary means of legal education.  ...  Given that so few law graduates now wind up as litigators, that approach makes less sense with every passing year.  Almost by its very nature, the case system teaches us to look backwards and to think of law as litigation. ...

"The case system made more sense when most law graduates wound up as lawyers whose practices included litigation.  Even [for them], law schools were not great in teaching statutory interpretation.  I remember vividly the problems many Virginia lawyers had in figuring out how to interpret the new equitable distribution statute as first enacted in 1982.  To many lawyers, the new statute really only started to have meaning after the appellate cases started to come into play. ...

"We must recognize that most legal disputes are not resolved by courts, that statutes have meaning even before courts interpret them, and that more law school graduates will pursue careers that require some knowledge of the legal framework, but also the ability to quickly learn and assimilate other kinds of expertise."

Like most lawyers, I have good and bad recollections of my own legal education.  I remember the popular law professor who taught commercial law courses, and the skepticism about another professor who taught criminal procedure.  The former taught us “the law” from uniform statues that were already in the process of major revisions.  The latter was a theorist whose courses accurately predicted every one of the major reforms of the Warren court.

-- Mediator and lawyer Larry Gaughan in "An Improper Focus for Legal Education", The Divorce Agreement Newsletter, No. 53 – July 6, 2016