My History Before Dolphin Lawyering

I have been involved in the divorce industry now for 17 years.  If you would have asked me 20 years ago if I would make my living as a divorce attorney, I would have laughed.  I never thought I would enter into such a world.  It seemed to me at the time that matrimonial law was where the lowest of the low practiced.  Consequently, the idea of profiting off of other people’s troubles seemed somehow distasteful.

But then I started a family law clerkship.   There I experienced the reward of helping people through the turmoil of their lives.  Importantly, I became a very effective family law advocate and mediator.

Divorce is not just a legal process; it’s a human experience.

As a human being myself, I gain satisfaction from helping people through a very dark and frightening experience.  I made it my goal in every case to bring humanity to legal situations to clarify the dynamics of each unique client situation in a manner that reveals options for settlement, preserves the long-term interest of the family, and empowers the individual client.  Indeed, people become more knowledgeable on how to resolve issues without harming each other, their children, or others, while experiencing peace.

Great white shark attacking a sea gullDolphin Lawyering vs. Shark Lawyering

Sharks, frankly, give lawyers a bad name. I have learned over the years to be a different kind of attorney from the sharks.  I developed a profound ability to get into the world my clients are experiencing and feeling to uncover the necessary clarity in each divorce relationship dynamic.  From there, I use my gifts to bring a sense of calm, resolve and hope that could never be reached with a Shark Lawyer.  I call it, “Dolphin Lawyering”.

As opposed to a shark who smells blood from miles away and mindlessly devours whatever fish crosses its path, a dolphin is smarter about how it goes about its business.  As warm-blooded mammals, dolphins are very intelligent and creative hunters.  They can be deadly if they need to be, but can show compassion to other animals as well.   Stories abound of dolphins defending humans from sharks.

How is this like lawyering you may ask?

Many lawyers operate solely by a lawyer’s instinct to act as a zealous advocate, which actually exacerbates conflict.  They operate with standard operating procedures and cookie-cutter approaches to their cases failing to tailor their approach to the individual families with whom they work. As a result, legal fees escalate needlessly.  Instead of helping, the process damages families and children.  So many divorcing couples begin their divorce process with hopes of remaining friends and effective co-parents for their children.  When a Shark Lawyer gets a hold of a family like that, it only makes the attorney richer. Indeed, the co-parenting relationship is destroyed and the children suffer.

A Smarter Approach.

The Shark Lawyer will defend her actions by pointing out that she was only being a “zealous advocate”.  But zealous advocacy does not mean a lawyer should be a mindless man-eater.  Good advocacy involves knowing when to fight and when to negotiate in a smart way.

Prior to a case starting, Dolphin Lawyers will spend time pre-planning with the client.  The decision of how to divorce is almost as important as the decision whether to divorce.  The Dolphin Lawyer will spend time with his client discussing all of the options for a dispute resolution process.  While litigation is sometimes a necessary evil, a good advocate will take time to discuss consensual dispute resolution models such as mediation or Collaborative Practice.  I always ask, “What specific, tailored approach is going to work for this family?”  In contrast, the shark never asks such a question, simply going by mindless instinct and applying expensive and unnecessary standard operating procedures that may or may not be helpful.  While the Dolphin Lawyer seeks to pour water on the fire, the Shark Lawyer pours gasoline.

The Dolphin Lawyer is No Wimp!

Keep in mind, Dolphin Lawyering is not wimpy.  Dolphin Lawyer can nonetheless advocate strongly for her client’s interests.  As a matter of fact, she can do it with compassion and intelligence. Certainly, the Dolphin Lawyer is as knowledgeable as any other attorney.  The difference is about effectively applying knowledge to reduce conflict rather than to exacerbate it.

The Dolphin Lawyer is just as zealous an advocate as any Shark Lawyer.  But the Dolphin Lawyer is a more effective advocate because he knows good practice is more than just winning at court.  Rather, strong advocacy is about improving the client’s situation.  While it may make the Shark Lawyer richer,  exacerbating conflict and wasting money on unnecessary legal procedures is hardly effective.

The Dolphin Lawyer does not fear conflict.  She is instead comfortable working with raw, heightened emotions.  In particular, she understands that to lead her clients to peace, she must directly face the pain that led her clients to her door.

Dolphin Lawyer Compassion

A Dolphin Lawyer seeks to understand his client’s pain so that he can help find solutions.  Without doubt, he understands that people are coming through his door at the worst times of their lives.  He doesn’t judge.  Rather, he seeks to be compassionate and understanding.

Below is a chart showing some of the key differences between Shark Lawyering and the Dolphin Lawyering:

Shark Lawyer Dolphin Lawyer
Overly and unnecessarily aggressive. Tough when needed, but understands that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Avoids emotional discussions. Understands that dealing with emotions is a key element to helping clients through a tough time.
Applies expensive and often unnecessary cookie-cutter standard operating procedures. Tailors the process to the individual client instead of the client to the legal process.
Lacks Compassion or Empathy. Uses compassion and empathy. Seeks to understand the client’s pain, so that he can find solutions.
Puts the Legal process first. Puts the human element first.
Fans the flames. Pours water on the fire.
Uses litigation only. Offers alternate or consensual dispute resolution options such as mediation or Collaborative Practice.
Tells you what you have to do. Asks you what you want to do.