Archive for Dolphin Lawyer

Civility Lesson for Attorneys: Be careful which adjectives you use when describing a member of the profession.  It may not be taken well!

Calling a woman judge – now an Associate Justice of this court – ‘attractive,’ as Chow does twice at the outset of his reply brief, is inappropriate because it is both irrelevant and sexist.In this day of #MeToo, one lawyer learned this lesson the hard way when he received a public hand slap from the Court of Appeal of the State of California because of “highly inappropriate” rhetoric he chose to employ in his appellate brief on a defamation case, Briganti v. Chow 19 DJDAR 10941 (11-22-19) (DCA 2).

The attorney wrote referring to the trial judge, Gail Ruderman Feuer (now an Associate Justice of the very appellate court in question),

“Briganti … claims that … Chow defamed her by claiming she was ‘indicted’ for criminal conduct, which is the remaining charge [in this case] after the [trial judge] … an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge on a fast track for the California Supreme Court or Federal Bench, ruled for Chow granting his anti-SLAPP Motion to Strike Respondent’s Second Cause of Action but against Chow denying his anti-SLAPP Motion against the First Cause of Action …. With due respect, every so often, an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge can err!  Let’s review the errors!”

Teachable Moment

I’m not sure whether this particular attorney found this a humorous piece of rhetorical genius or what he was trying to do, but the Court of Appeal took it as an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”


Said the Court, “Calling a woman judge – now an Associate Justice of this court – ‘attractive,’ as Chow does twice at the outset of his reply brief, is inappropriate because it is both irrelevant and sexist.  This is true whether intended as a compliment or not.  Such comments would not likely have been made about a male judge.”

Citing the California Code of Judicial Ethics, canon 3B(6)(a), the Court wrote,

“The California Code of Judicial Ethics compels us to require lawyers in proceedings before us ‘to refrain from … manifesting, by words or conduct, bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon race, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, marital status, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation …’  That goes for unconscious as well as conscious bias.”

In conclusion, the court extended its “thanks to the many talented lawyers whose excellent briefs and scrupulous professionalism make our work product better and our task more enjoyable.  Good brief-writing requires hard work, rigorous analysis, and careful attention to detail.  Moreover, we recognize ‘every brief presents opportunities for creativity—for imaginative approaches that will convey the point most effectively.’ We welcome creativity and do not require perfection.  We simply did not find the peculiar style and content of this brief’s opening paragraph appropriate, helpful, or persuasive.”


The Court cares about civility in practice.

What’s the moral to this “teachable moment”?  Simply, the Court cares about civility in practice.  Practitioners need to be very careful to avoid – even if it is intended as a compliment – using language that may objectify or demean a member of the profession, particularly if the language invokes gender, race, sexual preference, gender identity, or other similar characteristics.  Being creative or cute in a demeaning way can lead to professional discipline.

disrespect cut to look be respect

Be respectful in practice.




My Latest Appearance on San Diego ESPN Radio Real Talk San Diego

Shawn Weber the Dolphin Lawyer on ESPN Real Talk San Diego talking about mediation

The “Dolphin Lawyer” Shawn Weber

Shawn Weber on the Radio

I had a blast on Real Talk San Diego on ESPN Radio AM 1700 with co-hosts Ryan White and Karen Kaseno as well as my good friend and fellow University of San Diego School of Law Alum, Brian Dirkmaat, of the Coast Law Group. I enjoyed sharing my insights about Divorce Mediation and my Dolphin Lawyering philosophy. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to the Podcast Here:


Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations

The F-word

Those of you who know me are aware that my wife and I have five kids.  When I tell people how many kids I have, there is usually an audible gasp and sometimes an expletive.  (I don’t know why because I love my kids.)  But as any parent will know, kids have a lot to learn about this world.  One very important lesson to learn in the Weber house is that a lament that something isn’t “fair” gets you nowhere.  We make it clear to the kids that “life isn’t fair and the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.”  That’s why “fair” is the F-word.

When people come through my door, I see the tumult in their lives.  Clients will often make demands for what they view as the “fair” outcome.  However, “fair” is a subjective concept and quite impossible to define objectively during family law or divorce negotiations.  In their search for peace, clients sometimes bog themselves down in a vain attempt to achieve an unachievable result.

Really, there is no such things as a”fair divorce” in family law.

There’s a reason for that.  The idea of “fair” is rooted in one’s perspective and perception.  We view “fair” through our own prism of reality.  In family law or divorce negotiations, what one party might view as fair is often different from what another person views as fair.  If fair were easy to define, I would be out of a job because people would just be able agree with little to no effort.  But fair is not an objective standard.  Fair is always subjectively defined.  A truly fair divorce is very rare.

fairness divorce, "fair" is the f-word, divorce negotiations

Why “Fair” Is the F-Word

The Myth of Lady Justice

Concepts of “justice” are equally subjective.  The statue we see at the courthouse of Lady Justice with the blindfold and the scales is a myth.  Anyone who has spent any time around a courthouse knows that achieving true justice is rare.  Rather, the courts simply apply the imperfect laws written by imperfect legislatures and interpreted by imperfect courts.  Very often, folks perceive the application of those laws as unfair or unjust.

Make a Good Business Decision

Rather than asking, “what is fair,” it makes more sense to ask, “What is a good business decision?” or “What will maximize my outcome given the hand that I have been dealt.”   These questions remove the emotional and loaded questions regarding justice and fairness. They allow the participant to focus on reaching a settlement that he or she can live with.  A settlement by definition requires compromise.  A compromise by definition means that both parties are giving something up. A fair divorce, in that situation, isn’t the point.  Rather, the focus is on making a decision that can end the conflict so that a person can move on, which in turn will bring peace.

Many of the rapids on our journey through life a borne in a sense of dissatisfaction with the choices before us.  Divorce has a way of limiting many of our choices.

I’ve never seen a client find peace in life by focusing on what is fair or unfair.  Peace comes from finding a resolution and reaching an acceptance of what is.   It’s an opportunity to transition from a conflictual sense of being to one that is harmonious and whole.

See Also:

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce:

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace:

How much does it cost to go to divorce mediation?

Shawn Weber, CLS-F:

Top Five Principles for Successful Family Law Conflict Managers

In my years as a consensual dispute resolution professional, I have gotten to know a lot of professionals who try to manage conflict in divorce and family law situations. Some are very successful… and others not so much. I have compiled a list of my top five principles for successful family law conflict managers.

Mediating manager ponders about new business ideas. A light bulb as a concept of new ideas.


This is not a race. Parties involved in a divorce are in crisis both emotionally and often financially. Don’t expect them to just reach a compromise in five minutes. The temptation is to try to “cut to the chase.” After all, we probably have an idea of where the settlement is long before the parties do because of our experience. But the parties need to “own” the agreement and they can’t if we just decide it for them and then try to force it on them.

Our job is NOT to twist arms. Our job in successful dispute resolution is to help the parties find solutions. In my experience, arm-twisting rarely results in a lasting settlement. It does, however, leave a terrible taste in the mouth of the person whose arm you just twisted. If people feel pressured or forced, we may reach a settlement, but it is unlikely we will have been able to help the parties reach a transformative outcome. Worst of all, they will resent us.

Rather, we should let the case proceed organically. We will guide, inspire and motivate– but never, ever force.


Newsflash! It’s the parties’ case- not yours. Your job is to help guide people to a respectful outcome. You are not the finder of solutions or the sage of wisdom. Your job is to shine a light on problems and help the parties find their own solutions.

I have seen mediators brandish their stats as a weapon in mediation. For example, parties may be stuck at impasse and the mediator says, “I have a 98% settlement rate and you are ruining my statistics!” Your dispute resolution statistics, as far as the parties are concerned, are completely irrelevant to their problems. Sure, you try and find solutions, but the moment you invest yourself personally invested in the outcome as a matter of pride, you are doing your parties a huge disservice.

In my experience, most of the best ideas come from the parties not me. While I sometimes see myself as the “brainstormer-in-chief” trying to provide as many ideas as possible that the parties may not yet have thought of, I never lose site of the reality that the case belongs to the parties. My most important job in brainstorming, however, is not to be the one with the great idea. Rather, I strive to create an environment were the parties can find the solutions on their own. I am the facilitator. I am not the decider. My personal pride is not important.


Perhaps the most important skill a mediator can learn is the ability to listen. I am not talking about the superficial surface listening. I mean deep, empathic listening.

To help parties settle, you have to really understand the conflict. This requires more than just listening to words. You need pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues. Prepare yourself to dig deep to find out what really motivates a party and what his or her interests truly are. Yes, she may be telling you that it is about the house or the best interests of the kids. But maybe down deep, she is really just afraid or insecure about her future. In such a situation, no financial settlement can satisfy the party who is afraid until the fear is acknowledged and addressed. This may take some digging to find, but until you do, you won’t help the parties reach a lasting settlement.

I find that I have to make sure I listen with more than just my ears. I also listen with my eyes, my heart and my soul.

Good dispute resolution requires your humanity.  Remember, this isn’t just a legal process; it’s a human experience. Until we can get into the world our clients are experiencing, we are limited in what we can help them unlock for themselves.


Because I work with people, I have learned to be ready and open for the unexpected. People don’t fit into compartments. My dispute resolution process, therefore, needs to have flexibility built in. A good mediator or dispute resolver can pivot quickly. Rigidity is the enemy of success when people are involved.

My mantra is “People before process.” While we may be very proud of our protocols and systems, the moment we allow them to drown out the needs of the clients, we miss the whole point of our service—to guide and help PEOPLE. We will keep our processes and protocols, but won’t be afraid to modify when the needs of the parties dictate a change.


While it is important to be empathic and flexible, it is still important to have principles and boundaries, which we don’t compromise. For instance, I don’t ever let a party compromise my neutrality. I also insist on clarity surrounding how a party can communicate with me outside of the dispute resolution process. I guard my weekends and off hours, which are reserved for my own family. These and other principles and boundaries will not only preserve my own sanity, but they also communicate to the client that this is a business transaction and that there is a professional process that is deserving of respect.

While I am all about compassion and kindness, I am not a family member or a friend. I am a professional with a job to do. I do that job best when there are boundaries. Whenever I have allowed a boundary to be compromised, I regret it because the case almost always will go south.

I have found these principles to be crucial to my own practice. Perhaps you have other principles you would like to share. Let me know what works for you!

Read also:

Dolphin Lawyering: Why I can be an advocate without being a shark

We don’t get along very well. How can we possibly mediate our divorce?

Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations

Shawn Weber Discusses Alternate Dispute Resolution on San Diego AM 1700 ESPN Radio

I recently had the opportunity to appear for the seventh time on San Diego’s AM 1700 ESPN Radio “Real Estate Radio” with host Ryan White. Ryan gave me an opportunity to talk about alternate dispute resolution and why it can be a better way to approach a divorce than traditional adversarial litigation. Here’s an excerpt:

To learn more about Ryan White and Real Estate Radio, click here.

Dolphin Lawyering: Why I can be an advocate without being a shark

Beautiful dolphin swimming in the blue water

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 clerkship with a family law firm and experienced how rewarding helping people through the turmoil of their lives can be.  From there, 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 what can be 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.

Attack great white sharkDolphin Lawyering vs. Shark Lawyering

I have learned over the years to be a different kind of attorney from the sharks, who give lawyers a bad name.  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, all that is accomplished is that the attorney is richer, 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 the time to discuss alternate or 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.  A Dolphin Lawyer can be very tough in advocating for her client’s interests.  The key is that she can do it with compassion and intelligence.  The Dolphin Lawyer is as knowledgeable as any other attorney.  The difference is that he knows more about how to effectively apply his 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 recognizes that good practice is more than just winning a battle at court.  Rather, strong advocacy is about improving the client’s situation.  While it may make the Shark Lawyer richer, needlessly exacerbating conflict and wasting money on unnecessary legal procedures is hardly effective.

The Dolphin Lawyer does not fear conflict.  She is comfortable working with raw, heightened emotions.  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.  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 LawyerDolphin 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.