Matthews Bark | “How Effective Must Lawyers Be in Family Law Cases?”

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Category   :   Matthews Bark
By                 :   Howard Wasserman
Posted By  :  Contact the Attorney General

At risk of inspiring more “breeder” comments, I wanted to write about a very interesting recent decision from the Vermont Supreme Court  (h/t to mike frisch of legal profession blog). The court was considering an ineffectiveness of counsel claim in a termination of parental rights proceeding. The court found that counsel was not ineffective. The more interesting question, left unanswered but highlighted by the concurrence, is whether ineffectiveness claims should be allowed in termination of parental rights cases at all.
The criminal system, and potential incarceration or even execution, are undoubtedly punitive. But so is severing all legal ties to your child, often so that he or she can be adopted by another family, leaving you with no further contact. The tremendous impact of termination proceedings led the Supreme Court to mandate they be decided by clear and convincing evidence.  The disproportionate power between the state and the defendant (parent) is reminiscent of that in the criminal system.  (A number of people have written about the flaws and inequities towards certain types of parents including me in Parsing Parenthood; Marty Guggenheim in a bunch of things including Somebody’s Children; Clare Huntington in Rights Myopia in Child Welfare;  Josh Gupta-Kagan in Filling the Due Process Donut Hole; and I could go on and on). This imbalance means that a zealous advocate can often be essential to prevailing against the might of the state.

Yet most states do not recognize this doctrine in the family law context–why? One significant reason is the ticking clock of the child’s need for a ‘permanent’ family. Federal law requires that termination proceedings be brought in a certain period of time, so that a child may be freed for adoption. (There are significant flaws in this framework, however, as many thousands of children whose parents’ rights are terminated are not adopted, and will never be, leaving them to age out of foster care “legal orphans.”)  In the Vermont case, I don’t think it was a coincidence that the child was very young, under 2 years old I think, and was placed in a loving pre-adoptive home. Reopening the father’s termination proceeding would disrupt that new family, and possibly deter future adoptive parents, who were seeking certainty. As the concurrence there stated: “I stress that I have not yet decided that we should allow ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims in TPR cases. [and] I am stating my skepticism that there is a way to determine whether the assistance of counsel is ineffective in a timely way that is consistent with the permanency needs of the child .”

I am also on the fence about this one.  Many parents have deficient counsel in termination proceedings, as many defendants do in criminal proceedings, and it is horribly unfair that someone would be forever separated from his child because of this. On the other hand, allowing relitigation of terminations can and will disrupt adoptive or other permanent families for many children.


Matthews Bark | “Four Tips to Becoming an Effective Divorce Attorney”

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By               :   Jeremy Hildebrand
Category   :   Matthews Bark
Posted By  :  Contact the Attorney General

Probably because of my military background, I am a huge believer in formalities and boundaries. Entering my career as an attorney, I saw a rigid line between acting in my capacity as an attorney and acting as a friend, a therapist, and a life coach for my clients.  I believed my job was solely to give answers to legal questions and advocate for my client in the legal system, not discuss my client’s anxiety, life goals, and failures with them. And then I took my first family law case.
There is a lot that a family law class in law school will not teach you, and I have learned a lot of lessons over the last few months about how to handle clients in domestic relations cases, mostly through abject failure and frustration. Every client is different and, in order to effectively communicate with them and settle a particular client’s divorce case, an attorney must enter the situation with a completely open mind. However, I have learned a few helpful tips since becoming licensed that can help with every case, whether the issue is communicating effectively with your client or trying to stay sane in the midst of a messy case.

Have a proactive introductory package ready to send to the other party.

I know that those of you who have practiced family law for many years are probably astounded that this is something a young lawyer didn’t inherently know to do, but it is a very helpful strategy in getting the ball rolling with a divorce case, especially when dealing with a pro se party. I have learned that when I call an opposing party and leave a voicemail, it can be very intimidating and inhibit effective communication with that person because they are freaked out about lawyers being involved. However, when I send a warm letter explaining the process, asking if the other party is represented and presenting the case in a proactive and positive way, communication with the other party starts off on a good foot and generally stays that way.

Connect with other professionals who specialize in collateral issues.

Again, this may sound common sense, but it is immensely helpful for your sanity. The most important business card I carry when meeting with a potential or current client is that of a psychologist. When conversations with your client leave the legal arena and step into the personal realm, it is very helpful to suggest the client see someone who specializes in those issues and to have someone to recommend on the spot. Real estate agents and insurance brokers are also invaluable resources, because most divorce litigants need a new place to live and need to set up new insurance policies.  I even recently reached out to a rabbi after fielding a question about Orthodox Jewish divorce customs from a client. I find that clients look to me as a resource for knowledge about all things related to their divorce rather than simply answers to their legal questions, and having a good network of outside professionals helps me resolve divorces more quickly and keeps my client comfortable.

Pick up the phone and call opposing counsel.

This should be the first thing taught in family law classes. However, it’s something that far too many family lawyers don’t do. When I take a new case that involves another attorney, the first thing I do is call that attorney to introduce myself.  I firmly believe that communication is the key to efficiently and effectively settle a divorce case, and I always try to set the tone of cordiality and openness from the minute I take a case. I strive to collaborate as much as possible with opposing counsel  because, in the end, collaboration saves both attorneys time, money, and frustration. This is especially true in cases where one party controlled the accounts, bills, taxes, and other financial items throughout the marriage; in these cases, it is nearly impossible to gather information without communicating effectively with the other side.

Maintain your hobbies.

Work–life balance is especially important when you are dealing with divorce cases. The emotional nature of these cases can make client contact very stressful at times, more so than other practice areas. Whatever it is that keeps you at peace and keeps you centered, do it. And do it regularly. And leave your smartphone at home. Being outdoors hiking or skiing at least one day per week keeps me centered; I feel completely reset and calm after a day in the mountains. It’s easy to let your hobbies and your interests slide to the back burner while working as a solo practitioner handling all aspects of a law practice, but keeping your sanity is paramount if you want to be an effective divorce attorney.

Almost all of you have more experience than I do, because I’m at the beginning of my career. What would you add to this list? What do you find to be the most important qualities of a divorce attorney? Comments are always welcome!

Matthews Bark Family Law Attorney | “The Basics of Using a Family Law Attorney”

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By               :   Rudy
Category   :   Matthews Bark Family Law Attorney
Posted By  :  Contact the Attorney General

While attorneys are usually used to resolve problems and accidents that happen between strangers, they can also be used to handle problems that occur within a family. Most families will prefer to work out their problems on their own, though some issues become so serious that they need someone on the outside that can help, especially with issues that relate with the law.
While your local family law attorney in Milwaukee rarely has a happy job, they are essential for protecting people within a family and for helping parents to resolve issues when they decide to separate with each other. Here are some of the basics of using a family law attorney.
How They Can Help

Family law attorneys are most often used when two parents decide to get a divorce. While a mutual divorce can be a fairly simple procedure, there are still some things that need to be worked out properly. The parents will need to come up with a legal agreement that will separate all of their possessions. They will also need to establish legal rules pertaining to the custody of their children. A lawyer can help to draw up a legal agreement on all of these things. If a divorce is not mutual, the family law attorney can help either client to get their wishes and to get the most out of the divorce if it is approved. Family law attorneys can also work with serious issues such as abuse within the family.
One or Two

It is possible that you and your spouse can use two family law attorneys. If you are going through a mutual divorce, you more than likely will only need one attorney, since their only responsibility will be to draw up a legal agreement between you and your spouse. Sometimes though, if there is a problem or dispute, each parent can use their own family law attorney. When using two attorneys, your legal battle will be similar to normal court cases.
Finding the Best

You will want to find a local family law attorney in Milwaukee that will fight for your rights and that will resolve the divorce or family issue as smoothly as possible. You will want to first talk with family and friends and ask them for recommendations. Once you have a few possible attorneys, interview each one of them. You will want to make sure that they are professional and that you get along with them, but you will also want to make sure that they are experienced with cases that are similar to your own.

Matthews Bark | “Oklahoma Defense Lawyer Named Among Nation’s Top Trial Lawyers “

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By               :   Dustin Phillips
Category   :   Matthews Bark
Posted By  :  Contact the Attorney General

The Oklahoma City law group of Phillips, Coventon, Quillian & Banner is pleased to announce the selection of attorney Dustin S. Phillips as one of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers.
criminal defense attorney
The National Trial Lawyers is a professional organization of criminal defense attorneys and civil plaintiff lawyers. Comprised of the leading attorneys in each state, this exclusive organization offers educational programs, networking opportunities, and advocacy training to foster professionalism in the legal field. According to the National Trial Lawyers website, the mission of the organization is to “promote excellence in the legal profession through advocacy training, networking and education of trial lawyers,” and to “keep its members current on business and professional matters of interest.”

Membership in the Top 100 Trial Lawyers is by invitation only, and invitation is extended only after a careful, multi-step selection process. In order to select invitees to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers, the National Trial Lawyers accepts peer nominations and conducts third-party reviews. The invited lawyers must meet strict criteria in order to qualify for selection, and they must exhibit the professionalism, ethics, and skill that place them among the most qualified attorneys in each state.

With his proven record of success in tough criminal cases and his reputation for professionalism, attorney Dustin Phillips certainly meets the qualifications that merit his selection to the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers. He has won numerous dismissals and acquittals in challenging criminal cases, including sex crimes, violent crimes, and white collar crimes. Lewd acts with minors, possession of child pornography, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and conspiracy to defraud the state are but a few of the criminal cases for which he has built a strong defense and achieved a winning verdict for his client.

Dustin Phillips is a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Oklahoma County Bar Association, and he is licensed to practice in all city, state, and federal courts in Oklahoma. In addition to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers, his professional memberships include the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Oklahoma Association for Justice.

He is a skillful negotiator and a powerful and aggressive courtroom attorney, delivering favorable results for defendants in state and federal criminal cases.