In our consultations, we spend a great deal of time talking with clients about value propositions: how can we approach a case in a way that delivers the overall best value, even if that means seeking an early compromise. As often as not, that analysis results in us counseling our clients against litigation .... perhaps a surprising approach from attorneys who make their living litigating estates and trusts.
At times, this is the most difficult part of our job. Clients often come to us when they are hurt, angry, and betrayed. Disputes over estates and trusts are different from commercial litigation matters, in that clients often come to us and say "It's not about the money, but..." Of course, it's about the money to some extent -- but this isn't any old commercial dispute, this is often "family money" that comes attached with all kinds of emotions, and concepts of "birthright" and "family honor" and "how could my brother or sister do that to me?"
During initial consultations, clients - understandably - are reeling. They are hurting -- commonly from the double loss of a loved one, compounded by the wrongdoing of another beneficiary. People feel a loss of control that is common with grief, and often try to channel that frustration into an unbridled desire to "get even" through litigation.
Here's where a good lawyer comes in. We'll counsel clients: "You're hurting now, you're angry now. And it's tempting to open up the armory and dive full-bore into expensive litigation." On more than a handful of occasions, we've had clients tell us: "I'm willing to spend $20,000 litigating over an issue worth $10,000..." (say, over a piece of family heirloom jewelry) because they're just...so... (understandably) ... hurt and angry. Some lawyers happily take advantage of these short-term emotions, and are more than willing to accept their client's large retainer over an issue where - in the long run - an attorney will have a difficult time delivering value. We strive to be different.
Far more often than not, we find ourselves talking clients out of spending money on litigation. This might be a sacrifice for our business in the short-run, but it's an investment in our reputation, and in the trust of our clients. Sometimes clients are just so angry and upset that they're willing to find a different lawyer willing to take the case anyway. But in the vast majority of cases, clients appreciate this counsel -- if not in the short-run, then definitely in the long-run.
And that is our commitment to you. We work hard to assess the value of a case upfront, and to only dive into litigation when it makes sense. In a rational sense, not an emotional one. To this end, countless clients have heard us share a quotation from Abraham Lincoln:
"Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough."
Make no mistake: when circumstances warrant, we are prepared and willing to be tenaciously assertive on behalf of our clients. But our commitment -- "Trust. Commitment. Care." -- guides us to, just as often, help clients seek compromise or alternative resolutions to disputes. Because, too often, the only sure-fire winners in a litigation matter? Are both sides' attorneys.