Lessons For The Young Attorney – From An Old Attorney: Lesson No. 4 (Practicing Family Law In “Never-Never Land”)

“Never-never land

Meaning:  A utopian dreamland.

Origin:   The term ‘never-never land’ is now usually applied with a sense of dismissiveness – used when someone is dreaming unrealistically about a utopian future.”  …

Welcome back, my young colleague … but it’s been a while since I visited with you, and that’s been entirely my fault.  You see, I’ve been spending a great deal of time recently in “never-never land”, and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to share with you what I learned during my time there (I’ve often traveled there over my professional career, and I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard way).

Let’s start:

NEVER represent any family member or any friend in any family court matter that may become slightly – no, make that, even remotely – contested.

NEVER become friends with your clients while in the course of your representation of them (it will forever cloud, in some way, the advice – and bad news – you will have to give them at some point during that representation).

NEVER allow your clients to become your friend in the course of your representation of them (they will never tell you that they’re dissatisfied with your work or the results you may have achieved for them; but after your work for them has ended, and unless you achieved – but only in their minds – complete and total success for them, you will be the first one kicked to the proverbial curb by them).

NEVER forget to share information with your clients, and as soon as possible (this can be in the form of copies of pleadings and related legal documents, emails, current client invoices, and/or any other information “in print” which directly relates to that client’s case … and this is important because, although you may have hundreds of client files (or dozens), every single one of your clients naturally wants to “feel” they are your only client).

NEVER tell your clients that they should feel perfectly free to call you on your cellphone “24/7” (barring an obvious emergency), because in doing that you will ultimately limit (or “lower” or “reduce” or “cut short”) your professional “shelf-life” dramatically.

NEVER send your clients a copy of any “proposed order” which your judge has requested that you prepare [also know that a judge can always change his/her mind before that order is signed and filed in the clerk’s office – “entered of record” – and you will then have an impossible time explaining to your client the “reasons” the judge “changed his/her mind”].

NEVER send your clients a copy of any “instructions for the proposed order” which your judge has sent to both (or all the) attorneys of record in a case.

NEVER send a letter – or any written transmission – to a family court judge where you are showing on the letter/transmittal that you have “cc’d” your client with a copy….and I can assure you that your judge will find that very “concerning”.

NEVER transmit any written instrument – letter, email, or text – to another attorney which, in any manner, may be considered by the “receiving attorney” as an unprofessional communication from you (the attorneys’ civility oath is very much alive and well in South Carolina).

NEVER, if you are the listed “attorney of record” in any current litigation, simply “return the file to the client” – for any  reason – without also immediately notifying any opposing counsel in writing and obtaining an order of the court relieving you as the client’s attorney of record [see:  Ex parte Strom, 343 S.C. 257, 539 S.E.2d 699 (S.C., 2000)].

NEVER fail to read and study every memorandum opinion or unpublished opinion of our appellate courts (there is some mystical reason that appellate court opinions are “unpublished”, but that does not mean they don’t represent the “current thinking” of our appellate court judges … and so never be dismissive of these unpublished opinions).

NEVER fail to take the opportunity to visit the South Carolina Judicial Department’s “video portal” and watch the archived arguments made before our South Carolina Supreme Court. It truly doesn’t matter what type of case is being argued, because you will be fascinated by the excellence of these legal arguments, not to mention the “give-and-take” between the Justices and the attorneys.  Great stuff.

NEVER fail to outwork and out-prepare the opposing counsel in every single family court case you take – always remember that your client is paying you not only for the “best case outcome” achievable, but also most definitely for your tireless efforts on that client’s behalf.

NEVER forget, as I’ve stated this repeatedly to young attorneys over the years, that your professional reputation among your peers is made within the first 10 years of your practice of law.  – Finally –

NEVER forget to understand, appreciate, and embrace that, as an attorney at law, you are part of the legal fabric of this nation and this State and your community, and that you are forever bound and obligated to practice your craft with the excellence that it demands.

Good luck out there.