Robbins: It’s lawyers’ job to take emotion out of legal decisions (column)
“Well, I appreciate it,” I said, “I really do, but …”
“No really. I’d rather pay you double than what I’d have to pay her,” he said. My client was getting rashy with rage. His fists were bunched like he meant to use them.
“Wouldn’t you rather send your kids to college than mine?” I paused. “Look, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know it doesn’t. It’s just that …”
“Listen to yourself. Listen to what you’re saying.” That stopped him for just a moment.
I took the opportunity to tell a story I’ve told a client probably a thousand times over the last two-and-a-half decades practicing in Vail. I said, “Before I came to Colorado, I practiced in Southern California for 10 years.”
He seemed to be attentive and so I went on. “When I first started practicing — back in the horse and buggy days — there were no metal detectors in court. The world —at least it seemed — was a more peaceful place. Maybe it was just that the media was less focused on the mayhem of the world or there were fewer outlets. Things seemed to move a little more slowly. In any event … back in those days there were no metal detectors.”
“Yeah?” Even with the discursions from my main theme, he seemed to have perked up.
“The first courts to get metal detectors were …” I left it open, inviting his reply.
“Criminal court,” he said.
I nodded. “You would think so. But, no. Criminal court was third.” I noted that his fists were slowly un-bunching and he had come up off his toes and had begun to relax into his chair. His breathing had noticeably slowed.
“What then?” he asked.
“Family law court,” I said emphatically.
“I would’ve thought …”
“Yeah. I suppose most people would. But, no. Family law court. Think about it.”
Where the emotion lies
And then I said, “That’s where the emotion lies. Family law court — divorce, custody and all of the rest — man, that’s messing with people’s lives. The most important things in their life,” I said.
“I guess. Yeah.” He was warming to my point. “What was second?” he asked.
“Yeah. I can see that. That’s a mess.”
“Highly emotional,” I said. “Lots of disappointment. Lost dreams and such.”
“And criminal was third?” he asked.
“Yep. Then they all got metal detectors. Maybe the technology improved. I don’t know. But what I do know is the family law court was first.”
He was nodding, buying in now.
Closer to home
“There weren’t metal detectors in Eagle County until the Kobe Bryant circus. That was high profile, I guess. And you never know what something like that may attract. Now, Eagle County is like every other courthouse. Ya gotta pass through the detector before you get in. It just makes sense in this world of ours.”
“So,” he said, “What’s this got to do with …?”
“Part of why you hire a lawyer is to think rationally for you. Even when you’re not. When you tell me that you’d rather pay twice as much to avoid paying your soon-to-be-ex, that just doesn’t make any sense. Two plus two has got to equal four. And what you’re telling me is that you don’t care if it equals fourteen.”
“It’s just that …”
“Yeah. I know.” I smiled gently, knowingly. “Do you know how many times I’ve been told that in my career?”
“Yeah.” I put my elbows on the desktop and leaned into him. “I get it. This is emotional. This is tough. There’s a lot of hurt and resentment. But you can’t let that captain the ship.”
We cogitated for a long half minute. “What should we do?” he asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Trust me,” I said. “You’ve got to take as much emotion out of this as possible and try to think logically.” Then I added, “I know that’s hard. Lots of water has passed beneath the bridges of your relationship.”
He said, “You don’t know the half of it.”
“No. Probably not. But cutting off your nose to spite your face isn’t going to make it any better.”
He smiled and perhaps inadvertently, he fingered his nose. “Yeah,” he said, “I s’pose you’re right.”
I smiled back. “Now then. Let’s attack this logically.”
“And pray for karma in the world,” he said.
I said, “Of course. But karma ain’t my bailiwick. What I know — what I can apply — is the law.”
“OK,” he said. “Let’s get after it.”
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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