Some clients you never forget.
As a family law attorney, I was party to some of the most painful times in the lives of my clients. Times that brought out sides of themselves I'm sure they were not proud of. Some were remarkably centered and classy through it all, most others: not so much. There was an expected range of behavior from unreasonableness to psychosis and all manner of fluctuations in between.
And then there was Mrs. A.
I think she was in her late 40's when she first came to see me. She was petite and pretty and the mother of 9. Conservative and a bit prim. Sincerely, genuinely Christian in the best possible way. She had married her high school sweetheart soon after graduation and worked while having babies, in order to put him through undergraduate and masters degree programs. She hadn't worked outside the home since then.
Her husband had recently abandoned the family for another woman. He was also Christian, ostentatiously so. So much so, that he refused to file for divorce. Instead he tried to manipulate her into filing first by refusing to provide any financial support whatsoever to the family until she did. He told her he had already seen a lawyer and that was the way it had to be.
"He is very smart. He always gets his way," she said. "Always."
She was shaking when she told me about the situation and nauseated by the certainty that she would have to violate her religious convictions and her marriage vows in order to take care of her children. Groceries were low and there were cut-off notices from the utility companies.
During that first meeting, I got all the details about the marriage, their assets, debts, income and children. All of the data I needed to get started, along with the backstory of their lives. She went through a box and a half of tissues during that hour.
When all of my questions had been answered, I asked her,
"How would it feel to give him a little kick in the nuts?"
She looked startled and then laughed. "Pretty good, I think."
"You don't have to file for divorce to get support from him."
"Nope. We can file for a legal separation, which does not violate your vows. We can restrain all of his bank accounts and put the squeeze on him for change, which should get his attention. If you can stay here for about an hour so we can get the papers prepared and signed, we can walk it through to the judge for signature today. How does that sound to you?"
"Really? We can do that?"
She swallowed. "Let's do it, then."
While my secretary completed the various pleadings to be filed, Mrs. A and I talked. She loved that I was working while visibly pregnant. I reassured her that while I knew she did not want this divorce, I had a gut feeling that by the time it was all over, she would discover that she was stronger and smarter than she ever thought. I don't think she really believed me, but she nodded.
We walked the four blocks to the clerk of courts, filed our paperwork and then walked to the domestic relations court to get a judge's signature on the temporary restraining orders. I had them served the same day by a private process server.
The very next day, I had an irate phone call from his lawyer, sputtering that Mr. A "could not function." We had tied up all of his accounts.
My heart bled for him.
I explained that we would be happy to release the restraining orders once we had an agreed support order in place along with a lump-sum payment to take care of current outstanding bills. In fact, I had an agreed judgment entry already drafted that I could fax right over.
After much back and forth, the attorneys worked it out.
When I called Mrs. A to let her know I had a check for her she was silent. Then, after a long pause she said,
"You did it. You outfoxed him. I never thought it could be done."
The remainder of the case dragged out over many months, but as clients go, Mrs. A was very low maintenance. She was not one of the "Monday Morning Tattlers," who called with a full report of each weekend's goings-on. She never quibbled about his time with the children or complained that he picked them up or returned them late. I learned more about his bad behavior from his own attorney than from her.
Instead, I'd get voicemails, left after hours so she wouldn't incur the cost of a conversation with me:
"I got a job!"
"I found a house we can rent!"
"My boss is giving me a promotion, can you believe it?"
When her case was finally over, the divorce granted upon his request and all of the final orders in place, she hugged me.
"You know what you told me at that first meeting? About how I would be glad this happened when it was all said and done? You were right. I didn't want this. I still don't, but I know I am strong enough to handle anything now. I am doing things I never, ever thought I could. Thank you."
Thoroughly humbled, I just nodded.
Some clients make you a better lawyer and others make you a better person.
It goes without saying that I have altered facts and the details of conversations to protect my client's confidences.