By: Lori T. Williams, Owner/Managing Attorney Your Legal Resource, PLLC
As a family law attorney of 33 years, John Schrot has seen and handled the gamut of legal and emotional issues surrounding divorce. He prides himself on being caring, compassionate and competitive. “I am a warrior for the heart-broken and carry people’s agonies in my hands,” says John.
a. Be Caring:
All human beings want to be heard, understood, and responded to. Divorce clients are no exception. In fact, they raise the bar on what they need from an attorney in this area. Responding timely to your client’s calls or emails is essential. ”These days family lawyers should take advantage of technology to help them improve their productivity, and better serve their clients,” says John. Equally important is the tone with which you respond to your client.
“In family law, I see the best people at their worst. Divorce deals with the most basic of human emotions. Even the most sophisticated business and professional people get emotionally involved in their divorces and become emotional about aspects that may be relatively insignificant in the overall scope of things. It is my job to show the client the way forward, change their perspective, and make progress. If a client’s legal matter looks difficult, it just means I have got to work a bit harder to achieve our mutual goal.”
Being an effective listener is another way to show your client that you care about them and understand their situation. “A successful family law lawyer has to have a high level of emotional intelligence, and that is a skill that is not taught in law school. The way lawyers listen makes a difference. Through emotional intelligence, a lawyer can get through to his or her client and develop that necessary level of trust.”
b. Be Compassionate:
“I realize that it is impossible for an attorney to change the traumatic emotional impact a divorce has on a client. While I am empathetic and compassionate as a Family Law lawyer, ultimately my job is to provide the best legal advice available. If one of the parties does not want a divorce, I cannot prevent the dissolution of the marriage. If the parties want a divorce, I cannot keep their family unchanged. Family Law attorneys do not fix broken families, but we do attempt to keep the damage to a minimum. In that regard, we must recognize that children are the most important consideration in any divorce case or custody dispute.”
John fondly recalls his own childhood as the eldest of 11 children. ”It was a wonderful time, and I desire that as many children as possible have that experience. For this reason I have and do volunteer my time for organizations that put a premium on the welfare of children.”
c. Be a competitive advocate:
John notes that, “any fool can take a divorce case to trial. It requires a skilled lawyer to negotiate a settlement which maximizes their client’s position without making the opposing party feel as though they’ve been taken advantage of.”
The lawyer who can understand each case’s unique issues, its emotional aspects, the parties, and how they all interrelate can all significantly improve settlement results. Before starting to negotiate a case, the successful lawyer must know the law and the facts of the case; the client’s goals; the opposing lawyer; and the Judge.
While each case is unique, with different facts and concerns, there are common components involved in the divorce process, including:
- Child Custody
- Parenting Time
- Child Support
- Spousal Support
- Division of Assets and Debts
- Asset Protection Plans
- Obtaining and Enforcing Court Orders in the divorce process
Family Law also includes the following matters:
- Separate Maintenance Actions
- Prenuptial/Post-nuptial agreements
- Enforcement of Judgments/Court Orders
- Modification of Judgment of Divorce
John has experience with all of these legal matters, as well as the right temperament and people skills to be an effective Family Law lawyer. He has represented an even mix of men and women, younger and older clients, long term and short term marriages ranging from 1-50 years, as well as multi-cultural clients who travel abroad for work, and/or take children overseas to visit family. As a result, he has had to face litigation in foreign courts, apply the terms of Foreign Judgments to Michigan legal proceedings, and also address potential child abduction issues.
Additionally, some of John’s cases have involved these legal and/or technological issues:
- Civil unions
- Privacy and identity theft
- Paternity law changes
- Covert recording
- Computer hacking
- Assisted reproductive technology law
RECENT TRENDS AND CHANGES IN FAMILY LAW OVER THE YEARS:
Like most industries, Family Law has been impacted by technology. A few years ago, John chaired the Oakland County Bar Association Circuit Court Committee, which began working on the implementation of e-filing in that Court. Today that process is a reality, along with the use of i-phones and i-pads as calendars, email devices, law libraries, and files.
Technology has also promoted remote child custody. Communication and interaction can now be accomplished via email, texting, Skype or video sessions. New technology also plays a big role in paternity disputes and other family law matters. An easy blood test can determine the paternity of an unborn child. The procedure is non-invasive and requires a blood sample from the mother and a cheek swab from the supposed father.
2. Social Media
John notes that his “younger clientele is totally conditioned by Facebook and the internet, and unless you know about these technologies and utilize them in your practice, you will have no credibility. Having an abundance of data empowers me to be a much better lawyer. Nothing is going to catch me by surprise.”
3. Client Demographics
Middle class couples who are moderately educated (graduated from high school but do not hold a four-year college degree) have been seeking divorce at a rate above that of other segments of the population, while the lower and other middle class divorce figures stay stable. This could be due to financial problems, erosion of family values, or intolerance to domestic abuse.
4. Alternative dispute resolution
This trend is widespread, and often mandatory, not only for custody and visitation disputes, but also financial disagreements.
Collaborative Divorce has now been around for several years, and has grown substantially. However, it is a boutique practice area used primarily for relatively wealthy people. It has become problematic when issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, dishonesty and debts are involved. Nevertheless, the concept of an attorney as a problem solver and not as a combatant is a welcomed trend.
Today, principally due to the use of alternative dispute resolution, settlement rates range from the lower to upper 90 percentiles. This puts a premium on negotiation. John notes that ,” although Michigan is an “equitable” division state, and not an “equal” division state, in divorce, which “half” your client gets makes all the difference.”
Another trend is that child support has become an administrative procedure, as opposed to an area of dispute requiring attorneys to litigate the outcome.
Also, Family Law practitioners are seeing more Continuing Legal Education courses on settlement as opposed to trial courses. One thing is certain for the future however, couples will still fight and need assistance in resolving their differences. In addition, domestic disputes, and the details thereof, are being increasingly publicized and scrutinized. ”For this reason, as well as others, I often employ confidential settlement agreements that are not made public,” notes John.
5. The Impact of the Economy on Divorce
During the recession, divorce was not an option for some couples, as they perceived it was not financially feasible in Michigan, and the divorce rate declined due to lower wages, unemployment, reduced home values and diminishing investments. With the increase in the economy, home values and employment, divorces are becoming increasingly more affordable.
Final Comments from John:
“Divorce is seldom easy for anyone involved, but you can prepare for it. With the right attorney, events can go more smoothly and predictably than you may anticipate. Knowing the rules and understanding the process can make life easier and also help you protect your interests. For my clients, I take on the responsibility of safeguarding their best interests, as I can deal objectively, unemotionally and forcefully with the many complex issues that typically arise.”
John Schrot, Jr. is a family law attorney of 33 years, who currently practices in the Birmingham office of Berry Moorman, P.C., a full service business law firm located throughout Metro Detroit and an International office in St. Petersburg, Russia. John has been recognized by dbusiness magazie as a Top Lawyer in Metropolitan Detroit in the practice of family law, litigation, and corporate law. He has had numerous articles on family law published over the years in Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
Lori T. Williams is a 23 year attorney based in Birmingham, MI. She owns a legal referral and legal consulting business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC. She assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation by connecting them with the right legal specialist for their situation. She also provides consulting services for attorneys and other professional service providers on how to generate more business through effective branding, marketing, networking, and by creating strategic partnerships. For more information, visit www.bestlegalresource.com.