Answer: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

One of the most common issues I see with prospective clients is their insistence on hiring the “shark,” or the “bulldog,” or whatever other pejorative term may spring to mind to describe an aggressive and litigious divorce attorney.

I understand their desire.

Nobody wants to feel like their soon to be ex-spouse will take them to the cleaners financially, or that they’ll get taken advantage of if their own legal counsel doesn’t strike first. And though I am absolutely in favor of any participant in a family law case (particularly with complex financial or child custody issues) having experienced and competent counsel, this does not frequently (or ever, really) translate into needlessly aggressive grandstanding to satisfy the understandable insecurities of the client, or worse the client’s desire to extract revenge on his or her ex for whatever perceived fault they may attribute to the ex for the collapse of the marriage.

The only real outcome when the professionals hired to represent the spouses behave in such an aggressive way is that the fees to pay those professionals rise to astronomical levels very quickly. And the legal results will probably not be any different – the law is the law, regardless of how loud the bulldog is barking.

Further, judges do not react well to unnecessary lawyer drama.

Their jobs are difficult enough dealing with the fundamental human emotions that are a substantial part of every single family law case. When the attorneys start treating the courtroom as a forum to badmouth, denigrate, or otherwise blame the opposing counsel or opposing party for a litany of unforgivable wrongs, the judges can quickly lose patience with the matter – and may lose respect for that attorney (which will carry over into every other case that judge has with that attorney). Though the client may get some level of satisfaction witnessing her attorney blasting away at the other side, the reality is that the damage is more likely being done to her own case.

A true professional is not afraid to treat the opposing party or opposing counsel with kindness and respect.

In fact, the old adage that you catch more flies with honey is particularly true in the family law world. I always make a concerted effort to achieve a good rapport with my adversary because that is, in my experience, the best way to get what my client ultimately wants for the least amount of effort, expense, and time. Knowing the strengths of the case – and thoroughly explaining what the possible legal outcomes could be with the client – is much more important than the loudness of my voice or the frequency of snide comments about the other side.

Unfortunately, the kind of client that insists on scorched earth litigation strategies almost always end up with the kind of attorney that engages in those tactics. And fighting fire with fire is not a wise response. So when dealing with the “bulldog” on the other side of the case, a family law client must be careful to hire the kind of attorney that can bring that dog to heel – through effectively and efficiently shepherding the case to settlement or if necessary to an early trial.

I have always viewed my job as solving problems – not creating them. But the sharks and the bulldogs out there are only interested in fighting. The best way to end that fight is get to trial as soon as possible and end the very basis for the fight once and for all.

Neil M. E. Forester is a shareholder and a California Certified Family Law Specialist with Forester Purcell Stowell PC. He regularly represents business owners, professionals, and other high income and high net worth individuals (or their spouses) in divorce and related actions. He also writes and speaks regularly on divorce and family law issues. Neil can be reached at or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.

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