PAINFUL LESSON: Knee-jerk reactions can kill relationships. Make sure, whether professionally or personally, you always GET THE FACTS BEFORE YOU FACE OFF with someone.
UNFRIENDED: I am choosing to share a personal matter in my life this week in the hopes that I might save someone the same fate that I cast upon myself by reacting to a situation without all the facts. I ruined a decade long friendship in the process of my knee-jerk reaction and other people were hurt as a result of my actions. Perhaps writing this is a sort of mea culpa moment to cleanse my own soul.
In October 2009, a dear friend needed an attorney to handle her divorce. She asked me for a recommendation. Of course I provided her with the name of our own attorney that has represented us in various personal matters as our company attorney. This same attorney has represented my sons and various friends throughout the years. More than just an attorney, this is someone we dined with, attended concerts with, and had a close personal relationship with.
Although he has not specialized in family law for quite some time, his practice was originally founded on family law after leaving a major law firm in town that is also a client of ours. I called him to ask if he would take this case as a favor to me. He immediately agreed and asked that I send my friend in to see him. The divorce was started after she paid a $5,500 retainer.
To date, she has met with the attorney twice — once for the initial consultation and once in the initial court proceeding. His office has had very little contact with my friend and she still has never received any child support or spousal support. She is struggling financially with two children. She had repeatedly told me that nothing was being done. I sent the attorney an e-mail to advise him of her concerns and hope that he would be as committed to customer service as I am, and that a simple "heads up" would open the lines of communication. In fact, he even sent me a response thanking me for bringing it to his attention. I figured the problem was solved.
About one week later, my friend came to me in tears stating that the attorney's office had just called her and told her to continue the case would require another deposit of $2,000 as almost all the money had been spent from the original retainer fee. I could not imagine how they could need more money. So I sent another e-mail asking for the status of the case as well as why more money was needed when nothing had been done. He responded that he could not provide specifics of the case or the money due to client confidentiality laws. I replied with a scenario. "Let's say, you sent me a client to handle a wedding. I didn't show up to the wedding. The bride and groom are left stranded. I then call the client and tell them they owe another $200. Would you not call me and chew me out and demand to know why I want more money when I didn't even deliver any service?"
The next step was to issue a letter to him authorizing him to discuss the case with me in detail including financial matters. What followed was shocking.
In a detailed explanation written to both of us, he outlined all he had done behind the scenes. He had expedited things, filed a litany of paperwork, and done things that neither she nor I was aware of. My friend's husband had successfully dodged being served papers for a whole month. A little communication would have gone a long way to tell her about this. There was also a clerical error, court holidays, mandatory court furlough days in a bad economy, and many other delays that were simply out of his control. He provided me with a copy of itemized statements that were sent each month detailing dates, court offices, child support division of the District Attorney's office, and other items prepared and delivered on her behalf. Many of the items listed on the itemized statement were marked "no charge," which he explained to me were done as courtesy because of his friendship with me.
The letter concluded with: "The unused portion of your retainer has been left at the front counter along with your file as this firm will no longer represent you."
Ouch. As if that wasn't bad enough, I was notified that his office would no longer represent me. He then notified one of my children that he would no longer represent him in a civil matter he was handling. In addition, he sent letters to other clients involved in family law matters to inform them he was no longer handling any family laws matters and they must seek new counsel immediately. Double ouch!
I clearly did not have my facts in hand and my tirade on the way the case was handled resulted in all these people, including myself being dismissed as clients. To add insult to injury, he even removed me as a Facebook friend pretty much letting me know our personal friendship was over as well. The moral of the story is: Get the facts from both sides before forming an opinion and acting on that opinion.
— Jim Luff, LCT Contributing Editor
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