If you are a woman, you enter my office in your best silk or linen clothes, makeup perfectly done. You know that you shouldn’t have put the mascara on, but you had to look your best. If you are a man, you are in your work clothes.
We shake hands and sit down, two strangers. I try to look approachable, you try to look strong. You look around my office for some evidence that you are in the right spot, my children’s pictures, my diplomas, and my wall hangings. And, after you breathe, you vomit out your story, from the beginning, digressing into every betrayal, every slight leading up to this moment. This ending. This beginning.
You think that you want to get it all over as quickly as possible, with what is “fair,” meaning, as much of the material goods as possible, and as much custody as you can wrangle. Mostly you just want it to stop, all of it. If you earned the money, you will be bitter if she gets much of it. If he earned it, well, then you were a partnership, and you deserve half or more. And some of the future money, payment for promises broken, and a future fractured.
After you tell me your story, you need to have me agree, as your best friend does, that it wasn’t fair, that you were mistreated. You also, although you don’t know it, want me to magically erase everything–be the Deus ex machina, the parent you never hand, your fixer. Which I am not.
You think you don’t want “aggressive” unless that jerk continues to be a jerk. S/he will continue to be a jerk.
I, on the other hand, want to do it right, avoid a malpractice suit, get every number correct, even if that means going slowly when every urge in your body is to hurry. And you will call me, angry that I am going slowly, veiled hysterical threats in your voice.
Today, however, after you have ripped out your soul and given it to me, you think that we are friends. And I could be your friend, in another time and place. Here I am, at best, your frenemy. I look at you with a most critical eye, sizing up your weaknesses, your failings, your wrongdoings with my harshest judgment. I need to know how hard I will have to work in order to goad you into changing, how much I will have to push for you to organize your finances and mind. I also need to know if I even want your money–how unstable are you? It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how much. How crazy will you get? When will your insane behavior be directed at me, as opposed to them? Can I foresee a bar complaint? I’m also thinking retainer, billable hours, opposing counsel, strategy, tactics, first steps. I’m worried about what this case will do to my relationship with my asshole boss and what unforeseen twist he will blame me for.
I entered this branch of law because I like people, because I sincerely want to help them. And so I want to empower you, to save you from yourself, to get you to be the kind of person who would have avoided this mistake in the first place. That is my weakness, the one that you can’t see, as you look around at my tasteful photographs and at my practiced, compassionate look. My compassionate face. Funny, that kind face. Because now, even though you don’t know it, you want me to be an animal, a vicious tiger, fighting with every nasty tool available. A sin verguenza, a machine without a soul.
Which I am not.