Thinking about changing attorneys?
From the author of, How To Survive a Custody Battle with a Narcissist:
As worried and stressed-out moms, we often run (or rush) to a lawyer and dump all of our concerns, anxieties, complaints, pain, and problems. Most likely we’ve never been in a legal battle since it’s not our nature to fight for fairness or complain to such a degree. We might feel intimidated talking to a lawyer. We might feel ashamed since we are peace-seeking and peace-making, type of people. Typically, us empaths, have accepted unacceptable behavior and are filled with the anger of dealing with injustice and constant unfairness. Our first battle, breaking up with the narcissist, wore us out mentally, emotionally, and physically. Now we have a second legal battle that looms over our heads and haunts us. Can you relate?
We have had to break up with our own codependency, love addiction, and trauma bonds to our ex to recover ourselves and self-esteem. Then, we had to grieve our dreams of a happy family and face the pain of the lies, disappointments, and letdowns. Generally, we are not in good emotional shape when we get to the lawyer. We are heartbroken, scared to lose our children, and narcissistically abused with threats—and other tactics. Now that we left our abuser, he most likely is doing co-parenting abuse tactics that further hurt and destabilize us. How are we supposed to show up strong and confident at a lawyer’s office? What do we even ask the lawyer? We don’t know the law.
We have to remember that a narcissist typically wins by destabilizing the target—by activating the target’s fears and re-traumatizing them. So if we heal and address our fears, we can remain stable. We don’t get weakened, we actually become stronger. If we remain strong, calm, and certain—we are a powerful force that is very threatening the narcissist. If we crumble in confusion or are naive, if we project our good-hearted, caring, and sharing nature onto the narcissist, we are at a disadvantage. We aren’t prepared for the fight that’s about to come to our door in the form of a court summons. Some moms actually don’t get a lawyer because the narcissist talks them out of it! We usually aren’t ready for another battle, the games, the lies, the tricks, or the manipulation a narcissist can do in a custody battle or family court. We usually aren’t ready for this, but we have to be—for our kids. Add to this that we have to deal with this all while trying to be a mom and raise our children.
Not All Lawyers Are The Same
This is why I created my Get The Right Lawyer Guide for moms to have a 20-Question Interview Worksheet and some basic understanding about retaining and hiring a lawyer. They (these lawyers/attorneys) work for us. We need to be selective and mindful of our choice of attorney. Not all lawyers are created equal. In fact, some are narcissists, too! We have to watch out for being taken advantage in this area. Moms like us who care deeply for the safety of our children, often turn into a high-paying client because we are most likely a high-conflict case—due to dealing with a personality-disordered person such as a narcissist.
Even though all the narcissist’s craziness affects us and a custody battle frightens us, we can’t allow ourselves to be so out of balance that we start being dysregulated. I created a video and blog about not showing up from a state of emotional upheaval and desperation when retaining a lawyer. We have to be mindful of ourselves, our state of emotions, and our pain/triggers. Read Don’t Be Desperate For A Lawyer OR Watch here.
We have to know that not all lawyers are ethical when we interview them. We have to watch for red flags here too. Some will say exactly what we want to hear just to get a client. It’s brave when a lawyer tells us the truth about how family court works or the reality of the cost and potential losses we might take in a custody battle. Many attorneys needing clients and cases (the billable hour) don’t turn away clients who are desperate. Whereas, some lawyers will “smell” the high conflict from the intial stories we tell and decline to represent us. It’s a fine line to walk in how much we reveal and say at a first consultation. It’s best to be practiced and prepared with my guide. (Buy Here)
You might consider these factors if you are contemplating changing attorneys. It’s not a one size fits all. There is no way to predict what a judge will rule, even if the judge has a usual track record. Why? Because the cases are so complex and the narcissist is so tricky. It’s still good to know your judge and if you don’t, have a lawyer who does know the judge.
10 Factors To Consider If/When Changing Representation:
It may be time to consider switching attorneys if …
- They lost our custody case
- They don’t return our calls with specific questions (not calls with drama)
- They don’t file motions they say they will
- They file late replies and we get penalized for missing paperwork
- They don’t think we have a case
- They keep billing us for services that we don’t see them performing
- They are rapidly draining our retainer before the case even gets attention/ court appearances
- They don’t offer wisdom, advice, or a strategy to us
- They don’t offer guidance on what to document to win our case or instruct us to compile evidence that matters to our specific court case and judge
- The judge doesn’t seem to like or respect our lawyer (this can go against us)
11. They are new/naive and have never dealt with a high-conflict case or know how to handle narcissists. They repeatedly get surprised by a judge’s ruling. (They have no experience.)
12. They (the lawyers) are repeated no-shows to court or meetings
Get Help Making Difficult Decisions
Before changing attorneys, reason it out with other neutral, wise, trusted people. I hired several high-conflict custody coaches and had many support people to help me make the decision. Read about how, I acquired a “Team of 10” in my first book, Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: 7 Self-Rules to Stay Sane (A Survivor’s Story) to support me with making healthy, mature, and good decisions. Be careful not to think that switching attorneys in your case is THE answer to winning, fixing the narcissist, or solving all your problems. It will take discernment to know what the best choice is in any given circumstance.
A decision to let go of or fire an attorney can be very difficult for us. It was hard to break up with the narcissist, it was hard enough to take them to court for child support and then it becomes hard to let an ineffective/incompetent lawyer go. However, we have to do many difficult things as protective moms looking out for our child’s safety, needs, and best interests. Don’t let the switch of representation be personal or a personal issue. This is business even though it is emotional and about people. I found it best to thank my second lawyer and leave with an appreciation of all he did and tried to do over the years. While he was excellent at returning my pleading phone calls, he was not organized in his paperwork nor effective enough (high-powered enough) to represent me in a trial. He was not a family law expert. I learned to see the good and be grateful rather than disappointed.
What I have noticed from coaching moms as a strategy coach is that often they hire the most high-powered attorney who demonstrates narcissistic traits. What some find is that it’s too hard to deal with two narcissists at both ends of this battle. If we find ourselves dealing with a narcissistic attorney and it’s draining our energy to deal with them plus deal with our narcissistic ex, we may need to devise a strategy for screening out narcissists from our lives. We may need to do consultations to see if we can find a better replacement.
Take your time. Read some legal reviews on prospective attorneys. Whatever you decide, do it from a state of calm certainty rather than emotional upheaval and desperation. Sleep on the decision. Give it 30 days—if need be. Interview potential replacements, and have a different attorney ready to take you before you jump ship. Write a thank you note and do your best to end on good terms. Be smart. Be wise. Be mature. Practice self-preservation at all costs! Our children need us. They need us to be financially secure and make good financial and legal decisions.
When I first switched and got my current attorney and he didn’t return my frantic calls, I thought about switching again—but I decided to give it 6 months and see how he performed. Turns out that I am glad I did this because he won everything slowly back but it took time and patience on my part. Patience I didn’t have at the time. This meant I needed the support of MORE than just a lawyer to get through family court failures and the process. We have to have other support people to help us through a legal battle as it is seriously stressful.
Some Wise Dos & Don’ts Of Having Legal Representation
In A High-Conflict Custody Battle
- Don’t expect your lawyer to fix all your problems with the narcissist
- Don’t expect your lawyer to win you everything you want (watch your expectations)
- Don’t expect your lawyer to know all the important issues
- Don’t expect your lawyer to know what you want or what your child needs
- Don’t expect your lawyer to return every call because this is costly and you are not their only client
- Don’t burn out your attorney with the drama
- Don’t think a different attorney is always the answer to unfavorable court rulings
- Don’t do things that jeopardize your case and get angry at your attorney about it
- Don’t make unilateral decisions on controversial topics without asking for legal guidance
- Don’t blame your lawyer for all the bad the narcissist does
- Do prepare with notes before you do a legal consultation (Buy My Guide Here)
- Do write a list of “20 Wants And Needs” before meeting with your attorney (each time)
- Do ask for things in the form of solutions to problems
- Do document issues that show patterns of behavior of your ex
- Do organize your documentation and evidence
- Do get emotional support for a legal battle (not your attorney)
- Do healing programs and be stable and sane as a litigant
- Do educate yourself on legal battles with narcissists (My Book Here)
- Do get added or additional legal consultations if aren’t satisfied with your current attorney’s performance, work, or mistakes
- Do your best to try to take an objective view of your custody case, see what’s reasonable, and look at your expectations because they can lead to disappointment
- Do take a break if your court case has consumed you and you’ve hit a dead end
Other Factors To Consider:
Sometimes you simply don’t have the money for another retainer and you can’t afford to switch attorneys. Other times, you think other lawyers are as expensive as your current one. Keep an open mind when it comes to this and be sure to give the perspective attorney information regarding your limited ability to pay. One mom going through a divorce had to call her lawyer’s office and tell her to stop doing things on her case because the retainer was almost gone and they never even got to court appearances yet. Other moms have had to find a pro-bono attorney. Some moms have had to take a break from lawyers and the courts for a year or more to restore lost energy. It can be exhausting to be running on high adrenaline.
For me, retaining and relying on an attorney was a lot like tyring on a new pair of shoes. I had to walk with them a little while to see if they would be a good fit. We often have to try things out to see if they will be a good match. Moms in my private support group find this to be true too. Some moms find that some attorneys have their paralegals do all their work for them. This costs more money as messages have to be relayed from one professional to another. In this case, you might get charged to reiterate your story several times for things already discussed. Or some find that their attorney is not well-versed in the law and/or didn’t read their court order (or never read it all the way through).
Some moms who have been through this caution other moms to never be too scared to undermine their attorney in court if it’s for the best interest of their child and your attorney is about to make a big mistake. Another mom said in interviewing a potential attorney she asked them about their highest conflict case and how they handled it. This is one sure way to get the lawyer talking and to hear his/her perspective, experience, strengths, and weaknesses. We have to be brave to ask the questions and take control of our cases sometimes with our power of choice. We get to choose. And sometimes… we have to choose differently or choose again.
*Disclaimer: These are helpful tips based solely on the author’s thoughts and opinions. The author is not a qualified mental health professional nor a crisis caseworker. She cannot give legal advice or appropriate counsel and is therefore not liable for any injury or harm. Please follow your doctor’s, therapist’s, counselor’s, and lawyer’s advice (unless you talk to and retain a different lawyer with better advice for you), as well as your own good common sense and intuition based on your unique case—to see if these tips could be helpful. Child custody situations may vary where some of these will not be applicable for your circumstance. Furthermore, court orders may dictate otherwise. Please use your own good judgment when reviewing this document. This is for personal Self-Help only. These were created from the author’s own lived experience and not based on any laws or rules of the courts. This is copyright protected by the author and is not to be sold, distributed, or quoted without the author’s written consent.