I don’t even practice divorce law, and this post on Judge Larry Primeaux’s blog Tuesday gave me anxiety. The post discusses a recent Miss. Court of Appeals decision involving an attempt to modify a divorce decree after underlying assumptions underpinning a property division changed.
Judge Primeaux explains:
This case highlights the difficult position that litigants find themselves in when the assumptions upon which the equitable division change or prove to be untrue. If you’re negotiating how to divide your client’s retirement, it would be better to cast it as alimony, which is modifiable. If that doesn’t fly, try to negotiate a percentage rather than a fixed sum. If the case is being adjudicated, be sure to develop your client’s position that any such award should be alimony, and why, and that any award should be as a percentage.
Whatever strategy you employ to minimize risk to your client (and you), it’s important to keep in mind that these retirement provisions are ticking away in your client’s life, far beyond the time limit to appeal, and remember: property division is not modifiable. [Emphasis added].
It’s the “and you” that made me break out in sweats. I had no anxiety litigating for the first 10 or so years of practice. Confident as hell, but sometimes what I later referred to as “young and dumb.” Now, the mundane can make me feel anxious. What changed? Experience.
Experience with seeing the unexpected happen. Experience losing. Experience with seeing a witness flip, a judge make a head-scratching ruling or a focus group jumping to conclusions based on improper reasons.
A lot can go wrong in litigation. And for attorneys, there’s not anything wrong with that–at least in general theory. It’s one of the biggest reasons clients need attorneys and attorneys can charge a lot for their work.
But that’s also one of the reasons being an attorney is a tough profession physically, mentally and emotionally. If you practice long enough, the unexpected will happen in a way that doesn’t go your way. And it’s going to suck.