So, You Want an Aggressive Attorney?

Meeting with lawyer

My family and I live rurally, so rather than our home being attached to a municipal sewer system, our home has its own septic system. About every year or two, we have to call and have the septic tank pumped or it will overflow. I don’t really mind paying someone else to do this, because it is a little gross to even think about what they are doing – and frankly, I really don’t want to know much about it other than when it’s done and how much I owe.

Even if I did somehow have an inclination to try pumping it myself, I lack the knowledge, experience, and equipment to do so. It’s a dirty job that needs to be done, and there are enough rural homes needing the service that the need will sustain such a business. So, I’m happy to give them my business and they are happy to take it.

Friends and new neighbors have occasionally asked who we use, and we are happy to give a referral, but no one has ever followed up with, “Are they aggressive septic pumpers? I need an aggressive septic pumper.” In the world of service businesses, one might be poorly served by an aggressive doctor, an aggressive dentist, an aggressive accountant, an aggressive barber, an aggressive wedding planner, an aggressive jeweler.

Having an aggressive dog at your home is nothing but a liability, but for some reason, people think that it is preferred or even necessary to have this characteristic in their lawyer. It’s as if the wealth of knowledge and experience obtained in the practice of law – as well as the substantial educational investment of both time and money – were not enough to equip the lawyer to be successful; they must also be some combination of angry, combative, and engaging, which is the common understanding of the term aggression.

Consider how the aggressive real estate agent will serve you. Every counter offer they receive will be too high if you’re buying or too low if you’re selling so you will not get anywhere. You won’t buy or sell anything, but you will have your “aggressive” representation.

Using the traditional definition of aggressive, your aggressive attorney will conduct any settlement negotiations with some statement of “we will not accept anything less than everything we want, and it is non-negotiable.” Negotiations under those conditions will be short and utterly futile.

Perhaps the reason I would not seek out an aggressive septic tank pumper is that I don’t have any animosity toward my septic tank, and it is not out to get me. I do not need to have that smirk wiped off the face of my septic tank. My septic tank and I are good. It’s not trying to take my children or my money, and I’m happy to leave it alone to do its thing 99.9% of the time.

You and your ex are not good, though. You share a unique history with one another including a catalog of physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and sometimes even spiritual experiences with one another. This history leads to very strong opinions and emotions, most of which are harmful and destructive when the relationship ends.

“My ex and his/her lawyer are HORRIBLE, so I need a very aggressive lawyer to deal with them!” Aggressive attorneys aren’t necessarily successful attorneys in terms of the outcomes they obtain for their clients, but that depends on your definition of success. Some people are willing to throw a substantial amount of legal resources toward what amounts to vexing the other. There is truth to the concept of a “war of attrition,” or simply outlasting the other in litigation because you have more money.

When the other side wants to make a spectacle of all of your alleged shortcomings by airing dirty laundry in pleadings filed with the court, it is natural to be defensive and angry. They will file a motion that contains three or four pages of allegations, and you will want to file a response containing eight or nine pages of explanations and allegations of your own against the other.

If you are up against this adversary, then the last thing you want to do is fight fire with fire. That often leads to cases becoming so complicated and convoluted with accusations and motions and hearings flying around that it reaches a point that all the issues will never be resolved. They simply become too numerous and multi-layered. Cases can get so complicated in this way that oftentimes at hearings, the judge isn’t even clear about what’s all on the docket on any given day in your case.

Unless you have limitless money or time is somehow on your side, this is the worst place for your case to be, because there is no end in sight. If I need a lawyer and have to describe the lawyer I want in one word, that word would not be “aggressive.” It would be something like “successful,” “well-respected,” “experienced.”

How about “competent” being your threshold requirement instead of aggressive? New Mexico is a relatively small state in terms of population, and there is only a small community of a couple of hundred lawyers, particularly in the Greater Albuquerque Metropolitan area, who are focused solely on family law. Those of us who have practiced family law at least 10-15 years all pretty much know each other.

The same goes for the judges because they were all practicing lawyers before they became judges. The current four dedicated Family Court Judges in Albuquerque all practiced family law locally before their appointments, so they were one of “us” before becoming one of “them.”

If you ever get to listen to lawyers talk about cases conversationally, before discussing any facts, the first two questions they always ask one another are: “Who’s your judge?” and “Who’s OC?” (“opposing counsel”). The personalities involved in the controversy matter completely, and it is no different in your case.

We lawyers talk about what we can expect from the various judges, and the judges discuss their experiences with various attorneys practicing before them. This is a small enough community that practitioners develop professional reputations that impact the judges’ impressions, which translates to outcomes for our clients. For many reasons, at Sandia Family Law, we work very hard to settle as many cases as we can outside of court, and the judges know this about our firm.

We work with other lawyers and self-represented parties to enter agreements and vacate contested hearings every single day we come to work, and we do manage to get many of them settled. The judges know this about our firm because we submit so many stipulated orders to the Court basically telling the judge that we worked it out outside of court, so we don’t need the hearing after all. The judges absolutely love it when we settle things and take them off the Court’s calendar.

After many years of this, the judges have come to trust that we try to do this in all cases – because we do. Of course, we do not settle every case and we definitely have to proceed with hearings sometimes. But because the court knows us to be conscientious settlement negotiators, when we are unable to settle, especially if the other side is known to be “aggressive,” the Court can rightly take this to mean that the aggressive attorney was unreasonable in any negotiations.

“Fair and Aggressive Representation!” That tag line appears across the top of our website! How can I now spend an entire blog degrading the quality of aggression when it is something we brag about? Great question, remember: We work for you, so here’s how we use aggression to your benefit. The first thing we need to do is identify your priority and commit to it. What is it that you trying to accomplish through the Courts that you cannot accomplish outside of Court? Divorce? Spousal support/alimony? A change in custody? Timesharing schedule? Child Support? A community property dispute? The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so at this firm, aggressive means that we work hard to negotiate an out-of-court settlement while we also prepare for litigation.

We do not put off engaging litigation in the hopes that we will be able to settle consider litigation to be Plan B. This only causes delay and aggravation. Nor do we focus solely on litigation to the exclusion of settlement negotiations. We must do both simultaneously in order to maximize efficiency in your representation. If we settle, then we don’t go to court. But if we don’t settle, we’re immediately ready to go the other way as well. This is our approach, so every case has an aggressive plan, but we can do it smiling and without anger or hostility.

Any family law attorney should tell you that family court is to be avoided if possible. It is wrought with surprises, delays, expenses, and oftentimes having to deal with disagreeable personalities all around going through experiences they despise. This is not a place for you to expect vindication. The Court does not see the other the way you do, and it is very unlikely that you will ever have a courtroom experience that leaves you feeling satisfied that justice has been served. Everyone comes out of a hearing angry about something.

The Court system should really be your last, not first, resort. For those times that it is unavoidable, the “aggressive” attorney you want will get you in and out of this process as quickly, fairly and as painlessly as one can get you through a painful experience. You do not want a lawyer who unnecessarily blows up your case, ensuring further hearings and thousands of more dollars over the next several months. If you do want that lawyer, then we are not the firm you want to hire.

Most family law attorneys I deal with regularly are decent, problem-solving professionals trying to serve their clients’ needs. But when I say most, I don’t mean 90% or even 80%. I just mean more than half. Maybe that’s only 51%, and the rest are not interested in solving problems. In fact, quite the opposite is true. For reasons I do not agree with, there are many attorneys who would rather make problems than solve them.

Aggression has its place in the practice of law, but it is only one among many characteristics you might consider when deciding on someone who will guide you through this difficult, complicated, expensive, and emotionally exhausting process.

Identifying what you expect to accomplish by hiring an attorney is critical in finding the lawyer who will be a good fit for you. Our attorneys are available to help you identify your priorities and make an aggressive plan to achieve them as efficiently as possible.

Please call (505) 544-5126 to schedule a consultation with one of our fine attorneys, and thank you for considering our firm to serve your legal needs.

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