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Mediation Services

Do the Work

Why would I hire an attorney? Imagine that I am not one.

I would hire an attorney if I felt like I was in over my head, if I sensed someone was trying to rip me off, if I wanted someone to be aggressive and it’s not my personality to bite back, if I was facing some kind of criminal case, and if I just did not have the time to fight a battle in court.

I believe that people generally contact me, as a family and probate attorney, because they need help and they are scared. They have heard stories about a parent losing access to their child, or a spouse taking financial losses, and they cannot bear the thought of either happening to them. Whether these threats are real or not, the mere possibility of them happening becomes THE controlling force in a divorce, child support, or child custody case.

I recently had a show host interview me about my profession and he asked, “Why don’t more people go the mediation route instead of spending all of this money for a court to decide?” This question invades my thoughts regularly. I am a crusader for “alternative dispute resolution” because I see how slow and painful justice can be, and I see how few have the resources to make it through this process. Why DON’T people try mediation? Why can’t people see the benefit of settling and getting it over with?

Something occurred to me. Mediating, settling, negotiating…all require some work on the client’s behalf that I think people find off-putting or impossible. Quite often, their world is caving in around them (emotionally, financially, logistically) and they pay us to do the work that just seems impossible at the time. And…people want to “win” so they do what they can to stack the deck in their favor.

So, where is there a problem with that? Clients pay people for services and the attorneys do what is desired and necessary. Clear cut right?  The “problem” with this is that people pass ownership of their end result on to attorneys and say, “Take my money and go win for me.” They wash their hands clean of the work and pay hundreds an hour to an attorney to dirty theirs. This is our culture. “I’ll see you in court” and until then I am not lifting a finger, “talk to my attorney” if you have something to say to me.

This relinquishment of ownership is problematic in two ways. First, we attorneys know how to create complicated divorces and we do get paid more money the more complicated it becomes. And you, the client, just handed your attorney the keys to your case and they now own your final resolution. Where else in our lives are we willing to give up so much autonomy and pay someone to take it? (If you just said “my marriage,” then think about how that turned out for you).

I am not saying every attorney will rack up your bill just because, but you gave them permission to do it, so you open yourself up to those risks.

Second, handing over ownership of your resolution to the court system and your attorney, is problematic because you, the client, stop working at basic conflict resolution with your former partner. If there is a shortcut, a VALID, VIABLE shortcut to the end result, you won’t see it, because your autonomy has been also handed over to the judge. Your pipe dreams of “winning” the conflict and your visions of the judge finally “setting the record straight” cause you to be blind to any other possible conclusion. Again, where else in our lives would we abandon our autonomy and count on the government alone to be the deliverer of truth and master of our future?

I am not trying to run attorneys out of business nor am I attempting to question the integrity of the court. I am however calling for those going through family law issues to re-assess their strategies and their attorney’s strategies over and over again. Look at yourself and say, “Why do I need to have a hearing about this issue? Can I do some work on my end to figure out how to fix this without court intervention? Am I just doing this because that is how it goes on TV? Am I being apathetic in reaching a resolution because I want some emotional satisfaction or good old-fashioned revenge?” And then, when you have questioned it all, do some WORK.

Do work with a mental health counselor, do work with a financial advisor, do work on your spirituality. And then, open your mind to possible avenues of resolution that you have been ignoring. You know your family better than anyone could ever possibly know them, especially your spouse. Do work in communicating with your spouse and kids about what they want. Do not be afraid to step away from battle mode for a bit to see if a mediator, or better yet, YOU, can figure out a fair and reasonable resolution. One that YOU own because YOU did the work. You might be surprised what you and your attorney can come up with. And you might be surprised at what your spouse will agree to, but you will never know unless you get up, and out, and do the work.

 


Written by: Annie Rodriguez, Esq.

Florida Attorney and Certified Family Mediator

 

Mediation Services

Why I Love Practicing Law in a Co-Work Space

When I left law firm life, I was not sure where I was going next, but I knew my family’s threshold of mom’s (me) work hours was being exceeded and we needed a change. After we regained our balance and bearings, I started to say yes to serving the legal needs of friends, family and acquaintances. As this referral business grew, I realized that we could make this work as my own practice…it would be (and still is) tough, but it was just “right” for me and for us.

I worked out of our spare bedroom at first, utilizing the free space so that I could spend money on developing my business. It was too tight though. I was stacking files on the bed and stuffing reams of paper under the desk. The distractions that pulled me away from work were limitless and it was just too hard to keep the dog and people out of the room. Something had to change. I did a hot and heavy hunt for a suitable commercial space, but narrowly dodged that commitment and found a better alternative.

While cruising around on Instagram during a bout of insomnia one night, I stumbled upon a new co-work space (LionShare CoWork) that had opened up nearby and decided to check it out. If you aren’t familiar with co-work, co-share, or co-op spaces, these are generally large open spaces with varying desk setups that startups, work-from-home types, and gig-workers can utilize at a fraction of what a traditional office space would cost. I decided to check it out because I was growing weary of the hunt for the perfect office on my very tight budget.

When I stepped inside, the modern decor captured my interest and I was excited to see young professionals all around, quietly focused on their work, tapping away at their keyboards. After learning how affordable membership was and that I could rent month-to-month, I thought, “Why not give it a try?” I have been here for a few months now, and I just love it! There are some challenges as to privacy and confidentiality that I have had to navigate, but nothing insurmountable. I encourage anyone starting your own solo or two-partner practice to consider this option to save on the fees of physical space. Here are just some of the reasons why I love practicing law in a co-work space.

  1. Affordability and Flexibility. Starting a business is not cheap (duh).  The beginning stage of any business is rife with surprise expenses…and the expected ones are pretty tough too. Having an extremely reasonably priced office freed up so much room in my budget. For me, this equated to me having less stress about how long my savings would last, and a little more money for better software. What could you do with $1000+ more per month? Likewise, the co-work space that I am a member of also has several options for office space based on needs (offices with doors for one to three people, cubes, open desks, designated desks, etc). If I grow my practice, I can easily move into a larger space without the hassle of hunting for a new place. If I need to go smaller, I can do that too. This kind of flexibility is just not possible in a five-year commercial lease.
  2. Company and Conversation. Being a solo practitioner can be quite lonely, which for some people is desirable, but I enjoy having the option of chatting during a brain break. I am also surrounded by bright, business-minded individuals, many of whom are entrepreneurs. I enjoy bouncing my business ideas off of others, or eavesdropping on what they are working on. We inspire each other and talk out our plans, getting perspective and guidance from each other.
  3. Free Wifi and Zero Utilities. My co-work facility provides faster internet than I have at home…like a lot faster! Further, any blips in service are handled by the co-work space staff, and I don’t have to make service calls and sit on hold. The same applies to any utilities. I don’t have an electric or water bill, no common area maintenance fees, no HVAC units to maintain and repair. This low maintenance approach frees up so much of my time to practice law and see clients.
  4. Personal Safety. I practice family law which, unfortunately, is ripe territory for clients and opposing parties to wander into my office to stage their emotional outbreaks. I have never been attacked, but I worry about this with certain people. In the co-work space, I am surrounded by people (witnesses) who could come to my assistance quickly, or better yet, deter any verbal or physical attacks, if the situation arose.
  5. Luxurious Meeting Spaces. The boardrooms and meeting spaces in the co-work space have a great impression on clients. The design “wow factor” is something I could not afford on my current budget and that impact really helps clients to feel comfortable and special. The meeting spaces are well equipped with technology and make for seamless transition from my desk to the meeting table.
  6. Free Refreshments. My space offers free bottled water, coffee, Red Bull and even has a beer tap (for responsible use on a Friday afternoon of course). Refreshments are a nice touch for clients. In addition, the space often hosts large groups for meetings and they always leave behind free food. Cha-ching, lunch is taken care of.
  7. Built-In Networking. This space is filled with professionals whether they be fixtures like me, people testing out the space, people attending meetings, or clients of another co-op member. The flow of potential networking contacts is fairly steady, and there aren’t many attorneys in the space, so this gives my business visibility and helps encourage referrals…and I don’t have to drive halfway across town to a packed lounge and “mingle” with strangers to get my networking leads.
  8. No Brokers, No Agents, No Contracts. When I first started out, I was hunting hard for an office. This was time-consuming and frustrating. Every place I saw felt perfect and yet terrible all at the same time. I would lie awake at night wondering if I would be successful enough to cover the rent. The whole process made me uncomfortable: from the smug agents underestimating me, to the intense negotiations over who would fix plumbing. I felt so much freedom when I realized I did not have to jump into a major lease right away, and that I could take my time and work my way up to that.

I am so happy with where I am now that I may never leave. Really. I hope other attorneys who are thinking about striking out on their own, but who see commercial leases as a barrier to chasing that dream, will seek out a co-working space and give it a try.

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Mediation Before We Go to Court?

In Florida, if you have a family law matter filed in the courts, you are most likely going to be ordered to mediation before trial. Unfortunately, by the time parties make it to mediation, the litigation process has already taken its financial and emotional toll on everyone. Tensions might be higher, respect might have crumbled and the parenting situation has become overly complicated. It is much harder to secure a mediated resolution later in litigation if these problems exist. 

I find this unfortunate because proceeding to trial in a family law matter involves risk; and the outcome is not a decision made by the people that matter but rather a judge. The risk is that no one walks away happy and that parents have to come back to court later because they’re unhappy with the outcome. All this costs more money, more time, more stress. 

Don’t you want to get on with your life? Wouldn’t you rather spend money on building your new life and not attorney’s fees? 

I want to clarify now and forever: you do not have to wait to go to mediation.  Your attorney may encourage you to wait, and it is up to you to question their motives in doing so. Are their reasons for waiting to earn more fees off of you or are they concerned that your ex has hidden assets? Is your attorney just more comfortable with the courtroom or is there a serious substance abuse issue that needs to be resolved as it pertains to parenting? It is tough to discern but it is worth a searching inquiry. 

Do your cost benefit analysis. Most parties would be better suited to try mediation early on. Your inability to get along or communicate now will only get worse. Moreover, mediators are not phased by soon-to-be exes disagreeing with each other. This is their niche in this world and they will work their tail off to exhaust all possible ways to resolution. 

There are some serious benefits to attempting mediation early on. If you settle, you are on the fast track to living life without a case weighing down your already hurting soul. If you settle early, you will most likely save yourself thousands of dollars. By going to mediation early, even if you don’t settle, you will not be negatively impacted in the courts for trying alternative dispute resolution. 

Talk to your attorney if you have one. If not, consult with an attorney about early mediation or go straight to the mediator and make an appointment right away. 

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Mediation in the Jacksonville Beaches Area

Mediation day, for many, is a high-emotion, high-anxiety day. If you have been through months (or years) of litigation already, this day could signify the end of the battle. Even if you only filed your case a month ago, you are likely anticipating some difficult, high-conflict scenarios. To have to travel to some unknown area of town that is smack in the middle of traffic jams and 45 minutes from home is the last thing you want to do on this day. The drive and the hunt for parking will undoubtedly increase your stress level at a time when finding peace and focus is crucial.

If you live in the Jacksonville Beaches area (Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach), you can mediate close to home and save yourself this added stress. Beaches Family Resolutions provides mediation on the island for your convenience and comfort. Consider the peace of mind this would bring to you on your big day, and choose a mediation spot that is in your world.

Mediation Services, Uncategorized

Attorney Assisted Mediation

Bottom line: hiring an attorney for mediation is a choice. Bringing an attorney to mediation can certainly help in making decisions based in the law and on projections of how your case may play out in the courts. An attorney will negotiate on your behalf, a skill they are most likely more experienced at than you are. Having this advocate can decrease your stress on mediation day because you can defer to your attorney if you become overwhelmed.

However, always remember that you, not your attorney, are the person who will have to live with the outcome of mediation. If you are unable to reach a settlement agreement, you will most likely incur a longer litigation process accompanied by hefty legal fees. If you reach a settlement that does not reflect your core desires, or that caused further friction with the other party, you may encounter other challenges.

THE FUTURE. How you and your attorney act at mediation could have a lasting impact on your communications with the other party, which is especially concerning when children are involved.

Some attorneys use mediation as a chance to “Win.” Remember. Attorneys are still people. We have egos and may let that guide our actions. Sometimes one attorney doesn’t like the attorney on the other side and that can influence how they negotiate. It might even seem exciting to the client in mediation to be a part of this game of submission and competition. But the end result, not settling, or setting with a one sided agreement, can and most likely will create future problems:

-heightened animosity between parties that has a negative impact on property distribution and coparenting

-unsustainable parenting arrangements that put everyone on the defensive and at their wit’s end

-children being deprived of quality time with another parent

-perpetuation of controlling behaviors, particularly where domestic violence was an issue

-creation of friction between parents that spills over into the parent-child relationship
All these are important to consider when deciding if you want to take an attorney with you to mediation, and if so, what parameters you want to set with your attorney before mediation. Most attorneys will respect your desires and negotiate YOUR reasonable desires.