The other day, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed. One of the posts was a short rant from a friend who was expressing his frustration that his child’s mother was not allowing him to see his daughter. Attached to his post were at least 20 comments from various people providing legal advice about what he should or should not do about his dilemma. The commenters provided strong-worded and confident advice that seemed to be based on their own personal experiences. Anyone reading these comments may mistake those well-meaning individuals for subject-matter experts on child custody and visitation.
As an attorney who regularly handles matters regarding child custody and visitation, I was intrigued by the fact that, while some of the information provided was true, it was combined seamlessly with misinformation. And advice filled with misinformation is not helpful to anyone.
Pro se individuals receiving favorable judgments in court may at times incorrectly attribute a favorable ruling to some part of their argument that they believed was the most compelling because they do not fully understand why a judge ruled in his or her favor. When I listen to anecdotes from potential clients who have experience as pro se litigants, I am able to identify those misconceptions that they fashioned in their own minds as to why or how a judge made his or her decision.
Custody and visitation disputes are understandably — and not surprisingly — highly emotional for parties. Because of the highly emotional state of those involved, people are very susceptible to believing and trusting misinformation that sounds pleasing. The truth becomes a harder pill to swallow when compared to the sweet sounds of misinformation, and my Facebook friend was no exception.
One of the biggest challenges in providing my friend competent legal counsel was correcting and clarifying the misinformation he received from his “Facebook lawyers” that he readily believed as true. Because of the Internet, social media and today’s advanced technology, information is easily accessible and frequently shared on any topic imaginable. Many potential clients have already done their own “research” before they contact me.
I spend a considerable amount of time separating fact from fiction. When potential clients challenge my counsel with misinformation that “they heard,” I will generally ask them if another attorney provided them that information. Almost always, the answer is that they heard it from a friend or read it on the Internet.
What are some ways you combat the misinformation your clients bring into a case?