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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 47: The Healer’s Art

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant  

One thing my boss, attorney Eric Johnson, has told me that has had an impact on my view of law is the idea that law was traditionally supposed to be a healing profession. I myself will be starting law school soon and will be learning more comprehensively the ins and outs of the legal profession, and I think that the best lawyers that I have seen seek to bring their clients healing. 

There is an important distinction I need to make here. I am afraid that there are some out there who would think that what I am saying is that good lawyers get their clients what they want or avoid conflict. That is not what healing is in my opinion. You would not want a doctor who only performs you the procedure that you want at the expense of the procedure that you need. To truly bring about justice and appropriate mercy, a good lawyer must uphold the law, and that means not just giving the client what the client wants. It also means not running from conflict every time it arises because conflict is part of life (and some conflicts can be resolved only by confronting and overcoming them, not avoiding or compromising them). The healing comes from doing what is right by your client but also what is fair to the opposing party. Healing comes at times through conflict, but keeping an eye on what the absolute truth of any given situation is, at least when it comes to the law. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 43: Law Offices

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

One thing that I have noticed in my time as a legal assistant to a divorce attorney is that most law offices are difficult to work with compared to our office. I am not saying that because I like to paint all lawyers with a broad brush, but I have found that it can be extremely difficult to get anything done when trying to work with other attorneys and their staffs. 

At my office, we actually answer the phone when people call our office. And when we’re already on the phone when people call, we call back the same day or the next day at the latest. Same with email. You send us an email and we’ll respond to it same day or the next business day at the latest. Send us a proposed draft to review and we get back to you as soon as we actually can, not weeks later claiming we were “in trial”. Not so with the clear majority of the attorneys I deal with. Not even close. There are times when we go days, weeks, even months ignored by opposing counsel. 

Need to schedule a hearing? How is it that opposing counsel almost always picks that latest of the open dates? They’re not fooling anyone. It’s a running joke among the court clerks.  

It may be that lawyers are literally busy all the time, but I think there must be some unwritten rule somewhere in the lawyer world that says you cannot cooperate with another law office unless you are friends with opposing counsel, or you benefit personally and substantially from cooperating with the other attorney. Professionalism and professional courtesy is in shocking short supply. Divorce lawyers, and their clients, tend to drag their feet and elongate proceedings unnecessarily. These are people’s lives we are dealing with, so we must do our best work as consistently and as efficiently as possible, so that they get the most benefit for the substantial amount of money clients spend on their lawyers. If you are a divorce attorney reading this blog, take and return calls and emails timely. Do your best to expedite the process. It will benefit you and, more importantly, your client. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 40

Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 40: Recording family law hearings

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

My time as a legal assistant to a divorce and family law attorney in Utah has shown me a side of the legal system that has broken some ideals I had before starting the job. I liked to believe that all judges were wise people and that they always had the public’s best interest at heart. I am not implying that all judges are wholly corrupt, but prejudice and mediocrity is a more common occurrence than I believed and hoped.

One example of the mediocrity I am speaking of has been how most judges across the state of Utah treat the YouTube channel Utah Family Law TV (UFLTV). UFLTV is a YouTube channel my boss runs in his spare time. He does not profit from it, nor does he use it as a tool for promoting his legal practice. It is merely a channel he runs to help those who are going through divorce and other domestic relations cases educate themselves about the workings of the legal system by broadcasting the public proceedings of Utah domestic relations cases, like divorce and child custody disputes. These hearings and trials are open to the public. There is no law that prohibits these proceedings from being broadcast to the public. In fact, Utah’s court system proudly announced, about 8 years ago, a rule to make public court proceedings more open and accessible to the public by—purportedly—making them more open and accessible to the news media. While the rules allow a court to deny access to some public hearings under certain circumstances, more often than not UFLTV is denied access for no good reason. For instance, UFLTV coverage requests are routinely denied because the judge or commissioner merely believes UFLTV not to be a legitimate news reporter, yet these same judges refuse to give UFLTV any opportunity to provide evidence that it is clearly a news reporter as that term is defined in the rule.

Situations like this (and others) lead me to conclude that either the judges and commissioners don’t understand—or don’t care to understand—the very rules they are sworn and employed to obey or they simply want to prevent media coverage of public domestic relations proceedings, so they twist the facts and the rules to reach the desired outcome. You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that the so-called “reasons” given for denying UFLTV media coverage requests just don’t hold factual or legal water.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 19: Litigation

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

Litigation is not fun. It’s anything but fun. Now, I am not a lawyer and I have only been a legal assistant since this past summer, and that’s the sum total of my experience with the legal system to this point in my life. But even then, I feel that I know enough to say that litigating is hard and I see why people hire lawyers when they’re involved in litigation. I am not a naturally argumentative person. I do not really go looking for arguments and I do not enjoy arguing because the point of arguing is to show why you are right and the other person is wrong, and I prefer to stay out of stuff like that because I do not feel qualified to say someone is right or wrong (even if it is as clear as day). So, what on Earth is driving me to want to pursue law? It seems like I would hate it as a career, so why would I bother seeking to gain more knowledge in that area? 

Well, I might be a fool, but as much as I hate arguing, I hate to see other people become victims of the very system that claims to defend their rights even more. I hate seeing other people being taken advantage of by people who are supposed to be watching out for that person’s best interests (I am talking about lawyers and judges). It is cliché now to suggest that the system is broken (which is only causing people to be more complacent about the broken system), but I think people deserve to be treated like people and when we do not stand up for the rights of all people we eventually stand up for the rights of none (also cliché, but no less true; in fact, all the more true because it’s fallen to the level of cliché).  

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 17: Fairness

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

Before I started working as a legal assistant I was a philosophy major at BYU. During that time I read a portion of John Rawls treatise on justice. Mr. Rawls sought to equate justice with fairness. I would try and summarize what he meant by that, but unfortunately, I am far enough removed from my studies in philosophy that I could not give an accurate representation of what Rawls was saying in his writings. The reason that I bring it up now is that I have recently been contemplating what it means for an outcome to be fair. 

One issue I have seen since I started my current job is that many clients and potential clients have an idea of what they think is fair, but they do not see that their view does not align with what is fair according to the law. They have a specific expectation in mind about what should happen in their case, but when that expectation is not met, it means that what they did receive from the court is, in their view, not fair. Not getting what one wants is not an objective standard by which one can deem a particular effect as unfair. We all experience disappointment in life. In that sense, the fact that all of us experience some type of “unfairness” in our lives is, frankly, fair. I am not sure what constitutes fairness, I am not sure anyone does. But I know that it cannot just be getting what one wants. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277 

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 12: Perfection

By Quinton Lister, Legal Assistant

It doesn’t take a lawyer to discover, and it doesn’t take long to realize, that the legal profession is by no means perfect. The legal system is nowhere close to perfect either. So, why, as a legal assistant, am I concerned with my emails and my documents being perfect? I suppose it’s because I have started to see how the slightest error gives your enemies an opening to make a mountain out of a molehill. For instance, a simple, honest mistake resulting in miscalculating the child custody schedule, child support, or alimony awards can be disastrous, if one wants to try to capitalize on those mistakes.  

Simply put, mistakes are costly, especially in practicing law. The repercussions of legal mistakes can be irreversible and have lasting impact. That explains why lawyers are exact in their words and actions, and why legal documents are often so long. Good lawyers and bad one too know a mistake could cost them a case and a job (not to mention exposure to a malpractice suit). My job is to learn to be exact and thorough. Sometimes this pushes me out of my comfort zone, but that is part of learning any profession, trade, or craft. I am grateful to be learning these things now, well before I am an attorney myself.  

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 10: Divorce

By Quinton Lister, Legal Assistant 

I think most of the observations I am having as a new legal assistant are not groundbreaking, but my boss and I are learning that readers who are contemplating or going through divorce really like the observations of someone new to all of this because they have thoughts and feelings similar to mine, and for the same reasons—it’s all new to them, it’s all new to me.  

Most of my observations expressed in my blog posts are driving home points that I already knew at least something about in some respect. For instance, divorce is hard!  

That is not a unique observation, even those who have ever only heard of accounts of divorce can tell you that.  

I have heard plenty of jokes about ex-wives and ex-husbands. I have heard statistics about how about half of the marriages in the United States end in divorce, but even then, only working with someone going through divorce (which I get to do each day, with many clients each day, through my work) is causing me to learn to a greater extent how hard divorce really is. 

Divorce is sad, angering, burdensome, expensive, and heartbreaking. It not only affects the lives of those involved in the divorce, but extended family members, friends, co-workers, and more.  

Consequently, one thing that I understand much better after about 2 ½ months on the job is why people are so often in a bad mood (or worse) when I call them with news or with requests regarding the divorce action. Whether it be a client, another law office, or a court clerk, a call or email from me is usually (not always, but usually) bad news.  

See what misery people go through in most divorce cases causes me to see my own trials and challenges differently. Frankly, I am grateful I am not going through divorce myself. Though it is not easy getting on the phone at times with a client whose nerves are frayed and/or who’s been dealt another unfair blow, I would rather do that than experience some of the things I see clients and others going through. I am glad when I can be of service to them by doing my job effectively. Even though it may be painful in the moment, it’s good when I can spare some pain in the long run. 

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277  

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