Would You Hire Harvey Specter to Handle Your Divorce?
Confession time – my wife made me watch last year’s royal wedding (Meghan Markle & Prince Harry), and I was curious enough about the Duchess of Sussex to join my wife in binge-watching Suits from the very beginning on Amazon Prime.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a legal comedy/drama set at a corporate law firm in New York City. Its star “closer” is Harvey Specter, a determined lawyer who will do almost anything to win, including at times tactics which are ethically dubious. Harvey is ruthless and cold, and is a sharp dresser (presumably the origin of the title of the series).
In a season 5 episode, No Puedo Hacerlo, Harvey is asked to represent Esther Edelstein, the sister of fellow partner Louis Litt, in her divorce. Esther wanted Harvey because he was the “best lawyer in the city”. Harvey’s first instinct was to decline the case, telling Louis “I’m not a divorce attorney.”
Louis baited him, responding: “When has a sh—y detail like that ever stopped you before?” When indeed? After all, Harvey is a corporate attorney who has never litigated a divorce case – what could go wrong? Harvey should have trusted his instinct. In the end, he took the case. And got an okay settlement, then slept with his client as soon as the case was over.
Competence to Handle Family Law
But I digress. Was it a good idea for Harvey to take the case? While I’m not a New York attorney, let’s look at Rule 1.1: Competence, of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which reads:
“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
The problem is that Harvey, a $1000/hr lawyer, has never practiced family law, doesn’t know the laws, domestic relations judges, nor how to counsel his client about realistic expectations. Is he smart enough to muddle through it? Sure, but does a client really want to pay top dollar for someone to “wing it” in their divorce?
Divorce Attorneys Are Specialists
Most family law attorneys have encountered on the other side a corporate attorney who is representing a long-time business client in a dissolution matter as a “courtesy” to the client. And more frequently, we come across attorneys who “dabble” in family law, and practice it part-time, as just one of their practice areas, along with bankruptcy, criminal defense, and maybe even personal injury. In both situations, the lawyers tend to do okay jobs, but not knowing the law costs their clients.
Hiring an attorney who does not know family law is a mistake – for both the lawyer, who risks violating Rule 1.1, as well as for the client, who pays for inferior service from someone who may well be a superior attorney, in another field of law. There are lots of advantages to hiring a family law specialist, and hiring a smart lawyer who does not know family law is invariably a mistake, as that lawyer will not be able to identify issues important to you, or how best to litigate your case.
Just being a lawyer is not good enough – like most professionals, we specialize. While having Harvey Specter negotiate a divorce case makes for good drama on TV, it is lousy lawyering. Oh, and so is sleeping with a client while the ink is still wet on the decree!