When a couple reaches a point in their marriage where divorce is all but inevitable, they typically find themselves at a crossroads that will have an impact on the future of all members of the family. Given the incredibly emotional and often tumultuous nature of a divorce, choosing the right attorney when presented with this crossroads is critical. Determining who the right attorney is at the time, when one’s judgment may be clouded, is a challenge. The experience you have and the results achieved throughout the divorce process can mean the difference between moving forward in a healthy manner and living with regret.
Susan J. Smith, a partner with the Doylestown-based law firm Williams Family Law P.C., has seen many families reach this crossroads. Finding “the right fit,” as Smith says, will help the process go much more smoothly, even when times get tough in the process. Her advice: Seek out someone (an attorney) who not only is good at what he or she does but also is someone you feel as though you can trust.
“While it’s essential to find an attorney who is capable in and out of the courtroom, feeling comfortable with an attorney is just as important,” she says. “If you’re not comfortable with the person you’re seeing regularly at such a critical point in your life, then it’s simply not going to work.”
Smith compares the process of hiring a lawyer to choosing a doctor.
“You might be able to overlook poor bedside manner if you’re going in for one surgery and that’s it, but you want a general practitioner who you’re seeing more regularly to be able to talk to you,” she says. “You want someone you’re comfortable with—and it’s no different than your attorney.”
She suggests the very first meeting between attorney and prospective client will be a good indication as to whether or not it’s a good fit for both parties.
Once Smith connects with a client, she works with him or her to define goals, as well as to consider any potential obstacles and develop a sound case strategy. The process is the same with her four fellow attorneys at Williams Family Law: Jeffrey M. Williams, the firm’s founder and managing partner; Robert J. Salzer; Jennifer R. Ryan; and Melanie J. Wender. With decades of combined experience, the firm’s attorneys offer experienced guidance, compassionate advice and powerful advocacy. They also have intimate knowledge of the local courts, which can make a significant difference in the outcome of a case, as there are often subtle nuances from county to county and even judge to judge.
“Our clients have to trust us and have confidence in us,” Smith shares. “We have to set reasonable expectations for our clients from the outset, which oftentimes can mean having to deliver information or advice that our client really does not want to hear. We listen to their goals and work with them on building a strategy of their case, but we also work to keep their expectations in line with potential outcomes based on the law and the facts of the case.
“Sometimes,” she continues, “due to the stress clients are under in the divorce, we have good people behaving badly and we have to rein them in or counteract their misbehaving spouse. That is why trust is a crucial foundation of the relationship. We need them to listen to us as we listen to them.”
The Client’s Best Interest
Another aspect of Williams Family Law that sets it apart from other firms is its ability to anticipate the crossroads that will be encountered along the way. It’s about being on “offense” rather than “defense” during the divorce process. Williams Family Law attorneys pride themselves on being skilled at making clients feel prepared for the inevitable twists and turns in the divorce process. This includes not only fighting for a client’s rights and answering any questions along the way with thoughtful responses but also helping them arrive at decisions that make the most sense for their family.
Of course, issues unexpected to a client can arise with a divorce. Take, for instance, the soon-to-be-former husband and wife who once shared a financial adviser and now feel conflicted about sharing this important person in their lives. Oftentimes, the adviser will sever ties with one of the parties, leaving one spouse in the position of having to search for someone new with whom to entrust their long-term financial security. This is just one of the many life changes a client might face as a direct result of the dissolution of a marriage.
“So many crossroads like this arise, and the best family lawyers understand all of those extra issues that the client is facing,” Smith says. “We’re here to walk clients through their life. Lots of lawyers claim to be family lawyers, but the best family lawyers anticipate and understand all of the nuances that must be addressed and provide that personal attention the client really needs. We become their point person.”
As the “quarterback” of the process, the firm is also well able to recommend other experts that might be needed. Williams Family Law is well known for its negotiation and litigation experience, and all of the attorneys have strong working relationships with experts in affiliated fields, including business experts, mental health professionals, financial planners and forensic accountants, among others.
“We’re not just throwing out a name of someone you can hire, but we’re trying to match you with the right person,” Smith says. “As a boutique family law firm, we know just about every therapist in town, but we also know how important it is for you to connect with the right one. All five of us are able to help guide you with finding other help you may need.”
Considering her background, Smith has a strong understanding of what motivates people and why they make the decisions they do. She had been on track to become a psychologist before deciding to pursue a career in law. In other words, she brings a unique perspective to the table. She’s not only focused on strategy but also understands the complex issues clients wrestle with on a deeper level.
Although a divorce can be one of the most trying times in a person’s life, Smith helps her clients focus on the good things that can result from having to endure these dark times. This transition from dark to light, in fact, is what motivates her when a case becomes particularly challenging.
“People often ask me how I can do this for a living,” Smith admits. “Yes, it can be sad, but when clients come to me after the fact and say that in their darkest moment I was the one that pulled them through, that means everything to me. That’s what keeps me going.”
Williams Family Law
43 N. Pine Street
Doylestown, PA 18902
Photograph by Kim Billingsley