expert online series

Karen Winner on Protecting Yourself from Your Lawyer
The author of Divorced From Justice: The Abuse of Women and Children by Lawyers and Judges, Speaks Out
Current Time: Fri Apr 18 13:38:33 EDT 1997

MsgId: jcafe(1)
Date: Thu Apr 17 09:20:28 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen Winner is author of Divorced From Justice: The Abuse of Women and Children
By Divorce Lawyers and Judges, (Regan Books/Harper Collins) and creator of the
Divorced From Justice Website. A former policy analyst and investigative writer for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Karen Winner uses these venues to demonstrate how divorce clients, especially women, are often financially defrauded and manipulated by their
attorneys - the very lawyers they pay to protect their interests. She also explains
how women are subjected to "dirty tricks" by opposing lawyers and discriminated
against by prejudiced judges. Most important, Winner offers invaluable advice
and guidance for women as to how they can protect themselves and their children
from such abuses. Winner is currently working as a freelance journalist in New
York City. She has written for Newsday and The San Francisco Chronicle,
among other publications, and has made national television appearances on
Burden of Proof, Inside Edition, and Geraldo, among others, to discuss the
divorce issue.

Stay tuned for the Open Chat with Winner starting at 10 PM ET, and if you get here before the show, please return to the Divorce Central Homepage to access an excerpt from Winner's book and some of her consumer guidelines.



MsgId: jcafe(3)
Date: Thu Apr 17 21:59:13 EDT 1997
From: hourglass
At: 207.22.82.33

I love your book. First of it's kind I have seen. I am only half way through it, but find it very interesting.
MsgId: jcafe(4)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:00:11 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Thank you. I've been getting a lot of responses from women all over the country who know they are not alone in their struggles in the courts.
MsgId: jcafe(6)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:00:48 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Welcome, it's time, once again, for Thursday Night Live!! Tonight our special guest is Karen Winner, author of Divorced From Justice: The Abuse of Women and Children
By Divorce Lawyers and Judges
MsgId: jcafe(7)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:01:40 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, for those in the audience who are not familiar with your work, I wonder if you can provide some context: How did you come to write this book, and what, in a nutshell, did you learn?
MsgId: jcafe(11)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:04:21 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

I was assigned the task of looking into some complaints brought by women to the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs. I was working as a policy analyst there. . . It took a year of research. I interviewed lawyers, judges, academics, and "victims," and my findings showed illegal, unethical patterns of abuse that particularly affected women. Women's own lawyers were perpetrating unethical practices such as overcharging, driving up unnecessary fees and ruining the women's cases. After my report, Women in Divorce: Lawyers, Ethics, Fees and Fairness was released in 1992, public hearings were held and Chief Judge Kaye implemented new reforms based on suggestions in the report.
MsgId: jcafe(10)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:03:13 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

Karen, how does someone know, at first, whether an attorney will turn out to be the "good" one or the one who might "abuse" his or her client?
MsgId: jcafe(13)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:07:13 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Unfortunately there is no way of telling if the attorney will be good or not at the first consultation. The reason is that there is no independent oversight so that lawyers can freely make promises and then not deliver. There are some good questions you can ask to see what kind of response the lawyer will give, that will in turn tell you his attitude toward you -- whether he or she will respect you and treat you well.
MsgId: jcafe(15)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:09:15 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, you found that lawyers were out for themselves, much of the time, instead of working in the best interest of their client. Can you please elaborate? And explain why this works against women more often than it does against men?
MsgId: jcafe(16)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:13:31 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Divorce has become a very lucrative industry for lawyers. There is no independent oversight of the practices that lawyers engage in. Consumer laws do not for the most part apply to lawyers. They are . . . regulated by their own tribunal. As a result, unethical practices flourish. Each year, 100,000 complaints are dismissed WITHOUT INVESTIGATION by the grievance committees. Lawyers have the opportunity to cheat clients because no one is watching over them. Women are more vulnerable to abuse because women usually don't control the family assets and are financially dependent. They are literally at the mercy of the lawyer and judge to get a fair hearing in court. But even the most well-respected lawyer may be greedy and scheming, and not represent the interest of the woman. She relies on the lawyer, places her trust in the lawyer but the lawyer knows that he or she will probably not be disciplined if the woman complains.
MsgId: jcafe(17)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:16:37 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, in New York City, where I'm from, there are many divorce attorneys of huge reputation, charging huge fees. It seems that the wealthiest people all want these lawyers, not necessarily because of their skill, but because of their clout and cache. There seems to be an inner circle on the divorce circuit. But even if a woman penetrates that circle, by securing one of these lawyers, she is not safe. What steps can she take --in this elite world-- to protect herself.
MsgId: jcafe(18)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:18:53 EDT 1997
From: Sunny
At: 152.163.206.32


MsgId: jcafe(19)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:19:32 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

The American Bar Association did a major malpractice study in the 1980s and found among other things that the most seasoned lawyers -- the ones with the most experience -- received far more complaints within the same time period than the least experienced lawyers. This says something about what happens to lawyers in the profession the more comfortable and powerful they get.
MsgId: jcafe(20)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:22:06 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

In your book you mention a number of women who took on their lawyers to fight for their rights, in the face of attorney abuse. It seems as if these women had to turn their lives upside-down to get justice. If someone is NOT willing to wage this large-scale war, what are some steps that can be taken for self-protection? --Possibly, even before the abuses occur?
MsgId: jcafe(21)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:26:23 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

There are several steps a woman can take to protect herself. Men should listen up too. First, make sure you negotiate terms in the retainer agreement. It's like any other contract. You have a right to negotiate the terms. . .Make sure there are certain provisions included, such as being able to receive documents on the case. There are other provisions outlined in my book that are important to look at. For example, lawyers are not allowed to add bonuses. They are only supposed to charge for their actual work. Look at the book to see what provisions should be added to the retainer agreement. Also, ask the lawyer for a ballpark estimate of how high fees might climb in a good case bad case scenario. Take a friend or trusted relative to the consultation to help be your eyes and ears. People are understandably vulnerable at this stressful time and could use support and help of a friend at the interview with the lawyer. There are just a few suggestions.
MsgId: jcafe(22)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:28:08 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

I mean, these are just a few suggestions. But there are many in my book. Remember that you can't automatically place trust in your lawyer. The lawyer must earn your trust.
MsgId: jcafe(24)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:28:49 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Sometimes a lawyer really has a client in a bind --if he or she does not pay more money, then the lawyer will not go on with the case, and not relinquish documents. Sometimes, money is not even actually owed. Is there recourse in such a situation?
MsgId: jcafe(28)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:33:11 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

In most states unfortunately lawyers are allowed to keep the clients' documents if the clients don't meet the lawyers' fee demands. In NY, Chief Judge Kaye wanted to ban these "retaining liens" as they are called, but the lawyer lobby was too strong, and threatened to bring a law suit against the courts if she banned retaining liens. If a person believes he or she is being overcharged, the client can ask for the attorneys' time records -- that show how much time was spent on each task the lawyer is charging for. It is important to document the time you spend on the phone with your attorney, and to record the length of meetings, to keep logs, so that you have a record that could be used in court if the attorney sues you over fees. Also, some states have mandatory fee arbitration. I have not heard very good things about the results of fee arbitration in NY however.
MsgId: jcafe(27)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:31:19 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, we have a few questions from the audience: Hourglass has asked this: What are my chances of getting more time with my daughter? I currently have about 35% and really
want as much as I can get - 50% would be much better.
MsgId: jcafe(29)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:35:51 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Hourglass, I don't know enough about your case. Do you have joint custody? Did you agree to this percentage of time? Is there a court order saying you can't have more time? I suggest you contact the National Coalition For Family Justice at 914-591-5753 and see if they have any suggestions.
MsgId: jcafe(30)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:36:28 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

While we are waiting, please feel free to submit questions here for Karen Winner. And do make sure, after the show, to read the excerpt from her book and some of her wonderful resources, including a Legal Consumer Bill of Rights and a Rate Your Attorney quiz.
MsgId: jcafe(25)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:29:32 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

Once a lawyer has been hired, during the progress of the case, are there any warning signs that the client is being taken advantage of? (Sorry for the dangling prep.)
MsgId: jcafe(34)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:38:07 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Yes there are. If the lawyer doesn't return your calls within a reasonable amount of time, that's a clue that something could be wrong. If your lawyer doesn't keep you informed on significant developments on the case -- such as an upcoming hearing -- it's really time to be worried.
MsgId: jcafe(31)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:37:04 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

I once had an attorney who told me he would be aggressive. He had a big name. That meant he was busy with other cases. Trial date after trial date was canceled because of his schedule. Yet, thousands of dollars were spent preparing for each trial. Years passed. Still no ruling. Would you say this was malpractice?
MsgId: jcafe(35)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:39:15 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Terry, The same thing happens when regular working journalists choose a superstar' literary agent. The agent is such a big shot with so many famous clients there is little time for the smaller writer.
MsgId: jcafe(32)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:37:35 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, here is a question from the audience: I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I had already been coerced into signing an agreement that ignored my rights under New York State Laws pertaining to Equitable Distribution and Federal Laws regarding pensions. What are my chances of going back before the same corrupt Judge for an upward Modification?
MsgId: jcafe(36)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:41:52 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

First to answer Terry's question. It's hard to say why the case is being delayed. I know of cases that were taken off the calendar for no apparent reason. It sounds like you should see the administrative judge to find out why the case is stalled.
Marilyn, you might or might not get the same judge. There's no way of predicting.
MsgId: jcafe(37)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:43:07 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, I wonder if you might address the custody issue. How does this relate to abuse by lawyers and judges, especially abuse of women, but also men?
MsgId: jcafe(38)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:46:18 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Many custody battles have a hidden agenda -- money. Some lawyers instruct the spouse who is not the primary caretaker to start a custody battle in order to get the primary caretaker -- usually the wife -- to give up her economic rights in exchange for getting to keep custody of her children. The child becomes a bargaining chip. In other cases, some men want custody because they want their wives to pay child support. The noncustodial parent must pay the bulk of child support. Other ex-spouses are vindictive and want to control their ex's through the kids.
MsgId: jcafe(40)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:48:18 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, as I read your book, I felt more and more that this was not a male vs. female issue so much as a lawyer vs. client issue. Can you please address?
MsgId: jcafe(41)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:51:42 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

I'm glad you brought that up. The courts are not consumer friendly and are not designed for consumers. The weakest consumers -- those who are not in a position of financial power or clout are in the weakest position and can therefore be hurt. Most often, women are in this position. The real problem is that there is a tremendous imbalance of power between consumers and lawyers. Lawyers have a monopoly over our courts -- even though we pay taxes as citizens.
MsgId: jcafe(42)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:52:44 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

It's a bit difficult for me to understand why judges have been co-opted. What do they have to gain?
MsgId: jcafe(46)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:55:24 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Judges are lawyers. Lawyers who become judges -- either by election or nomination -- are under the influence of lawyers. Lawyers also contribute money to judges' campaigns. Consumers are the outsiders in this equation.
MsgId: jcafe(44)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:53:43 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

Consumers are excluded from the policy-making decisions in court. Lawyers write the laws and control the enforcement of those laws. Consumers are giving lawyers too much power and until this changes, the weakest -- the elderly, children, women, the poor, will be in the position of getting hurt.
MsgId: jcafe(43)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:52:45 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

When all is said and done, is there a way around lawyers, or are we captured "victims"?
MsgId: jcafe(45)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:53:53 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Great question, Terry. Karen, you might address this in light of mediation, which many people say discriminates against women as well.
MsgId: jcafe(49)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:58:22 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

When people start demanding changes from their legislators, and when they realize that they own the courts, then we will see real reform. Right now we are collectively at the mercy of lawyers, because they control the laws and oversee the courts. Mediation is very problematic because lawyers and ex-judges are now getting into mediation and there are no regulations, no confidentiality, no record-keeping, no accountability for mediators either.
MsgId: jcafe(48)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:57:37 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

I'd just like to throw in a note of balance here. It has also been my experience that some lawyers are honest and really do try their best for the client. On tough questions, I would never advise anyone to do anything without checking with a lawyer. What do you think?
MsgId: jcafe(50)
Date: Thu Apr 17 22:59:54 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Karen, what do you think about Terry's point --that we still need lawyers, despite everything?
MsgId: jcafe(52)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:01:02 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

There are wonderful, devoted lawyers out there, but because the profession is self-regulated there is no adequate screening process to make sure dangerous lawyers are screened out. I don't know if everything requires a lawyer. I think if it's a complicated divorce, of course. If you have a spouse who is cooperative, try to keep lawyer involvement to a minimum -- but make sure YOU KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
MsgId: jcafe(54)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:04:22 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

On Terry's point -- lawyers are necessary because we have a system that has become so complicated. The industry has created the need for lawyers. Why does a woman have to get a lawyer to collect child support when she already has the award? Because it makes business for the lawyer. Child support enforcement is one of the areas that should not be handled in the courts because it is so inefficient and judges don't enforce orders. The head of our federal child support unit told me he spends all his time trying to get judges to give up control over child support enforcement. There should be automatic mechanisms to address the needs of families after divorce. Not more business for the law profession.
MsgId: jcafe(51)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:00:25 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

Are there any moves by any groups or legislators to reform the court system around the country?
a wrap.
MsgId: jcafe(55)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:06:47 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

There are grassroots groups who are meeting with legislators in various areas of the country to get some of the reforms enacted that I've outlined in the book. And in Illinois just last month, the governor signed into law similar reforms -- such as the bill of rights for divorce clients -- that were introduced in New York. So there is hope -- if people join together and demand changes.
MsgId: jcafe(56)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:07:53 EDT 1997
From: Terry_Hillman
At: 168.100.205.178

Who can be contacted to find out more about the divorce reform movement in each state?
MsgId: jcafe(59)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:10:40 EDT 1997
From: Karen*Winner
At: 207.96.26.67

The National Coalition For Family Justice has various chapters. Their phone number is 914-591-5753. I have a newsletter I am starting called The JUSTICE SEEKERS that will provide this information. See my website: http://www.divorcedfromjustice.com for more information. Thank you for having me on the show.
MsgId: jcafe(57)
Date: Thu Apr 17 23:09:04 EDT 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.204.58

Thank you Karen Winner for a most enlightening hour (plus.) The interview will be archived on our site, and for those who would like a taste of Karen Winner's work, you may read an excerpt of her book on Divorce Central and then buy the book from the DC bookstore, linked from the excerpt page. In addition, please remember to check out Karen Winner's website at www.divorcedfromjustice.com