With so much of my work involving post-separation co-parenting, I am constantly struck by the outrageous amounts of money people spend on lawyers. I’ve talked before about how counter productive it is for children and how the money could be better spent in other ways.
For today, I want to focus on WHY lawyers fees are so ridiculously high? And the bottom line, from the lawyers I know, is that “that’s the going rate”. Clients expect these exorbitant fees and are willing, if they have the money and can’t get Legal Aid, to pay them. Why do we as a society tolerate this money gouging by the legal profession?
I am a clinical psychologist and a lawyer. Even in America, where law school is incredibly costly and takes three full years post graduate, it takes more years and costs more money to become a psychologist than a lawyer. So why do psychologists charge less than lawyers? Because the “market will bear” exorbitant lawyer fees. But do we as humans have to buy into this narrative?
In America some lawyers would justify their fees based on the expense of law school. Even though, as seen before, that argument has more holes than Swiss Cheese, it certainly is not a viable argument in Australia. It doesn’t cost more to become a lawyer in Australia than to work in many (most?) professional capacities requiring a degree and a license or registration.
Years ago I got a phone call from a family lawyer who asked if he can provide some information about a mutual client. I said I’d be happy to listen but he needed to know that I would notify my client that we talked. He laughed and said “oh, she will know because I will bill her for my time”. It never crossed my mind to bill the client for my time.
$800/hour for a lawyer seems exorbitant because it is. Until the public collectively refuses to accept this, we cannot expect the legal profession to self-regulate. If you are using a lawyer ask them to itemize their expenses and you can even ask them how they can justify the enormous expense.
This take everything you can get mentality pervades capitalism, and no where is it manifested more clearly than it is with lawyers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a metaphor that has probably been used by others. It’s a way of thinking about the impact of our early childhood experiences has on our understanding of the world and our understanding of who we are.
We are born as perfect; by definition, we are the perfect manifestation of ourselves (because we are the ONLY manifestation of ourselves). Then we are given a packet of information from other people (mostly parents) that we carry around everywhere we go. The packet tells us things about the world (“the world is beautiful”, or “the world is a scary place” or “hard work pays off” or “everyone gets screwed”) and it tells us things about ourselves (“you are awesome”, “you are stupid”, “you deserve to be celebrated”, or “you deserve to be hit”). NONE of these things are about us – they are about the person saying them. We aren’t smarter if someone thinks we are smart, and we aren’t dumber if someone thinks we are dumb. But that’s the only packet of information we have, so we carry it around. And we use it as a “reference” when we think about the world and, most importantly, when we think about ourselves and how we expect to be treated.
It’s important to understand how significant and all encompassing this is. All the ways we think about the world and about ourselves come from someone else.That means, well intentioned or otherwise, we are experiencing things based on our packet of information that we didn’t create and that says way more about the people who did than it says about us.
If we can think of this as a “packet” we are carrying around our entire lives, it is super empowering. Because it isn’t, and never was, about us. It’s something we’ve been carrying and we don’t need to carry it anymore. We can re-define everything we believe about the world and everything we believe about ourselves.
We can set down the packet and give energy to seeing the world, and ourselves, in whatever way WE choose
Recently, I was driving home from getting groceries. I was stopped behind a van at a stoplight. I could not see who was driving, but I noticed at least one child passenger. The light turned green but the van didn’t move. I know I have sometimes gotten distracted and not noticed a light changing, so after about 15 seconds I gave a very short “courtesy beep”, and the van started moving.
Less than a kilometer later, the van driver put on the left directional signal to turn and slowed down but did not turn. I went to go around on the right and the van swerved in front of me, across the right lane, almost causing an accident. I pulled over with my heart beating fast. The van just turned and drove down the street.
While I calmed down, I thought about the child in the van, and about role modeling. What did they learn from watching their parent (I assume) almost cause an accident because, I guess, they were offended that someone reminded them that they didn’t notice the light changing to green? And my thoughts expanded to thinking about traditional parenting and the state of humanity in our culture. Even aside from “road rage” some drivers will speed up to prevent you from entering their lane, and will get angry at you for going too slow. I don’t think there is any animal species that tries to hurt other members of its species for no reason. No benefit accrued to this van driver by almost causing this accident, but I imagine their ego is so fragile from the way they were raised that they felt there was an “affront” that they had to “revenge”, even if it could have cost someone (including their child) serious injury or death.
As I resumed my trip home I thought about that van driver being a child, and probably observing their parent doing similar juvenile and dangerous behaviors. And now they were handing this “legacy” of anger and recklessness to their own child.
Alternative parenting may not the best way to get obedience and a feeling of dominance and control, but MAYBE if we raised children differently we would not have a society of people who are so chronically insecure that they feel the need to protect their egos even if it is at the expense of the safety of themselves and others.