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 CHICAGO, April 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Lawyers should clearly and frankly educate divorcing clients about the emotional and financial consequences of breaking up a family and explain their billing policies in simple terms, said the nation's top matrimonial divorce lawyers in a poll released today by the American Bar Association Section of Family Law.
 The survey was conducted at the largest national gathering of the matrimonial bar -- attended by more than 300 lawyers -- during the ABA Family Law Section's Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., April 9-11.
 To identify ways lawyers can help their clients through family breakups and to promote the highest professional and ethical standards, the section polled meeting attendees on a number of lawyer-client communications issues.
 Virtually all of the 109 lawyers responding said it is a lawyer's responsibility to explain the emotional and financial ramifications of divorce to his or her clients.
 "If lawyers did a better job of communicating, clients would be better equipped to deal with the emotional and legal land mines they encounter when obtaining a divorce and litigating custody and support issues,'' said Dallas lawyer Kenneth Raggio, chair of the 15,000-member section.
 Nearly all lawyers surveyed -- 99 percent -- explain the divorce process in person to clients. Twenty-five percent supplement that with written materials, 16 percent with consultations with other law firm personnel, 11 percent with videos, and 2 percent with a client handbook recently published by the ABA Family Law Section. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one answer).
 The lawyers also agreed that better communication would help prevent disputes over legal bills.
 Over two thirds (69 percent) "strongly agreed" and more than one- quarter (27 percent) "agreed" that lawyers should explain their billing policies and rates in clear and simple language. Only 3 percent of lawyers surveyed did not enter into written agreements with their clients.
 "By having a better understanding of how complicated and time- consuming it is to litigate family disputes and how that translates to legal fees, misunderstandings over lawyer bills could be minimized," explained Raggio.
 Two thirds (66 percent) "strongly agreed" and nearly one third (31 percent) "agreed" that clients should be informed if their legal tab will exceed the fees agreed upon in early consultations.
 "We strongly urge all lawyers, including divorce attorneys, to be up front with their clients about their billing practices," said Raggio. "Not only will full fee disclosure benefit clients, but it will serve the lawyer's interests as well. After all, a lawyer's business rests on his or her reputation. An unhappy client is a bad advertisement."
 Perhaps more than any other area of law, a wide range of volatile emotions is aroused during family disputes. Even couples agreeing to a "civilized" or "friendly" divorce can become sad or bitter; in contested matters, these feelings can approach rage.
 Such often-hostile emotions about an ex-spouse or economic problems may linger and, with no other tangible target at hand, are frequently aimed at the lawyers involved in the divorce -- even when the client was fairly represented and was accurately warned about the divorce's probable financial costs and likely result of custody and support matters.
 That anger about the divorce itself is a factor in client satisfaction was universally recognized by meeting attendees, with 99 percent agreeing it can have an impact on client perception of the quality of legal services provided, and 98 percent saying it could affect assessment of how fair their legal bills are.
 These emotional factors make it even more important for lawyers to help divorcing couples understand what they are getting into when they decide to call it quits.
 The section also asked lawyers attending if they handled family law cases for female and male clients differently, and whether it is more costly for a woman to get a divorce.
 The extra legal procedures sometimes required for a woman's attorney to accurately assess the couple's economic status was the primary difference identified by respondents.
 Explained Raggio: "Husbands traditionally have had full control over family finances and economic information. This means that the wife's attorney must often engage in discovery (fact-finding tasks) to gain equal knowledge about assets and income.
 "That discovery procedure may require hours of time rendered by her lawyer, accountants and other experts, which boosts legal fees and expenses," he continued. "That, and not sexism or unethical practices, is the reason some women may pay more for divorce."
 Echoing Raggio, 59 percent "strongly agreed" and 34 percent "agreed" that, in general, more discovery time is necessary to properly represent a female client in divorce, with 91 percent saying that longer discovery translates into higher legal bills.
 Litigating custody, child support and visitation also boosts a client's divorce bill, said 96 percent of respondents.
 In addition to the spring meeting's continuing legal education programs, the section sponsored a Town Hall forum on April 10 with U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) to discuss the economic impact of divorce on the nation's families.
 Citing a "tremendous shortfall" nationwide in the collection of child support, Schroeder detailed to section leaders the "Child Support Economic Security Act of 1992" she expects to introduce to congress in her capacity as chair of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.
 Under the bill, Schroeder says, state lines would no longer serve as a shield behind which parents can evade support orders issued in other jurisdictions. The proposed legislation would require states to adopt the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, and put in place technology and procedures to help the government and custodial spouses track down fathers and mothers who fail to meet support obligations.
 Among other measures, the bill would allow private citizens to sue states failing to comply with their own child support enforcement policies, require credit bureaus to be informed of delinquencies, prevent the recording of property transactions if support payments are in arrears, and eliminate bankruptcy as a tool for avoiding divorce judgments.
 "Receiving a child support payment should be as automatic as getting a monthly Social Security check," said Schroeder.
 In recognition of her longtime support of child and family issues, Raggio presented Schroeder with the section's "Friend of the Family" award at a reception following the Town Hall meeting attended by many congressional leaders and staff. Schroeder has served 10 terms in the House since first elected in 1972.
 (The ABA Section of Family Law was organized to improve the administration of justice in the field of matrimonial law. Its committees and members address well-known, but rapidly changing, subjects such as divorce, custody, adoption, alimony, child support and taxation, as well as emerging issues such as domestic violence, mental health, marriage and co-habitation, and the complicated questions of paternity, illegitimacy, perinatal drug addition and genetic engineering. The section publishes two quarterly periodicals: Family Advocate, a practical journal in magazine format; and Family Law Quarterly, a scholarly journal.)
 -0- 4/15/92
 /CONTACT: JoEllen Bursinger of the American Bar Association, 312-988-6141/ CO: American Bar Association ST: Illinois IN: SU:

TQ -- NYFNS1 -- 8449 04/15/92 07:31 EDT
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Date:Apr 15, 1992

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