A friend of mine recently reached out for help. He is a probate lawyer with a problem that sounds a bit complex:
I have a case with a paternity issue regarding which I need your help. I represent the estate of a deceased man who is survived by his minor child. According to the child’s mother, my client was the father. He is not on the birth certificate, but he did sign something that said he was the father and that was filed with social security. Mom does not have a copy of that.
My client’s mother agrees that her son was the father. I need to prove he was the father so that the estate can claim damages for the child. We should be able to get something for DNA testing.
Is this something with which you could help me?
My first thought was that the mother would have to sue the estate for paternity, so that my friend would then have a judgment of paternity for the estate to use in the separate action for damages.
After some thought, however, I realized a better way to resolve this issue – the estate lawyer will file a petition to determine beneficiary. Because it will be uncontested, it should work.
I sent my friend this suggestion, along with the comment, “Where there’s [no] will, there’s a way!“
He laughed, of course.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
And, of course, I might be wrong. One fascinating aspect of practicing law is that one constantly discovers potential solutions that may or may not work, depending on the jurisdiction, the type of law implicated, the people involved, the decisionmaker, and various other facets of the problem that are out of the lawyer’s control. And out of the client’s control, for that matter.
This is something about which more lawyers need to apprise their clients. Although who makes the decisions has always been an issue in legal representation, clients today demand more control over the decisions in their legal caregiving. It is critical, therefore, to educate the client in the choices he has, rather than making those decisions without his input.
Marketing Decision Making
If you are a lawyer who believes in ensuring an equal partnership between lawyer and client, use that uniqueness in your marketing. Include it in your selling proposition. It is a valuable aspect of the services you provide.