In my view, as a family lawyer, the “theme,” or overall concept of the case, is vital. It allows me and my client to tell a story. Every family relationship has its own story. Whether we are addressing a divorce, paternity matter, guardianship, etc., there are various reasons and events that led the parties to the current situation. It is widely understood that people can remember a story far easier than a list. Therefore, a compelling and understandable story has more resonance with the judge than a collection of facts and events. A theme particular to my client’s family makes her more than a case number, and helps my client stand out from the hundreds of other family matters on judge’s calendars.
Just as beneficial, identifying a theme for the case at the very beginning keeps me and the client focused in our presentation and goals. We present evidence using the theme as context, both logically and chronologically. If the client’s main goal is to receive maintenance/alimony, then we must stress that point throughout the case and fully explore all the facts on that point. We must explain why, in the context of this family, maintenance is fair and necessary. That preparation begins at the first client meeting, and is periodically reviewed as circumstances change and more facts come to light. In preparing my trial examination, we can focus on the points that reinforce our position, and leave out facts and events of marginal relevance. The testimony should be streamlined, understandable, and answer the question: Why should the judge do what we want him to do? What does the judge need to know to understand and sympathize with my client? Just as importantly, what is not important to his understanding of the case? Dragging out trials with unnecessary information will only cause confusion and lack of focus.
Judges are well-versed in the law. Of course, one of the attorney’s jobs is to use the law to support the client’s position. But given the enormous family law caseload, particularly in Dane, Columbia, and Sauk Counties, I believe that it is vital to integrate the law and specific facts of my client’s family to spark and hold the judge’s interest. In my view, without an overriding theme, the case becomes generic and unfocused. The possibility of a generic and unfocused ruling thus increases. A theme gives the case and client a purpose that is easily followed and communicated. It also ensures that the client is heard, and that he/she is treated as a person, not a case number.