Because of this blog, I get a significant number of calls and emails from pro se litigants, with varying sorts of questions. Ordinarily, I tell them I can’t advise them directly, but if they’ll have their lawyer call me, I’d be happy to help. Some reply with thanks and a simple “thanks, Aaron, I’ll do that.”
Others reply with an expletive-riddled rant that lawyers are leeches draining the financial life out of hardworking people and why don’t we just all walk off a cliff somewhere. I don’t mind telling them to go away.
But there’s a third type of response that bothers me greatly (saddens me, really) because it’s so unnecessary. One such inquiry pinged in this morning, just as I was brushing my teeth.
“Hi, Aaron. I’m in Oklahoma City and I need to serve divorce papers on my wife in a place called Perugia, in Italy. I know I need a lawyer, but nobody here in OKC will take my case because they don’t know anything about Italian divorce law.”
Sisters and brothers of the bar… you don’t need to know Italian divorce law to handle a divorce in Oklahoma. You do need to have a rough understanding of how things work over there, but if you bring another attorney on board to tell you where the landmines are buried,* you’ll know what’s necessary to know.
Of course, the geography here has been changed in order to protect confidences. It really doesn’t need to be, though, because this is a routine fact pattern with similar variables– the plaintiff’s location, the defendant’s location, the type of case. It could be a car accident in Miami involving a German defendant or a contract dispute in Seattle involving a Japanese defendant… it all boils down to this: many lawyers decline the case because they don’t want to have to navigate a Hague Convention. Any Hague Convention (there are many).
The situation need not be so. I’ve ranted for years that lawyers do themselves and their clients– whether engaged or prospective– a disservice by thinking they have to do everything themselves. Or have all the answers themselves. Or keep all those fees in-house lest a senior partner glare at them.
The whole point of the Hague Law Blog is to assist lawyers who don’t know anything about Italian divorce law or German personal injury law or Japanese contract law. We’re here for you— and by “we” I mean fellow lawyers who will provide consultation and guidance, often for a fee, but often not. Professional courtesy abounds in this business, I’m happy to report.
Don’t get me wrong. Declining a case because it’s outside your area of expertise is not only wise– it may be unethical not to. Tax lawyers shouldn’t sign on to capital murder cases. M&A wizards shouldn’t handle divorces. Y’all just stay in your lane.
But if the only thing keeping you away from taking a case is the fact that the defendant is overseas, all I can say is… relax. There’s help.
* Landmines like jurisdiction over custody, division of overseas property, alimony, child support enforcement…