I never understood what it meant to be your own worst enemy until I spent ten months in a corporation, answering calls on the “hot line” reserved for big paying accounts.[1]Basically, to be your own worst enemy means to undermine your own best interests.  This revelation appeared to me when Corporate asked us to rate ourselves as part of our annual review in about twenty-five different categories—thoroughness, responsiveness, knowledge, plays well with others, you name it.  The idea was for us to soul-search and then evaluate ourselves, ourselves. We would then compare our own ratings with how our supervisor rated us.

I didn’t like this idea. My self-preservation instinct kicked in and I gave myself a perfect score in every single category. They thought it was a joke and sent me to the HR department. No, it’s not a joke, I said. Why would I essentially bid against myself?  Why would I admit to faults that may or may not be apparent to someone else? No one had an intelligent answer, other than they thought I had an attitude.  Anne and attitude do have the same first letter.

In any event, people who undermine themselves in regular life will have a very difficult transition into the legal world. Family law in particular reveals how someone ultimately feels about themselves because their emotions are so open and exposed to observation. Lawyers learn theories in law school, but most of the success in a family law case is up to the client, not a theory from a casebook.  Unless your lawyer is so grossly incompetent that she cannot walk into a courtroom without angering the judge, a client sets his or her own course through the family law system.

Most cases are not lost in the courtroom by what actually comes out of a client’s mouth. I did have a fellow who laughed out loud when he was accused of marital misconduct and that was the end of his credibility. For most people, though, the self-inflicted damage occurs outside of the courtroom, when talking to their ex or their children, or when posting on social media.

Here are some poignant examples:

–A woman lists herself on as single without children, while she is in the middle of a divorce and custody battle for her young son. This was the father’s Exhibit 1.

–A woman texts that she has had a car wreck, with the child in the car, to get her ex to call her back. There is no wreck at all.

–A man fills his son’s prescription for only enough pills to get him through his parenting time, so the ex has to buy the rest of the prescription when he returns the child. The net savings is $25.00.

–A man earning over $150,000 charges his ex for watching his own children so she can go to a job interview during her parenting time. He sends her a bill via email.

In every example above, the person not only came up with a creative way to undermine themselves, but then compounded the error by refusing to acknowledge its significance. Some arguments just cannot be won. There is no situation where a parent is justified in denying the existence of their children, crying wolf about a car wreck, charging for extra time, or not filling the prescription bottle. I have never yet had someone say I screwed up and leave it at that. No, the explanations are lengthy and detailed about how unfair the child support system is and how he has to pay her to care for the kids so why shouldn’t she pay him? The outrage is palpable in his voice.

An annual corporate review and a family law case are similar. Your every short-coming will be dissected and used to determine your future.  The key is not to let your guard down and reveal the ugliest parts of your heart and then try to talk your way clear. Yes, it was certainly cheeky for me to give myself straight 10s. I made sure to do it on a day when I had met my call quotas, arrived on time and smiled at the others in the call bank. Am I perfect? Of course not. But on that day, I admitted to no less.

[1] This career ended abruptly with what Laura my fearless paralegal calls “putting down the pen.” I put down my pen and left one sunny day, never to return again. But I digress.