Life as a Charlotte Family Law Attorney - Part 4
Charlotte Divorce Lawyer Tom Bush joins Law Talk with Bill Powers to discuss the practice of law, life as a family law attorney, and the path towards becoming an attorney.
Tom Bush: A lot of our judges we can quote to them the law, we can give them the law, we can show them the case that says for instance the law says that you can't order a house to be sold in a domestic situation prior to the house being valued and appraised. But our judges don't care about that and if they think the house should be sold before the trial they just order it, which gets expensive because then you've got to try to appeal the judge but they operate under this concept of fairness instead of law, which is troubling to me.
Bill Powers: Yeah, that's, with all due respect, that's a note to self, especially the commentary about the bench. The views expressed by guest are not necessarily those of Law Talk.
Tom Bush: Now I've always known that friendship, paddle paddle, kick kick. Look out for yourself.
Bill Powers: Well, and I will say this, and I agree with you on one point, both from a practical standpoint but a financial standpoint. I don't think in Mecklenburg County family law cases are generally held on the eighth floor. I don't think it's a good idea to be taking... You should be trying your best to stay out of court for several different reasons.
Bill Powers: One, court's very expensive. Trials are very, very expensive. Just getting to the trial can be expensive. Secondary to that, despite your preparation, you don't always know how things are going to go. And third, there are times your finder of fact, your finder of law in North Carolina is a district court judge, it's not a jury. So I think sometimes clients are shocked to hear that they don't get a jury trial in family law cases, but you don't know necessarily what you're going to get.
Tom Bush: You're right. We use the term, lawyers use the term in a non-jury case, the judge is really the 13th juror. The judge not only determines the fact, like a jury normally would do, but the judge also determines guilt or innocence, or who's getting custody of children or how much alimony's going to be paid. So North Carolina is a big debate that goes on with lawyers, should we continue to elect judges? By electing judges the idea is the population can get rid of bad judges by un-electing them every four years or every eight years depending on a particular judge that they hold.
Tom Bush: The other side of it is, wait a minute, why don't we take like in the North Carolina Bar Association and the governor and the speaker of the house and the president of the senate, appoint [inaudible 00:42:16] committees to interview judges, and then make recommendations to governors and we don't elect our judges, instead the governor appoints them.
Tom Bush: So that's a debate that's raged for years. Usually you find that in a state that allows their judges to be elected, they don't want to change that. And states that the judges aren't elected, the research seems to indicate that though the judges are more qualified, more scholarly, more capable in the law, then in family law they have hidden biases that they don't even know about and how they feel, whether they had a fight with their wife before they came in, whether they are a family that grew up with alcohol problems, the husband has an alcohol problem and the judge was aware of what it did to his family or her family. We all have our... We sort of determine our outlook on life from our previous experiences, and it can be dangerous when you're determining somebody else's life.
Bill Powers: Sure, sure. And you brought a really good point because I personally think the best judges out there are ones that you could not tell what their party affiliation would be. They may have a judicial philosophy but they're not going to follow a political mindset in court.
Bill Powers: And when I ran there was a party affiliation and for a while it was removed, and now party affiliation's back and I've gone back and forth on that issue. I think it's fair to say we all want the best quality judge up there. I wish we would substantially increase the pay because I think that would attract the best and the brightest, for lack of a better term.
Tom Bush: Yeah.
Bill Powers: Tom, well as expected I've imposed upon you longer than I said I was going to and I have, gosh, I probably have 100 more questions to ask you, so what I would probably do is maybe we just put a pin in it and leave these questions for another podcast. I will ask you, in closing, because you brought up some really interesting points, and one of which was the fact that a lot of lawyers deal with these different issues and different problems and in fact, in the studies I've read, that more than half, I think it's more than half of lawyers who have 10, 15 or more years of experience would not go back to law school. I think you would.
Bill Powers: But if you were not an attorney, what would you do? Because you have a lot of different interests. Would you be a pilot? Would you be a preacher? Would you be a professional fisherman? What would you do?
Tom Bush: That's a wonderful question. I certainly don't regret going to law school. I tell younger lawyers, "When you obtain a license to practice law, you just obtained a license to make a lot of money. And if you can make a lot of money then you can provide for your family, you can do a lot of things, you can give generously." Biblically, you and I know that when much is given much is expected. So a law license, short of a medical license, is a wonderful thing to have.
Tom Bush: So I don't think I would regret the practice... learning how to be a lawyer, becoming a lawyer and being involved in the law for so long. If money was no problem, I would have... my heart's always been in politics. I would have wanted to be a member of the United States Senate, I would have wanted to be part of a president's cabinet, I would have wanted to be chasing that degree to the highest level. I did chase it, I did have some success. I also had some losses. That was good for me, to do that.
Tom Bush: I think if I could do it now, I would fly single engine airplanes for Samaritan's Purse or for some other organization. There's a group of pilots that fly these little socks to for dogs that go into earthquake locations and other places to find and to rescue people that are under a lot of cement, bridges, and their paws get raw.
Tom Bush: So this group of pilots, whenever there's a disaster anywhere, they fill up the airplane with these little socks to put on the dogs so that when they're looking for... when they're trying to help out, whether it's local police or whether it's specialized people with specialized training with their dogs, and that would just be great fun.
Tom Bush: If somebody doesn't have the money to get educated, if they can't get educated, I think the next best thing is travel. Travel is a wonderful education. I see it, commercial airline pilots and flight attendants that I know, that some of them never were able to go to college, but they were able to get on as flight attendants or they were able to work their way up and become pilots. The military, wonderful way to get educated. So we all don't have to go to law school, and a lot of us can become successful and a lot of us can become knowledgeable through other ways.
Bill Powers: Sure. And I want to clarify a point because I think what you were trying to express maybe to law students or people interested in going to law is that there is a potential to make a good living, but also there is a tremendous responsibility associated with that, and I will just add, and Tom I'll let you disagree if you want, generationally things have changed substantially where you're Tom Bush, you're known in the entire state and cases, big cases come to you regularly based on a lot of years of work and training. Younger lawyers are coming out with a quarter million dollars or more of debt. You didn't have that.
Bill Powers: Even if you do well, which there's a potential, but there's also potential of not doing well, you can make a fair amount of money to pay back that debt and not be in a job or an area of law that you enjoy. I worry about younger lawyers taking cases, taking jobs predicated on the, for lack of a better word, a mortgage on a very, very expensive education versus something that they're passionate about. Do you agree with me on that?
Tom Bush: Excellent point. I think that you hit a bullseye on that one, that you forfeit a lot to become a lawyer. And what the public doesn't know is we undergo some pretty strong scrutiny. Number one, we have to be fingerprinted, number two, we have an all day exam on nothing but lawyer along with a total of three days of [inaudible 00:50:06] before we become a member of any bar in the country. We are ruled daily by ethical considerations that the average human being is not under.
Tom Bush: If people knew what we had to do and live every day with is this a conflict of interest? Is this... Can I go into business with this client? Can I take this fee as taking a lot if they've got in the mountains, they can't afford me but they want to give me a lot, they say that's worth $50,000 up in the Appalachian Mountains somewhere. Can I do that?
Tom Bush: And we are so elevated in our ethics that we're not even able to do something if it gives a perception of a conflict, regardless of whether it's a conflict or not. So the public on the one hand ought to be reassured that nobody is monitored, looked at, regulated, and subject to discipline than lawyers in the North Carolina State Bar, and the Florida Bar and other bars, they don't mess around. You can find yourself, if you touch a trust account when you shouldn't, you can find yourself with anywhere from being disbarred for five years to a suspension. We can't have any type of sexual relationship with a client, we can't have any business relationship with a client without certain safeguards, and even those safeguards are frowned on to get involved with a client.
Bill Powers: And to my young lawyers-
Tom Bush: We're really under a lot of scrutiny.
Bill Powers: To younger lawyers and to law students I'd also say it's not as crystal clear as you think, it's very, very, very complicated you can go in with the best intentions and make a mistake. And that's true whether from an ethical standpoint or professional standpoint where you can go to every CLE, you can do... You're only required to do 12 a year, you can do 100 CLE hours a year, you can teach CLEs and we're human and it's possible to make a mistake, and that's...
Bill Powers: Maybe that's where we pick up the next time we do this, Tom. So once again, I do want to thank everybody for listening to Law Talk. I would invite you to please tell your friends and family about it and we'd love to make it as easy as possible for them to do download episodes and listen. And Tom, thank you so much for your time.
Tom Bush: You're welcome. I enjoyed it, thank you Bill.
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