In this episode, Marcy Hahn welcomes special guest, Jude Egan. Jude is a certified Family Law Specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. He graduated law school from the University of California Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law in 2004. While working at a major international law firm in San Francisco doing civil litigation and land use work, he wrote his doctoral dissertation in jurisprudence and social policy. Dr. Egan has litigated over 1,000 family law cases of all different types and has been published internationally in numerous legal, trade and academic journals. His practice serves English and Spanish speaking clients in Santa Barbara and San Louis Obispo counties. Egan’s new book, “$35 Divorce,” set to be released in 2021, dives into how to get divorced, keep the house and spend less doing it. Tune in to hear Jude’s unique perspective and expertise on the intersection of family law and divorce. Learn more about Jude Egan, his practice and publications, by visiting https://judeegan.com/.
Family Law and Divorce
Welcome, Jude and thank you for joining us.
It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Absolutely. What inspired you to dedicate your practice to family law?
What’s funny as I listened to you describe my bio it doesn’t seem like I would end up in family law. I had originally set out to be a law professor and would have practice probably taught in the area of land use law, which is really where I got my start. What happened was in 2008, two major events happen. First, I was going to be a father. And my daughter’s mother didn’t want to leave this area of California, which is truly beautiful the central coast of California, but my first job offer was to go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to go to LSU. And I didn’t want to leave my daughter here. So that was kind of the first thing and the second thing that happened was the financial crisis. And I had been representing developers in the early part of my career at a time when land values and lending sort of dried up. And so a lot of that practice started to kind of crumble around me. And I looked for another way to have a practice. So I hung a shingle there was a really senior lawyer in this community who told me that if you’re going to be a lawyer here, you have to keep your doors open to either family law or criminal law. And I knew I didn’t want to be a criminal lawyer. So by default, I became a family lawyer.
Awesome. So what is your philosophy when it comes to representing clients in a family law case? What do you bring to the case from your own personal custody experience?
Well, a lot of my philosophy as a lawyer actually came from the former dean at my law school, John Dwyer, who was my property professor and he sat us down at one point, the whole class that he was teaching, and he said, ‘You know, one of the big problems with lawyers is that they do all the talking, and they’d hardly ever do any listening.’ And when I went out into practice, when I worked for other people, I would have these experiences of sitting down in an interview with a potential new client, and the client would talk for about a minute, then the partner I’d be sitting with would talk for 59 minutes and then say, ‘Now, we need the $20,000 retainer,’ and then the client would either write the check or wouldn’t write the check. And then they would be sort of at the mercy of the firm litigating their cases. And what John Dwyer really wanted us to do was listen. So, my philosophy has always been to sit down with a client and let them talk; let them talk through what’s going on. Often, as you know, they’re angry or they’re hurt, or they’re sad. They feel a whole range of emotions, and I want them to get those emotions out. And to start to kind of vent about it a little bit. And then I just kind of ask questions, ultimately, sort of educating them on the basics of the law that, you know, in California in particular, you know, we’re going to divide things by two, we need to figure out what it is that’s getting divided by two and at first and then we have to figure out how to do it. I often ask people at the end of our meeting, first meeting, you know, if you were king or queen, of the world, and you understood the basics of the law now, how would you divide it? What is the thing that you would do? And I find that people are often very reasonable when I do that, and then I say, Okay, well, let’s drive toward that. That’s what we’re going to try to do. And I tell them, you might get 47%. But if you get everything that you want, you should see that or would you see that as a win? You know, if you get 53%, would you see that as a win? I mean, we’re going to try to divide this in half. But we want to give you the half that you want most.
It’s important to get your clients to focus on the big picture, right? Because so often they can get caught up in the minutiae of fighting over whatever a couch or a chair or a table, and it’s like, pick the top five things that you’re most concerned about and drive for those. That’s always such good advice.
Exactly. And I also think, you know, California, I’m very California-centric, because I just don’t know enough about other states. But I think that California has a lot of esoteric concepts and family law that has to do with, you know, reimbursement rights and inheritance rights and a number of things like that. And I really try to counsel clients, you know, to tell them, we should ask for these things, but we shouldn’t spend, you know, your entire 401K trying to educate a judge about something that’s very esoteric, because, you know, typically, if they don’t understand it, they don’t rule on it, or they don’t like it or whatever. So you should be fixated on getting your case done, getting a fair outcome, and not getting bogged down really in the weeds on stuff.
Tell us a little bit about your book. The title is very intriguing. I’m very interested to hear how one would go about getting divorced for $35. It sounds like if your book is the case, we’ll all be out of business.
Well, so the book is really in two parts. The first part is what I call the 50,000 foot view, which is trying to help educate people about the very basic incentive structures. For example, in California, I think that we have complicated property rules. But I think they can really be boiled down to just three rules, which is everything you had before you got married is still yours. Everything you got during the marriage gets divided by two. The third rule is except gifts and inheritances. And if you can do that, if you know that those are the three rules, then you can reason to the right outcome or reasonable outcome regarding basically everything that you have. And that can be you know, unvested stock options that can be, you know, defined benefit plans. I know you had a guest on a couple weeks ago who talked about quadros that can be you know, dishes and silverware. Anything that has value. And the point I try to make is, if you start with the premise that the very best thing you can do is finish your case, and be done and go on with your life that that being the most important thing that you should always do. And then I can walk you through or I do walk through in the book. Here’s how the incentive structures work, or here’s how the law works as a general proposition, here’s how you’re going to figure out support. And, you know, if you make $30,000 a month, and your spouse has always been a stay at home, mother or father, you’re going to pay support. There’s no miracle worker out there lawyer who’s going to not have a support payment when there’s that much difference in income. So don’t fight that stuff, get to the basics of it, find a good number, and push to see if you can get your spouse to agree to it.
So then the other part of it is part of that I mentioned before, which is not litigating the esoteric areas of the law, you spend $10,000 to try to get $10,000 when your spouse is playing for a chance, even great lawyers have a hard time educating stubborn judges. So the overall push is to give you a basic idea of here’s how you should be thinking about it.
I developed something where I try to teach people how to develop what I call the range of reasonable outcomes, which is, this is if your spouse gets everything they’re asking for reasonably, this is one end of the spectrum. The other end of the spectrum is you get everything that you’re asking for reasonably. And we know the outcome is going to be between the two of those things. So settlement offers anywhere in that reasonable range, should be taken seriously. You should spend your time making settlement offers within that range of reasonable again, under the theory, I don’t want to pay my lawyer 25 grand to fight over 25 grand, let’s get this thing done. And then for us, I think it doesn’t put us out of business because there’s always more divorces there’s I mean, that is the kind of business that is constant. Like my senior lawyer told me when I first came here, there’s always more people who need help. And you know, if we don’t have to bleed, another layer told me once, you know, you can make the first retainer money pretty easily. But every dollar you make after that comes with blood, we’re not leading. We get to live happy, healthy lives, we get to help more people. And I think ultimately, our clients are more satisfied and happier, too. So I think it’s a win for everybody.
Tune in to the episode to hear the rest of my insightful interview with Family Law Specialist, Jude Egan.
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