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An Interview With a Family Lawyer

An Interview with a Family Lawyer

I often joke that 75% of my client's criminal and DUI problems are brought about by substance abuse, money or relationship problems (often brought about by the first two triggers). This being said, one might imagine that there is a great deal of cross-over between my business and that of a family law attorney. Family law is not an area where I practice nor do I care to start, but I often interact with family law attorneys in the course of my regular practice.

Family law generally, is an area of law encompassing divorce, child custody, spousal and child support and even restraining orders. Continuing in my series of interviews, I recently had a chance to speak with attorney John Medlen of the Law Firm Rosen & Loeb. John or J.T., as he is known by many of his friends is a veteran family law attorney and was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about his practice and his life.

I met John shortly after law school and soon realized that his firm was made up of two other lawyers that I knew most of my life. I became particularly close with John after we undertook to help a young man in Templeton, California. It is fortuitous that we became friends in the wine country however, this was a special case. Our client, a young farm worker we can call JR was in a serious car accident in San Luis Obispo County. After being hospitalized and having several surgeries to repair his shattered ankle, our client was sent home with a multitude of prescription medication along with new metal pins and plates in his leg.

Shortly after he got home, an adjuster from an insurance company went to JR's home and found him lying on the couch in a great deal of pain. JR described the scene with his leg elevated and still taking prescription medication for the pain. The adjuster told JR that if he didn't sign his "release of liability" form, he could get stuck paying for all of his future medical expenses. JR, who didn't have a high school diploma or health insurance, quickly signed the release form and the adjuster promptly left to crawl back under the rock from where he came.

JR soon realized that he gave up all of his rights to recover any money from the driver who turned his life upside down. JR was referred to me. I called John. Together we filed a lawsuit and proceeded in an uphill battle for our client. We were promptly greeted by a mountain of paperwork from the other side but persevered to overcome our client's signed release of liability and get him an additional $85,000 recovery for his pain and suffering. I think this was about the time I realized John was a special kind of lawyer.

Here is what John had to say in our interview:

Tell me about yourself

"I am 45 years old and am married with a family. In addition to being an attorney I am a professional musician and an amateur wine maker. When I'm not practicing law you can normally find me playing and recording music, traveling, and just enjoying all that life has to offer."

As an amateur winemaker as well, one of the things I like about John is not simply that he is smart, but that he is very willing to do research when he has questions. Before we started making wine together, John wanted to read all he could about winemaking. Before he walks into a courtroom, rest assured, he will have researched every legal issue in his case.

Where did you grow up, go to school etc?

"I grew up in Huntington Beach, California and attended high school at Ocean View High School. I attended California State University Long Beach where I graduated with honors in Financial Management. After college I moved to the San Fernando Valley, recorded albums, played in numerous musical venues, and attended law school at the University of LaVerne College of law where I graduated with honors in 1995. I passed the bar exam on the first attempt and have been licensed to practice for around 16 years."

Tell me about your practice?

"I worked as a legal secretary for 2 years and a law clerk for 2 years. In doing this, I was exposed to numerous areas of the legal profession. When I passed the bar exam I undertook litigating a variety of cases including construction litigation, business and real estate issues, personal injury cases, bankruptcy litigation, and family law related matters."

How did you get started doing family law?

"When I was in law school I was part of a pilot program with the Los Angeles Superior Court whereby a class in family law mediation was offered at our school where students would receive school credit for volunteering their time in the Los Angeles Superior Court assisting parties without attorneys in attempting to mediate their cases without resorting to litigation. That experience affected me in a positive way in that I was able to directly assist individuals in resolving their problems in such a way that would bring them closure with a very emotional time in their life. I really enjoyed being able to directly help people and to see a case go from start to finish in a very short period of time. After graduating from law school I took this experience with me and wanted to make a difference in the lives of my clients on a more personal level. Practicing family law provides me with a way to make a small difference in the lives of many."

I understand you used to do primarily civil litigation. What changed? Why?

"The practice of civil litigation, by definition, generally provides only one remedy.... money. Now, while I enjoy money just like anyone else I didn't want my life to be one dimensional. I actually do like to make a difference in the lives of my clients on a more personal level. It provides me with a type of life purpose knowing that I have the skills to assist someone with family related issues, especially when it comes to the lives of children. As a parent myself I believe that assisting families through the divorce process with as little impact on the lives of children as possible should be the ultimate goal of the system. In short, I believe one's purpose in life should be the achievement of something more than just money."

What percentage of your practice is family law and what percent is civil?

"While I have a stable of business and real estate clients, I would say that my practice is around 90% family law and 10% other."

What is a typical day for you?

"If I am in court then I normally have to be there around 8:30 a.m. On court days family law courts typically require the parties to be in court until at least 11:00 a.m. with the hopes of being finished with the hearing before noon. I would then go back to the office and work on files or prepare for hearing for the next day."

"On days I am not in court I will typically get into my office around 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. in the morning. I will then go through all emails and return them and will also return all phone calls that I may have missed while out of the office. My clients know that I communicate a lot via email and typically get back to clients throughout the day whether I am in the office or not. With the technological advancements I find that it is no longer necessary to be in the office to get the work done. I check voicemail messages throughout the day and return phone calls typically on the same day. If I receive emails they go directly to my phone, and therefore, I am able to return those pretty quickly. I will meet with new clients either in the office or outside the office if they prefer, and try to be out of the office by around 4:00 p.m. Then, I will go directly to the gym for about an hour and then home for dinner with my family. Absent some special circumstances I will typically not go into the office on Fridays. After dinner I spend time with the family and do it all again the next day."

What is a good referral for you?

"That is a tough question. But a new client who is referred from someone who has already utilized my services is often the best referral for me. I find that unlike other areas of law where the attorney may need to "sell themselves", if the potential client has been referred by someone they trust, I will normally be retained after talking with them."

"As for what constitutes a "good referral" I guess it would be one that actually listens to the advice that I give them. Believe it or not some clients don't believe or care to listen to what their attorney tells them. When I run across this situation, which is not common, I typically try and have a heart to heart talk with my client and discuss our differences of opinion. If we still don't see eye to eye, I will likely suggest that they hire someone else because, if the client is unwilling to take my legal advice, that person will not likely be satisfied with the outcome in their case."

When should a potential client call you or how should they know they need to call you?

"With respect to family law issues, the potential client should call me before making any decision to get a divorce or leave their spouse. In these situations the client really needs to be made aware of all of the ramifications of their actions BEFORE they take action. Many of my clients just come in for the free consultation in order to analyze whether a divorce is a good idea or not. Therefore, they should call me anytime they have questions about what may happen should they pursue such a course of action."

Do you work for a firm or by yourself? Why?

"I work at a small firm called Rosen and Loeb and am a partner of the firm. I am the only family law practitioner at the firm, and therefore, my clients will only deal with me. As for why I work with others, first, I believe that being able to bounce ideas and legal issues off of others on a day-to-day basis provides an invaluable tool when making litigation decisions on behalf of clients. Furthermore, since other areas of law overlap with family law, I find it important to have resources available to clients in order to address such issues. Finally, since I do practice in other areas, the other members of my firm have extensive knowledge with other aspect of litigation which allows us to provide a full range of legal services to potential clients."

How does a family law attorney get paid?

"We get paid for our time. Therefore, we typically take a retainer fee of some amount and bill for time spent on a client's case on an hourly basis. Each month the client receives a bill for all time spent, and we apply those bills to the retainer fee. Once the retainer is exhausted we will either get paid for our services on a monthly basis or request another retainer from the client depending on the circumstances."

What do you do for fun?

"I play music throughout Ventura and Los Angeles County in a jazz fusion band called Groove Persona as well as play in a cover band called Alchemy. I write and record music as well. Additionally, I go to the gym around 5 days per week, I make wine with my friends, and I love to travel. I am an avid SCUBA diver and have traveled to most Carribbean islands. Furthermore, I am a part time real estate investor and enjoy numerous business opportunities with my friends and family. Finally, as a family man I enjoy spending quality time with my wife and daughter."

Describe your perfect day

"If it's a work day then if I am able to make a true difference in a client's life while being fair and amicable in the process this would be the best win/win that I think the judicial system can achieve."

"If it's not a work day then I try to live each day of my life to the fullest. This could be on a road trip to Las Vegas with my wife to see my best friend and business partner; it could be on a vacation to some foreign country to experience with way other people live; it could be traveling to wine country to pick up grapes with close friends in order to make wine; it could be traveling to wine country to spend quality time with my wife. Either way, as long as I'm living life to the fullest each day, my day is perfect."

"I really appreciate your time and interest in my practice and thank you for the interview. If I can answer any other questions about family law, please feel free to contact me at your convenience."

J.T.

John T. Medlen, Esq.

ROSEN and LOEB
2659 Townsgate Road
Suite 136
Westlake Village, CA 91361
(805) 777-0066 / (805) 777-7654 (fax)

www.johnmedlenesq.com

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