Separating the Personal from the Professional

While everyone is happy to have a lawyer in the family, it’s not always the easiest task to deal with a client who is part of the family.  Everyone seems to have a legal questoin that needs answering or a quandary that needs solving.  I have had a respite from this in the last few years although I have had friends inquiring about immigration procedures, etc.  Having had to go through some of the INS proceedings myself, I speak from personal experience and have always summed up my advice with the admonition to try to do things on their own for as long as they are not required representation.  Legal costs can be a heavy burden and are totally unnecessary in some instances, particularly where one is merely switching from one legal status or another.  But that’s another blogpost and I’m not predisposed to dispense free legal advice here.  So back to what I was writing about..

When I married Alan, I didn’t know that there were a lot of legal issues involving inheritances on both sides.  In the last six years, I have gotten a better picture of what happened, what cases are currently in which courts, and I have only given advice when asked.  I find that being a stranger marrying into the family, it was prudent to stand back and just wait for the advice to be sought.  I didn’t want any good intentions to be misconstrued as vested interest in something which, if it benefits me at all, will do so only tangentially.

I had tried to refer one case to a friend in Manila who, for one reason or the other, failed to deliver on the promised assessment, and I can’t blame my in-laws for then withdrawing from any further consultation so to speak.  Alan and I would have occasion to speak with my mother-in-law and I would speak out when she asked my opinion, but it became a thorn in what was already a brewing gap between Alan and my then sister-in-law.  (I say “then” because she has effectively disowned the family — Alan and my mother-in-law, and has stated in very clear terms she never treated me as part of the family.)

Even when I saw a reconciliation between siblings who had not spoken for over 20 years, and I met cousins, aunts and nephews and nieces on my mother-in-law’s side I had never met until recently, I stood back.  Alan would consult me actively — but I spoke to him only, avoiding giving any unsolicited advice to my mother-in-law and her sister who is here in New York, too.

I had my opinion about how things should be done, but unless I was asked, I did not venture giving my two cents’ worth.  Again, I do not want to be overly interested in a matter which I am a third party to.  An uncle involved in the matter is a lawyer, too.  The other day, I was talking to him on the phone on a matter regarding the settlement of some arrears of the estate.  He was trying to relay to me his frustration about how the response time was so slow and he had not heard anything from the two siblings here in New York.  I explained to him that much as I would want to aggressively pursue the matter with my mother-in-law, I can only give suggestions but I cannot take control.  I told him he knows I’m a third party here, and I take my mother-in-law’s lead.

It would be different of course if my mother-in-law was a stranger who was just a client.  Then I can put my foot down and give my advice without fear of being judged to be interested in the proceeds.  I spoke with my mother-in-law’s sister and struck some sensitivities which now has put me in an awkward position.  My mother-in-law wanted me to explain the situation to her although I would have preferred not to have had to do that.  The long and short of it is, the messenger got shot in the process.

So how do you separate the personal from the professional when you’re dispensing professional advice to a family member?  It’s a thin line that you have to tread cautiously — much as I would want to just stand back, I cannot avoid answering the query.  And in the same light, much as I would want to give good advice, I have to spell it out even if it’s not what they want to hear.  One of the hazards of the profession, I guess.


THE CONFESSION by James Edward McGreevey

I started writing this post on the bus at 8:27 when I managed to catch the Express Bus as the driver closed the door.  Not a minute left to spare!  If I didn’t run the 2 blocks from 34th to 36th, I’d have had to wait another half hour for the next one. 

My feet are killing me.  I changed into 3-inch heels before leaving the office because the one I wore to work was staying with the cobbler for the weekend.  I figured I didn’t have far to walk anyway between the subway and 22nd and 6th where the book signing was, and as with previous book signing events I attended, I thought there would be lots of time to sit idly waiting for James McGreevey to make his appearance.  Unfortunately, it turned out I was wrong.

It really wasn’t a long walk — but it was a long wait on a long line that snaked around the corner outside the bookstore.  There were just too many people so they decided they wouldn’t have an audience sitting down to listen to McGreevey speak but instead just go to the book signing. 

I arrived at just past 6PM and I finally shook McGreevey’s hand after almost an hour and a half standing on my 3-inch heels.  (I used to wear this everyday and walk all over Glorietta wearing them!) The line started and ended outside and we were ushered in as his arrival neared.  Eight out of every 10 people on the line were obviously gay which was understandable.  This was, after all, the dashing young governor who stepped down after announcing to the public “I am a gay American.”

McGreevey signing my copy as we chatted

I had two reasons for going out of my way to attend this event.  (I already bought food for the Lolas being that I wouldn’t make it home in time to cook dinner for them, and I planned ahead to order for Alan’s late dinner since his plane was landing at around 10PM.)  Personally, I am interested in his story and I admire him for having the guts to admit to his public who and what he is.  Secondly, I wanted to get Nikky a copy of the book because I wanted him to get some insight into his future.  I told Jim McGreevey, “I hope my borther finds inspiration in your story.”

McGreevey was chatting everyone up and was generous enough to allow for personalization.  Authors would often just autograph but not personalize the dedication, so it made it all the more worth the effort to wait and inch my way through the line.  He asked me where I was from and upon hearing I was from the Philippines, started to scribble “Mabuhay” on the book for Nikky although I had to help him out with the spelling.  He closed the book and asked me how old my brother was and I told him he was 21, and had come out 6 years ago.  He quickly opened the book again  and added a notation on the upper portion of the title page.. saying “Be Strong!  Pray!”.

I shook his hand and told him I hope he and his partner Mark, who was waiting patiently at the sidelines, stay together long.  He said proudly, til death do us part.  They were very sweet and affectionate, and in fact when he entered the bookstore followed by him with the press in the front row, he did not pose alone but instead posed with Mark, holding each other, for the public to see.  I was still outside at that point in the event and people outside were gushing at how sweet they were.

I read a good portion of the first chapter of the book on the way home and already, I know that it will be an interesting read.  It is well written, not a simple narrative (unlike the much-awaited but very staid and monotonous book written by a former first lady I didn’t even get to finish).  You can see the emotion pouring out of him as he introduces his roots — from his grandparents who brought their Irish families to the United States, to his parents whom he obviously reveres.  Early in the book he starts talking about how it was so difficult to be true to himself, but I’d rather let him tell you hear it from him. 

If anything at all, he should be congratulated for finally admitting the truth and living with it.  They came with grave consequences as he himself admitted.  He lost his wife and he lost his career.  But I think he came out a better person after everything.  I could see the glow in his eyes — he was genuinely happy.  Not just the romantic-type of happy, but I could sense a certain peace gleaming through his smile. 

Taken from outside the store when MacGreevey arrived and posed with his partner, Mark, for the press