I had a financially unstable upbringing, to put it mildly. At one point in my childhood, I routinely had to dig under couch cushions or under my mother’s bed for spare change to afford dollar-menu burgers so that I’d have dinner every night. My first job was at McDonald’s when I was 15 ½ and I haven’t stopped working since – often two or three jobs, even sneaking in work during law school when it “wasn’t allowed.”
As a legend once put it, “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s a win-win.”
So, at least initially, making a difference in the world was not my focus – I simply worried about getting ahead. I used to worry about how I would ever be able to pay off my six-figure student loan debt. Ten years out of school, I still had barely paid off a fraction of those loans, and my sister and I bemoaned the fact that we’d be paying off our loans until we died. And forget about paying for our kids’ education.
Last year, I made a killing selling my family’s first home. We bought a fixer-upper that was stuck in the 1970s, worked every night and weekend on DIY renovations throughout the pandemic, and sold it for an unfathomable profit – enough to pay off those pesky student loans and to buy the freedom to work on something I am passionate about, not to mention put another down payment down on a house in the countryside.
How did it make me feel? I felt nothing. It turned out that financial security relieved some stress, yes, but did it bring me joy? Fulfillment?
A couple years ago, I built a ticket-fighting app out of frustration with NYC’s new speed camera tickets. My then-wife had racked up a half dozen tickets while on volunteer COVID duty while speeding in school zones – while schools (and everything else) were shut down. It was nonsense, so I took some law, put it into a quick document generation app, and helped thousands of New Yorkers beat their tickets before the loophole was closed.
How did that make me feel? Ecstatic.
With all of that in mind, I have resolved to try to effect positive change in the world. While there are a significant portion of divorces that cannot be addressed by a web-based solution (my own included, if I’m being honest), divorces where there has been no abuse, and where the spouses can put their emotions aside for a few hours, are essentially a mathematical equation. Just tally up the assets, deduct the liabilities, and split the result in half. That ought to be the extent of it: a mathematical expression
I can’t fight tickets forever. However, I have spent enough time as a lawyer over the past decade to know that there are millions of people in need of something better than our current civil justice system. My attempts to send these individuals to legal aid organizations have been met with responses like “we have a two year wait list before you can file your divorce” or “we don’t have any lawyers on staff that even understand the issue.”
And even for those who can afford lawyers, I’ve seen way too many of these people get horrible legal advice, spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees, or try to handle their own divorce and absolutely mess it up. Many people use online forms or visit unqualified “legal document offices,” only to sign away rights or make matters worse, leading to protracted legal battles with that might have been resolved in 15 minutes with a simple math calculation but instead drag on for two decades. Yes, I am focusing primarily on issues related to divorce law. My first passion in law was family law, and that system is hopelessly flawed.
Plus every year, statistics from some states demonstrate that the vast majority of people conduct their own divorce proceedings.
It’s not unheard of to hear numbers like “80% of litigants” when referring to the percentage of people who go to court without a lawyer. Do they make a deliberate choice to go it alone? Or is it simply that they don’t have the financial means to pay a lawyer $20,000 to perhaps make things worse, or if they are lucky, to make things better.
Most of these couples’ divorces drag on for years because they play hide and seek with the truth. Maybe they can restrict their ex-spouse from accessing the money in that savings account (as mine did). Or they play the children against each other.