Can You Honestly Tell Me You Will Take Care of Me and My Children and Protect Us?
“Can You Honestly Tell Me You Will Take Care of Me and My Children and Protect Us?”
That was the question a new client asked me on Friday when we met at our initial office conference. Like every good parent, she loves her children more than life itself and that is all she cared about: Protecting her children.
I can relate.
My answer was simple and easy to give. "YES."
I told her the same thing I am saying now. I have completed over 8,000 cases, mostly in family law, over the last 31 years that I have been practicing law. Over that time, I built our law firm from the ground up. I pride myself on the job we have done and continue to do. We do it well. That is why we have grown to be the largest family law firm and the best family law firm throughout all of Central Illinois. But that is not the reason for my answer. That is not the reason I answered "yes".
I answered "yes" because two years ago I lost my son.
I am convinced that the death of a child and divorce/separation are the two most difficult and stressful things a person can go through. And because I lost Nicholas James Murphy, I have lived through one of those.
Before my 19-year-old third son, Nick Murphy, was killed in the United States Navy two years ago, I thought my job was to be the best attorney I could be. To do that, I thought I had to be a total "badass", unemotional, and objective. A person who had to stay above the emotion of the divorce and not care about the underlying issues, emotions, and pain that the parties and family were going through. I thought I had to be totally objective and analytical in all that I did in order to do my job right. I thought I had to suppress all of my feelings and emotions and robotically do my job and "win".
Then Nick was killed on November 19, 2016.
That day was the beginning of the rest of my life.
A new life. A new "normal" in everything I do from that point forward. It was obviously a life altering event from which there is no going back. You either survive and thrive, or you die. I chose to try to survive and thrive.
It has not been easy. There have been many dark days. There have been many times where I wondered why God had done this to me and my family. My perfect family. My perfect life. Why did this happen to Nick? Why was his life cut short? Truly, why do bad things happen to good people? I do not know.
But what I do know happened is that I changed. Totally. My skill set as an attorney is still better than ever. I am just as smart and dedicated and hard working. I am still just as ambitious and want to be the best at everything I do.
But what has changed is me as a person. I am better. I am exponentially better. I care more deeply about everything.
I no longer take all of my blessings for granted. I love my wife and children more than ever because I appreciate them more than ever. I love my career and office and all that we do for people.
I want us to be the best because that is what the client needs the most.
Most of all, I know it can all be taken away in an instant.
So why can I 100% answer that client's question, "Will you take care of my children and protect them" with a resounding "yes"? Because now I have lived through the greatest loss a parent can ever live through and I have survived. I have lived through pain and agony so deep that no one can understand it unless you have lived through it too. And because of that, I now know personally the same type of pain and agony that that parent is going to go through in getting divorced or separated with children. Losing a child to death is worse, but going through a divorce with children or a custody case if you are not married is still the loss of normalcy, the loss of daily contact with your child, the loss of seeing your child whenever you want and being a parent on a daily basis by living with and caring for your child. I now know that loss and it has made me a better person and totally a better divorce and custody attorney.
I can answer her question easily because I now care more than ever about them as parents losing a child on a daily basis through divorce or separation. I care more than ever about the "subjective and emotional" nature of the case and not just the numbers or the objective outcome.
My job truly is about people first and foremost, and now I truly understand what that means.
No one really cares at the end of the day how much money you have, what kind of car you drive, or what school you went to. But everyone cares about their children. They care about how well their children get through the divorce or separation. How well do their children do in school, in sports, in life, emotionally, physically and mentally.
Every good parent would give their life for their child. I wish every day that it had been me instead of Nick who died that day. I look back every day about decisions we made and play the "what if" game to think that he would be alive today if we had just done one thing or another differently.
Those are all the same thoughts every parent getting divorced or separated has.
What if we had just tried harder, worked less, cared more, been a better wife or husband? Maybe we would still be together and our kids would not be suffering through this divorce or separation. What if I had been a better spouse and paid attention more? What if we did this or that?
All of it goes through all our minds daily. But none of it matters because that is simply life. Sometimes it sucks and we have to get through it. And that is what my job is now. That is what my priority is now.
My job is to take care of my client and their children first and foremost.
Sure, we still need to pay attention to all of the details and be great attorneys and paralegals. But it is just as important to be great "people" that care about our clients and their children, including their feelings and emotions. To understand their pain and agony. To help them get through it on their darkest days. To be there for them when they yell at us that we are not doing anything right and they just hate the world on that given day. I take a deep breath and know that today the client might hate me and the world, and then the next day love me and think we are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
That is the nature of divorce and separation. It is a grieving process and there are good days and bad. Our job is to be there for both.
So why did I tell her "yes"? Because I care more today than ever. I want to help. I want my office and staff to care.
You are not a number. You are a person. A living and breathing person who hurts just like I did in going through my grief the last two years. No matter what happens and no matter what I do, divorce and separation just plain sucks. So does losing my son.
Together, we will get through it. Together we will survive. Together we will thrive.
I have learned never to judge anyone again, because I simply do not walk in their shoes. You do not know what they are going through. I leave that judging part to God.
God has personally gotten me through the last two years and I believe He will get me through the rest of my life until I see Him and see my Nick again. When that day comes, I want to look back and know I made a difference. I want people to look at Murphy & Dunn and say we did our best. I want to leave a legacy to my children so that they continue what we are doing long into the future.
I want the Nicholas J. Murphy Foundation and the Nicholas J. Murphy Pro Bono Clinic to continue to help hundreds of veterans and active duty military members and their families with their family law legal services.
Why? Because that is the new me. That is the new "normal". I may not have Nick Murphy in my life every day under this new normal, but I have a new purpose and meaning to life and it is good.
That is why we are the best at what we do and why our best today is even better than it was two years ago. I look forward to a bright future at Murphy & Dunn and the Nicholas J. Murphy Foundation. I am so proud of what we have done and look forward to what we will do in the future.
That is why I can answer that client's question with a "yes".
Will I take care of her and her children? Absolutely.
That is what makes us the best and I am proud of it.