As part of my concern about lawyers' advertising, and misrepresenting themselves to clients, I recall an interesting interview with a prospective client a number of years ago.
A client [name and gender sanitized] came to see me, referred from another lawyer [name and gender sanitized]. The spouse had owned a house prior to the marriage and had kept it in his name. Because of pay downs on the loans secured by the property, the community was entitled to some reimbursement. Basically, the pay down of principal [and a few other things] is added back to the community property to be divided, and by a series of formulas known as Moore/Marsden an interest in appreciation is also divided. The rules come generally from two old cases involving the marriages of the Moores, and the Marsdens - for shorthand, we refer to the rules by the names of the cases from which they were derived.
I asked the person a series of questions trying to quantify what her interest might be: How much did your spouse pay for it? What was owed on it when you got married? What is the balance today? What do you think it's worth? And a couple of more.
I then did some quick math and told her my best guess if all the answers were accurate, she would receive something between $30-40,000 in reimbursement for that asset, from an estimated equity of about $300,000.
Her response was "That's not what the other lawyer told me." I hadn't known she was shopping.
I then asked who the other lawyer was: Someone I view as very competent and experienced. So I asked what the lawyer told her about the house. She responded "Well, she said she couldn't tell me what I would get, but that it would be less than $150,000," which would have been half the equity.
I responded "Isn't $30-40,000 less than half?" She looked at me like she didn't understand the question. So I told her that I had tried to put real numbers on her situation so that she could have some degree of predictability. Yes, the other lawyer could easily tell her she wouldn't get half the house, since it remained the husband's separate property, subject to reimbursements - it wasn't a lie, but the answer wasn't really helpful to the client.
Of course I couldn't tell her what she would get, as we were using estimates all along, with no documents to support the discussion. Maybe it had been an interest only loan, and she was just guessing at the amounts, or maybe the loan had been paid down with a separate property inheritance. These things are never known at this stage, but I knew she wasn't going to walk away with a large bundle of money from the house.
So, of course, the prospective client went back and hired the first lawyer, as she made her feel more positive about what she would get.
Can't argue with that logic, but the client wasn't prepared for the ultimate outcome.