October 2018 Bar Bulletin
By Alan S. Funk
In the family law community, if you mention “Doug,” everyone knows who you are talking about. Doug Becker has practiced family law for 34 years, the last 20 years at Wechsler Becker, LLP.
His prolific contributions to family law have been almost non-stop. He started his career at Hyatt Legal Services in 1984. Hyatt was an innovative, storefront national chain charging flat fees. It didn’t last long.
To provide support for its mostly inexperienced fleet of attorneys, the firm used rudimentary forms kept on a one-per-office Wang computer (this was before the mandatory forms). To make them more useful, Doug began to beef up the forms with language he and other attorneys used in their pleadings. He even solicited stock forms from other attorneys.
What did he do with his forms? He started giving them away any time he spoke at a CLE. “Family law on a disk,” he called it. Attorneys found his forms so helpful he received the Attorney of the Year award from the WSBA Family Law Section in 1992.
That proved to be just the beginning. He next compiled hundreds of Washington appellate holdings on family law into an easy-to-use outline, called QuickCites, complete with citations and quotes from the cases. It provides a quick head start for learning and briefing. That resulted in a unique Special Achievement award from the Family Law Section in 2002. Since then, Doug has continued to update and publish both his forms and QuickCites.
As you might imagine, Doug is a bit of a geek, starting in 1985 with a Macintosh computer. He quickly recognized that computers would revolutionize legal practice. Using the computer, he could distill pleadings into one “super document” with multiple-choice options for nearly every common scenario available to be deleted or modified.
Family law practitioner Teresa McNally lauded Doug’s efforts. “I appreciate the help and guidance that Doug provides family lawyers with his QuickCites and his message board,” she said. “The time and effort that Doug has invested in these projects are a labor of love gifted to our family law bar. He created and maintains these resources to better our profession. He is a valued member of our bar.”
Through most of this time, Doug served on the Family Law Section’s Executive Committee (FLEC), first from 1993 to 1999, then again from 2002 to 2017. Besides all the regular duties of a FLEC member, he created the section’s website and listserv in 2000, to which he was a frequent contributor, and served as the section’s webmaster until 2017.
The listserv provides a statewide community for family law attorneys, both new and experienced, to get input on new family law cases, ask questions about local rules and practice, learn about the latest research in childhood development, vent frustrations at the system, and learn the bits of wisdom older attorneys take for granted. His listservs are active; averaging hundreds of messages a month.
Colleague Rhea J. Rolfe pegged Doug as “a quiet, private person who adores his wife, is loyal and moral, and a deep thinker. He is one of my three top choices of mediators,” she continued. “He continually researches and keeps up with the law and cases (hence, QuickCites), and he is always willing to share his knowledge and experience. I have the highest respect for him.”
Doug also contributed two years to passing Washington’s Child Relocation Act. Doug was a member of the Washington State Bar Association Family Law Executive Committee at the time of the Littlefield (1997) and Pape (1999) Supreme Court decisions. Those cases essentially mandated a conclusive presumption in favor of a primary parent’s relocation.
This came as a surprise to family law attorneys. Parenting issues were historically decided based upon the best interests of the child, but those decisions took the position that that inquiry was done with the entry of the first parenting plan. The Relocation Act was designed to dial back on the Littlefield presumption and allow non-relocating parents a chance to contest the move.
After stepping down from FLEC in 2017, Doug played a large part in creating the Domestic Relations Attorneys of Washington (DRAW) group, a new specialist bar association for family law attorneys. That is where he now publishes his forms and QuickCites because he’s DRAW’s webmaster and first president.
But wait, there’s more. Even though Doug’s own forms go far beyond the state’s mandatory forms in terms of provisions, he has been a member of the Administrative Office of the Court’s Domestic Relations Forms Subcommittee for the past 20 years, working to make the mandatory forms more useful and understandable. Only recently has it dawned on him, looking back, that his real career has been as a professional development director for Washington family law attorneys.
Doug is a frequent mentor, dispensing calming words of wisdom to countless family law attorneys. Other attorneys have recognized Doug’s expertise in the law. One time in trial, an attorney gleefully pulled out an article Doug had just written, pointing out that Doug was taking a different position in court than he had in the article.
Ever quick on his feet, Doug had a snappy rejoinder: His article was about what the law should be, not what it currently is. He managed to save the day on that one, but he enjoys knowing that his opposing counsel can come to court fully informed. It makes for better results, he says.
Doug was born in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1950 and received his J.D. from the University of Puget Sound in 1980. Before going to college, Doug served in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine from 1968 to 1970. Both the Marine Corps and Vietnam were life-shaping lessons for him. He married Bonny Becker in 1983 and they are the proud parents of two girls. Bonny is the author of more than a dozen published children’s books.
Doug’s practice does not focus on representing only men or women, or on financial disputes versus parenting disputes. He does it all, including mediation, where he receives many of his colleague’s plaudits, as noted by Rolfe.
As Mike Bugni recalls, “Doug was a founding father of the change in King County family law, toward what is now the common use of private mediators as the ‘course of first resort.’ I remember thinking I should reduce my rate when attending a mediation presided over by Doug, as I was learning and benefitting as much from the experience, as a mediator myself, as I was contributing to my client’s settlement.
“Doug is the best when helping clients, who are entrenched in their position, to see the bigger picture,” Bugni added. “He once told my client, ‘You and your wife are like two people on a beach, feverishly constructing your intricate and competing sand castles. Your lawyers are standing there, distracted, but watching as this goes on. Your judge, on the other hand, is more like a pilot flying at 10,000 feet — he or she can tell something’s going on down on the beach, but can take in only a few details.’ After he left the room my client told me, ‘I used to fly planes for the Navy ... I get it now.’”
Doug says the difficulty of practicing family law is very underappreciated, not just because of the emotional component, but also because it incorporates, at some point or another, all the other areas of the law, such as criminal and real estate law, business law, bankruptcy, creditor/debtor disputes, unlawful detainers, business law, torts, international family law, etc.
It’s also difficult because of what’s at stake. As he puts it, “Family law is ‘only’ about everything that people hold dear. In a family law case, your client’s entire life is on the line in a unique way. Family law is stressful, clients are in crisis, and everything is on the line. It’s like a capital murder case every single time.”
So, why do it? Why practice family law? When he was asked that question once at a CLE, it threw him for a loop. But then it came to him. “It’s the juice! There is no other area of practice which puts you in such direct contact with a client’s emotions and needs over every aspect of their lives or where you can see the impact of your work so clearly.
“Nothing is irrelevant. You get into court a lot. It’s definitely not about something that happened one day, like an accident or a crime. In a family law case the facts keep changing while the case is going on. It’s ‘the tort that keeps on giving.’ Fortunately, I tend to be calm and I calm my clients down. They come into my office with their hair on fire and they leave calmed down — and then my hair is on fire, which is fun!”
What a guy!
Alan Funk is one of Doug Becker’s partners at Wechsler Becker.