If you are looking for a good attorney, keep in mind that no education and experience in the world can help your cause better than yourself. In order to increase the likelihood of success in litigation, it is important to have a good working relationship with your attorney. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Consider this: Litigants are under stress! After all, they are not seeking legal advice because something “fun” is going on in their lives. They could be seeking representation for a criminal matter, divorce, or even wrongful termination. The types of litigation are endless, but the fact remains that clients are not always the most prepared.
Now for the attorneys, the ones expected to be professional and save the day. Unfortunately, attorneys are only as good as the clients they represent. They cannot present a case if they do not have all the information. They also can’t maintain deadlines if clients cannot commit to the same.
Many times there is friction between attorneys and clients based on this type of miscommunication. I hear it from people all the time:
“The attorney just won’t return my call.”
“Everything takes so long.”
“They won’t stop asking for clarification.”
“I don’t even know what’s going on with my case.”
Believe it or not, these complaints are not always an attorney’s fault. The issue often starts with the person seeking the legal advice. It could be from the client not understanding what is needed for the legal process; or, from the attorney failing to explain it properly. Either way, it can be a serious barrier to representation.
In this post I have put together some information on dealing with your attorney which will help you through the legal process and make it run smoothly.
- Do you want your attorney to return your calls?
- How about them keeping deadlines and you not having to pile follow-up requests?
If so, here is some great advice from attorneys who have had that “perfect” client. You don’t have to be the perfect client, but having an attorney think “I wish all my clients were like this,” is a good way to get them to perform according to your expectations.
Following these tips can definitely improve your attorney-client relationship.
1. Keep your emotions in check
No one likes drama. Although you are seeking representation because of some type of drama, that doesn’t mean you have to cause more for the attorney.
“Litigation can bring out the worst in people,” says Marc Lamber from Lamber Goodnow team. “There are times when words are said, or actions taken, that can make you, as a client, want to retaliate. It’s important, however, to try and keep your emotions in check and not react unnecessarily. Knee-jerk reactions may feel good for a moment, but you can ultimately hurt your case. Choose your battles, and let your lawyer help guide you.”
2. Update your contact information
This may seem like something simple, but failing to provide proper contact information (or failing to update contact information) can result in missed updates from the attorney. Clients often overlook this when coping within a stressful and emotional situation.
“Contacting the office with any changes in address or phone numbers is important,” says Lawrence J. Buckfire from Buckfire & Buckfire P.C. “If you move or change your cell number and don’t tell us, don’t expect to receive that update you are looking for. There are many times when we want to update a client but unfortunately cannot locate them.”
So, if you are expecting an update from your attorney but they don’t know how to get a hold of you, don’t expect them to track you down.
3. Be on time for all appointments
Being on time is one of the most important things you can do to garner a good relationship with your attorney. They are extremely busy and every second you have with them is precious. Don’t expect them to be on time whenever you need something if you are unwilling to do the same.
“A client being late for an appointment is more detrimental to them than their counsel,” says Dana Shapiro of the Shapiro Law Group. “An attorney simply cannot move a case forward until they have all the required information. If a client is late and not enough time is allotted, chances are the case will be delayed.”
Don’t blame your attorney for being late with giving you case updates when it’s actually your being late that is the cause for the delay.
4. Make sure your dates are correct
It is always important that you prepare the facts of your case so your attorney can determine if you have a cause of action. By this I mean they must know exactly what happened and when it happened. Telling them a story out of order or getting dates wrong can be damaging, especially when dealing with the statute of limitations.
“It’s really helpful when clients can give exact dates and chronologies for statements of facts,” says Shaolainel Loving from Loving Law, LTD. “I’ve had clients say something happened a couple of months ago, when they really should have said almost a year ago. Or where dates may be particularly important, like when trying to illustrate how infrequently another parent has seen their child.”
If you want your attorney to do a thorough job of representing you, make sure they understand everything about your case. They need to know exact times to the best of your knowledge. After all, they weren’t there when the incident happened.
5. Provide all the requested information in a timely manner
If an attorney asks you for information regarding your case, you need to be prompt in providing it. This can be anything from documents, to responding to settlement offers. If you do not respond in a timely manner, your attorney may think you are disinterested in pursuing your case and could push the matter aside. This can then cause frustration for the client as they may feel like the attorney doesn’t care.
“The best clients are those who are as interested and invested in their case as their lawyer is,” says Jeffrey J. Kash of Kash Fedrigon Belanger, LLC. “Clients who don’t respond for weeks (sometimes months) to requests for information, settlement offers, emails to set up times to prepare for court, etc. are frustrating. Often the result is that the lawyer puts the matter aside. What follows is the client eventually makes contact complaining about how long the case is taking and that they have been billed for numerous unnecessary letters or emails.”
Kash also mentions that being an overzealous client could be to your detriment. Finding a balance between being invested and being overzealous is what will help the attorney-client partnership. Which brings me to my next item.
6. Don’t rush your attorney
It is difficult to sit and wait when you really want to see progress with your case. However, keep in mind that you are not the only client your attorney has. Pestering them constantly will only cause delays.
“Give your attorney some space,” says Heather Trick from Jordan Law. Trick also points out that the delay is not always with the attorney. “Courts move slowly and it is usually out of the attorney’s control how soon a motion is heard or case resolved.”
Now, make sure you hold your attorney’s feet to the fire, but don’t rush them on deadlines. For example, if you were told you would receive an update on Wednesday, don’t call at 8:00 AM that day and demand a response. Wait until Thursday if you did not receive an answer and remind them you should have received an update the day before.
7. Present facts, not opinions
Just like Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Nothing wrong with giving your opinion about your case, but let your attorney know the entire story before doing so. Do not leave anything out, even if you feel it is unimportant. Also, don’t simply state the facts that support your side, give them all.
“A lot of times clients will tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than the full story,” says Israel F. Piedra from Welts, White & Fontaine, P.C. “What they don’t realize is that during the course of extensive discovery-especially depositions-the full story will eventually come out. It’s best to give your lawyers all the information up front so that they aren’t blindsided during a deposition, or worse: at trial.”
Even if you know there are facts detrimental to your case, you need to present them to your attorney. They can evaluate the best way to handle the situation and not get blindsided later down the road. Remember, no case is a sure thing as there will always be something that can potentially damage it. However, telling your attorney about everything up front is the only way to ensure you get the best representation possible.
8. Trust your attorney
One of the hardest things to do is to put your faith in an attorney. However, you absolutely must trust your attorney by listening and understanding their advice.
“The good clients are those who ask a question, listen, and trust that we are on their side,” says Kevin Adkins from the Kenmore Law Group. “That’s all I want in a client.”
Adkins points out that it is important to listen and trust the advice of your attorney. If they tell you to go to a medical treatment, then go to that treatment. If they tell you it will take two years to settle the case, don’t anticipate it happening sooner.
I hope the above suggestions will help make the process easier if you have the misfortune of needing to seek the services of an attorney if in trouble.