I know it’s popular to use a top 10 list for various topics, but I really do think the following 5 tips can make your experience working with a family law attorney that much more efficient and productive:
1. Be completely honest and forthright – Clients are often embarrassed by the details of their case. They really shouldn’t be so worried. As family law attorneys, we hear all kinds of sordid details from clients on a regular basis. It really takes quite a story to make a family law attorney blush or become disgusted. Also, keep in mind that you’re working with a professional. They work on a daily basis to set aside their personal feelings and focus on doing what is in the client’s best interests.
2. Before you pick up the phone and call your attorney, think through how to make the best use of your time – Unfortunately, clients often spend far more money on telephone calls to their attorney than they should. With the technology we have available to us, it is far too easy to pick up the phone and call an attorney when another person is frustrating us or upsetting us, particularly in family law cases. Rarely can an attorney do anything for you at the drop of a hat. Waiting at least a couple of hours, or even 24 hours, before picking up the phone and calling your attorney will give you time to ponder whether the issue necessitates a phone call. Maybe you can make a list and make one phone call with all of those issues once a week. Better yet, if you simply need your attorney to know of an issue or incidence, but don’t require an immediate response – shoot your attorney an e-mail. It will take far less of the attorney’s time to read that e-mail than to listen to you recall all of the details of the incident.
3. Trust your attorney – Before you ever retain an attorney, you must ask yourself whether you trust this person or can see yourself quickly developing trust in their abilities. This can be very difficult for someone going through a divorce, as a client’s trust for the person closest to them has likely been recently shattered. It is absolutely necessary, however, to quickly develop a trust in your attorney’s abilities and judgment. Without that trust, the attorney is nothing more than an instrument through which you act. You miss out on the most valuable aspects of legal representation, such as objective counsel, legal analysis of your case, and a second set of eyes on the issues you are facing. Why spend thousands of dollars on someone you do not trust? If you find yourself saying the words, “I feel like you’re taking their side…” and don’t immediately realize that you’re being unreasonable in your criticism, it may be in your best interest and your attorney’s best interest to find an attorney you can trust.
4. Watch deadlines set by your attorney and do your best to meet them – Frequently, family law attorneys will request documents from you and ask if you can produce them by a given day. If you say you can produce them by that day, do your best to meet that deadline. If you believe you cannot, let your attorney know as soon as possible. Both divorce work and child custody work can often be very document intensive. Between bank records, real estate deeds, credit card statements, report cards, medical records and retirement account statements, you will likely need to produce quite a few documents to your attorney. Make sure you start early and request documents from financial institutions, schools or the IRS (in the case of tax return transcripts) immediately after you realize they are missing. Waiting until the last minute increases the chance you will not get the documents to your attorney on time, which can dramatically affect your attorney’s ability to represent you effectively in your divorce or child custody case.
5. If your attorney has support staff or alternate resources, get to know them and use them when you can – Utilization of support staff or other alternate resources by attorneys is often essential for an efficient law practice. This may take the form of a paralegal, receptionist, or even technology such as an online case management system. In either case, determine what support systems the attorney has available and try to use them as much as possible in order to work with your attorney. If you can upload documents or information to an online case management system instead of mailing them to your attorney, please do so. This will eliminate the possible need of the attorney to scan the documents themselves, saving time and money. If your attorney uses a receptionist or paralegal, use them to get basic updates or answer basic inquiries (keeping in mind that only attorneys can provide legal advice). These resources are often far less costly than requiring the attorney to deal with these issues, inquiries or questions themselves. In the end, this will benefit you in terms of cost and will benefit the attorney in terms of time management.
I certainly hope that these tips can help you make the most of your attorney-client relationship. If used correctly, the services of a properly staffed and equipped law office can be a very valuable resource to a client, particularly one going through a divorce or a child custody dispute.