Gee! Who could have seen THAT coming?
Even if your dysfunctional attorney/client relationship is entirely your lawyer’s fault, in the end it’s going to be your problem. Your lawyer will be fine after your divorce is over—she gets paid regardless of the result. You, on the other hand, need the relationship to be productive.
If you can’t get along with your lawyer, you’re considerably less likely to be able to work cooperatively with her to achieve your divorce goals. And THAT’s why you should care if you’re constantly jousting with Sir Unavailable or Lady Stigget-Inyourear.
Here are some things you should do—and not do—to keep the attorney/client relationship functioning smoothly:
First, avoid behavior that hinders productive partnering with divorce lawyers:
- Don’t take things too personally. Your lawyer’s impatience, unavailability, etc. may have nothing to do with you. At any given time, your lawyer will be handling numerous other matters involving antagonistic opposing counsel, needy clients, demanding judges, or all three at once!
- Don’t harbor unrealistic expectations. Your lawyer can only work with the realities of your case. She cannot magically increase your net worth or turn your spouse into parent-of-the-year.
- Don’t be overly skeptical or contentious. For example, don’t assume that your lawyer is to blame for delays and other snags that may not be her fault. Ask questions. What looks to you like inattention or a mistake might be dictated by court rules, or involve strategic decisions by your lawyer.
- Don’t transfer feelings of anger, victimization, etc. from your marriage to the relationship with your lawyer. Keep things friendly but businesslike.
- Don’t drown your lawyer in paperwork. Find out what information she needs, and how she wants it presented. Keep copies of key documents you’ve given her.
- Don’t depend on your lawyer for counseling or therapy. There are plenty of therapists and divorce coaches out there who do it better and at lower hourly rates.
- Don’t negotiate directly with your spouse before consulting with your lawyer. You may undo progress your lawyer has made or narrow your settlement options.
- Don’t withhold information. Vulnerabilities, embarrassing details, or other matters clients neglect to share with their lawyers have a habit of popping up at the worst possible times. Like during depositions or court hearings.
Now, here are the “do’s” that will help you maintain an effective attorney/client relationship, and prevent the misunderstandings and bad feelings that can undermine it:
- Early in your case, prioritize reasonable goals with your lawyer, and agree on a game plan to achieve them. As time goes on, ask questions to ensure that your case is progressing consistently with that plan. In particular, make sure that you fully understand and agree on a settlement negotiation strategy before negotiation begins.
- Keep things running smoothly with agreements to respond to each other’s phone calls and emails within 24 hours, and an understanding that you’ll receive copies of all important correspondence and court filings.
- Don’t let problems fester! Sooner rather than later, discuss with your lawyer any problems you see in your relationship. Be prepared to hear that you’ve contributed to those difficulties, and be receptive to suggestions about how to fix them.
- Suggest to your lawyer that you perform some tasks yourself, such as scanning, organizing, reviewing, and analyzing documents. Besides saving you paralegal charges, “being your own paralegal” provides opportunities to partner more effectively with your lawyer. For example, you may notice more readily questionable items on bank account, credit card, or on-line payment statements.
And your familiarity with your spouse’s personality can help your lawyer at depositions or in court.
- Avoid misunderstandings by educating yourself about divorce with information from your state’s judicial system or bar association websites. Ask your lawyer to further explain key legal concepts and terms to make sure you’re on the same page.
- Consult with your lawyer well in advance of any court hearing to make sure that you understand the reason for it, the risks and rewards involved, and the specifics of what you might be required to testify about, including likely questioning by opposing counsel.
- Review with your lawyer the summary of your finances contained in your financial disclosure statement or “financial affidavit” to avoid errors, and to present the information in the most favorable manner. Financial affidavits are usually the most important documents in divorce cases, and inaccuracies in them can generate blame-game arguments between lawyers and clients.
An amiable, efficient partnership with your lawyer puts you on the path to achieving positive results in your divorce. Clearing out the underbrush and cultivating that path will be well worth the effort.
To learn more about how to achieve better results, worry less,
and save money during your divorce, read Larry Sarezky’s
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