How to Have an Effective Attorney-Client Relationship
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
You and your lawyer will become partners during and perhaps for years after your divorce and/or custody case. How well your partnership works can have an enormous effect on your case and how much you’ll have to spend in legal fees.
First, be ready to explain/provide:
Why you seeking a divorce and/or custody, visitation or support?
What caused your breakup or the disharmony between co-parents?
Personal data about you, your spouse or the other party, and your children. Names, home and work addresses and telephone numbers; your ages and places of birth; your Social Security Numbers and driver’s license numbers.
Facts about your marriage and/or about your custodial arrangement. When and where did you get married? Did you sign a prenuptial agreement? If so, bring a copy. Have either of you been married before? What is your visitation plan? What is the custody plan?
Financial information. What assets and debts did each of you bring into the marriage and/or what are your monthly childcare related expenses? What are your incomes? What are the names and addresses of your employers? How much money do both of you have invested: in the bank, the stock market, etc.? Has either of you invested in insurance or a pension plan? What property do you own? Was the property purchased before or after the marriage? Do you have a mortgage?
Legal documents. Bring copies of prior or pending, divorce suits, custody, visitation and support petitions, lawsuits, bankruptcy suits, judgments, and garnishments.
Your divorce and/or custody goals. Is your goal reconciliation, amicable division, litigation? Sole custody, joint custody, supervised visitation? Be very specific about your goals in terms of realizing your future; make sure your short-term goals for property, other assets, custody, visitation, and support are consistent with that future.
What Your Lawyer Expects from You
Your lawyer can be most effective when you are calm, businesslike, and well prepared. Clients should do their best to put aside their emotions and/or feelings, be organized, willing to work with the lawyer, and listen to their lawyer’s advice.
You need to be fully forthcoming with your attorney. Do not hold back any information, whether personally embarrassing or not. Your attorney cannot strategize for or defend something they do not know. Holding back information that almost always ultimately comes out at some point can have a very negative impact on your case and, without the information, NO attorney can ensure that your case is presented in the best possible manner.
Availability. You need to be actively participating in your case. When documents or information is requested of you, get it as quickly as possible and provide it to your attorney. DO NOT waste time and money arguing about the need for something; if it wasn’t needed, your attorney would not ask for it. Return calls and emails as promptly as possible. Communication is extremely important especially as some things can be time-sensitive.
If you think that an issue has arisen between you and your lawyer, ask if this is the case. If there has been a misunderstanding, clear it up immediately. It’s important that you and your lawyer maintain a strong, trusting relationship in order for you to get the best possible representation – and to achieve the best possible outcome.
Money is important. Attorneys are paid for their work on your behalf. Lawyer will expect to be paid on time and in full. If your financial situation is bad, your lawyer may be able to create some kind of payment plan. If you’re broke because your ex cleaned out the bank account, your lawyer can file motions asking the court to grant temporary orders for child or spousal support, custody, payment of your lawyer’s fees, etc. Be honest and open about your financial standing.
Save Money, stress and Frustration
To avoid seeing your fees run up unnecessarily, avoid the following:
1. Don’t call your lawyer outside of work hours unless it’s an emergency or to leave a message.
2. When your lawyer requests information, respond as quickly, completely, and concisely as you can; don’t write a 24-page document when all that was requested was a “yes” or “no,” and only provide the documents requested or you truly believe to be relevant.
3. Limit your calls and emails. Hourly billing can add up if you call and email repeatedly. Try to save up questions and concerns to ask several at one time instead of piece-meal.
4. Your attorney cares about you but, your lawyer is not your therapist. Do not waste and get billed for time discussing your emotions and feelings. When dealing with your attorney, stick to the case.
5. As mentioned previously, always tell your lawyer the truth, even when it’s unpleasant or unflattering to you. If they have to regroup or alter strategy from something they find out later, it could double your fees.
6. Limit your communications with opposing party. Try to only communicate via email or text. Be very cautious what you say (no name calling or foul language) and remember that anything you communicate can and almost definitely WILL be used against you.
7. Be realistic. Don’t expect your lawyer to behave like the heroic lawyers on TV or in John Grisham novels. Don’t look for justice or vengeance in a divorce or custody case. The Courts are not there to decide how great you’ve been and how bad the other party is, they are only there to make the necessary determinations in your case. Seek resolution of the issues between you, not what may have led to this point.
8. Don’t blame your lawyer for the family-law system or expect him or her to change it. Every Judge and Court is different. The laws and rules are what the legislature has said they are – your attorney quite often will agree with you on the imbalance or base unfairness of a law but, they are limited to and confined to those laws and rules.
9. Remember that no attorney can guarantee a result, especially in family law matters. If you do not get the result you like, it does not mean that your attorney did something wrong. If they did, then it needs to be addressed but, often, regardless of the attorney’s skill, the results do not fall as we believe they should or thought they would.
If you fail to disclose important facts or don’t answer questions honestly and fully, if you repeatedly ignore your lawyer’s advice, or if you don’t pay your legal bills, the attorney may have little choice but to end their representation of you. But if you’re cooperative, reasonable, and truthful – your lawyer will work hard on your behalf.
What You Should Expect from Your Divorce Lawyer
From the day you hire your lawyer, you both should have a clear understanding of what you need and expect from each other. Ask for a written agreement that details the terms of your lawyer-client relationship. If he or she won’t provide one, find another lawyer.
After learning about your case, your lawyer should create a strategy. Be aware that this plan may change along the way, depending on what opposing party and/or his or her lawyer does.
Your lawyer should clearly explain all your options, and offer advice regarding the best paths to follow, but respect your wishes if you strongly disagree with a suggested course of action. If you find yourself in constant disagreement with your lawyer, either you’ve chosen the wrong person or you’re being unreasonable. Consider your motivations and actions to see if you’re refusing your lawyer’s advice for purely emotional reasons.
Even a good divorce lawyer will sometimes have bad news for you: that your spouse won’t budge on an important issue; that you’ll have to give him or her money or other assets; or simply that your expectations are unrealistic, illegal, or not financially feasible. Expect to feel frustrated or disappointed from time to time as your divorce progresses, but don’t personalize it with your attorney - they aren't against you or failing to work hard for you - these matters take compromise, work and time.
You should expect to be kept abreast of what is going on in your case, especially any court dates or other important deadlines. Sometimes if you are not hearing from your attorney it may well be that there is not an update at that point and they are avoiding billing you for the time it takes to tell you nothing has changed. At the same time, a lack of communication can also just be a failure on the attorney's part - make sure you are confident they are keeping you advised.
Lastly, you should expect your divorce lawyer to return phone calls and emails reasonably promptly (24 hours is reasonable if he or she isn’t on vacation), and to consult you before taking any major actions.
A strong and effective attorney-client relationship is always going to be the greatest asset to your case. Cooperation, communication, honesty, respect and involvement by and between you and your attorney is the key to reaching the best possible outcome in your case.