Communicating with Your Attorney
by Lynda L. Hinkle (Blackwood, NJ Office)
Perhaps the biggest malpractice complaint against lawyers is that they don’t communicate. Well, guess what lawyers’ biggest complaint is about their clients? Same issue!
Nothing is worse than a client who disappears for long stretches and will not respond to anything.
Believe me when I tell you I understand that divorce is hard emotional work. You are possibly in a difficult financial position. You are frustrated with the process. You are stressed out and scared.
However, hiding from your lawyer is the exact opposite of solving the problem. A good lawyer is not reaching out to you just to pad their bill, they really need information. The process has multiple steps, and through the course of it so much can change. Regular contact is important.
On the reverse side, over-communication with your lawyer can cost you a lot of money. It’s very common, especially early in litigation, for a client to reach out to me often, sometimes about things not even related to the litigation, because they are full of anxiety. I try to gently remind them that we sell time, and I don’t want them to end up using up their resources early on because they were contacting me about things perhaps better handled by their therapist or a friend. That is not to say that I am not deeply honored by their trust in me; I truly am. But I also don’t want them to look at their bill in a month and faint dead away!
Here are some rules of engagement for the most effective use of your attorney:
- Prepare for conversations or pre-plan your questions in an email. Succinct questions addressed as a group can be answered more completely and at lesser expense than one question thrown out randomly every hour or so on a panicky day.
- Make sure your lawyer has all the background necessary to answer the question in a context. I try to ask all the questions that may lead to that surprising fact you neglected to tell me, but there are some things I simply cannot guess. Example: if you are seeking custody of your children and it turns out you are living with someone currently being investigated for child porn, you may wish to mention that to me. It might be a difficult conversation to have, but it will be far more difficult if we are having it after it came out in court in front of a judge because your ex found out. This is an extreme example, and fortunately one I have not experienced, but all those little things that you think are embarrassing details you hope don’t come out? I need to know about them so if they do, I am prepared to manage them.
- Don’t disappear. Fill out paperwork your lawyer gives you in a timely fashion. Answer their questions. Be available. You are paying for a service that a lawyer cannot deliver without your input and involvement. It’s rather like paying someone to do Botox, refusing to let them near your face, then blaming them that you still have wrinkles.
- Handle your concerns with maturity. If you have a concern about how the process is going, or are unsure or unclear what’s happening, ASK. A good lawyer is happy to meet with you or talk with you about problems you are having in the litigation, or what you don’t understand. If necessary, schedule a meeting to go over it all. But remember, your lawyer is also a person. They have a lot going on most likely, between you and other clients. They want to help you, but they don’t want to be berated or yelled at or disrespected. It’s one thing if they behave that way toward you, but if you have had a good relationship with your attorney and just feel confused, reach out and give them a chance to clear it up. Sometimes this process seems obvious to us, because we are immersed in it, and we don’t realize we aren’t making it totally clear to you what’s happening.
- It is okay to do your own research, to Google things, to know things…but don’t assume that everything you read on the internet or that a friend told you is true, or applies to your situation. Your lawyer knows some things the internet doesn’t, like how a particular judge behaves, or opposing counsel, or how the facts of your situation differ from the one you are comparing to in ways that really matter.
–Excerpted from Lynda Hinkle’s book, Breaking Up: Finding and Working with a New Jersey Divorce Attorney.
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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.