In this window between the already an not yet (having graduated law school, though not yet holding my law license), I find myself in the unique position of being trained enough to offer advise on this subject, though not yet responsible for my own clients, so as to not be accused of talking smack about anyone (a practice frowned upon by the classiest lawyers).
Those outside the profession are often surprised to hear that most lawyers agree that all their best cases are ruined by the clients – whether it’s being unreasonable, hiding information, or never getting off our case. But you, wise reader, do not have to fall into this stereotype. As a team, a good lawyer and great client can really get the job done. And if everyone practiced these few, simple habits in litigation, I promise that the judicial system would turn upside-down in the best way possible.
1. Get an attorney.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but an increasing number of people think they can do this law thing on their own these days. I, along with anyone else who has spent three years studying the subject, will tell you that the law is complicated. Not just a little bit – a lot a bit. We are the professionals, we know what we’re doing. When people go pro se (represent themselves), it throws a wrench in the whole process, slowing it down, limiting options, and putting the judge in the ethically dicey situation of having to offer advise to a litigant while trying to maintain their duty of impartiality. If money is the problem, look for a local legal aid office or legal clinic. But please, for both your sake and the sake of the integrity of the justice system, hire an attorney you trust.
2. Shop around for that attorney.
You shop around for your doctor, your educators, and your financial advisers, so why not shop around for an attorney? Whether through personal recommendations, knowledge, or internet research, you should find out who has experience in your type of case, and who has a style you are comfortable with. A lot of people don’t consult with multiple attorneys before hiring one and this could lead to a big mistake because an attorney-client relationship is usually a long-term relationship.
3. Listen to your attorney.
Your attorney has a duty to act in your best interest. A lot of people think that attorneys are just greedy scam artists, but most of us honestly are in it just to help people – and when you hire that attorney, he or she is there to help YOU. For this reason, no matter what you’ve done in the past, going forward listen to your attorney and do what he or she advises you to do. Listening and following his or her instructions will probably help you get more of what you want out of the case, and perhaps even save you money. On top of this, if your lawyer says that the law doesn’t allow you to get what you want, or that a certain fact is irrelevant (for example, an event that can’t be brought up because of the rules of evidence), then trust her. She knows that it stinks and that it seems unfair, but a lot of times that’s just the way it is and it’s not her fault.
4. Tell your attorney everything she needs to know.
Communication is a two-way street. Your attorney needs to hear from you, too: we need to know anything that could come up later. No matter what, it is so better to hear it from you, now, than hear it from the other side later. Lawyers really don’t like surprises. Make sure you keep telling your lawyer new things that come up. Law is a living, changing thing, so it’s important to keep your lawyer informed so he or she can best help you.
P.S. A lot of lawyers can tell when you are lying. So don’t do it.
5. Pay your attorney.
A law firm is not a bank. Lawyers are professionals, trained in their field, and carry a significant responsibility in this society. A lot of solo practitioners and small firms are not necessarily “rolling” in it, either. For the same reasons that you should pay builders, chefs, graphic designers, and doctors, you should always, please, pay your lawyer.
Have you ever been a client? What did you think worked well or didn’t go so well in that relationship? Are you a lawyer? What items would you add/change from this list?