Written by Tana M. Fye
In my time practicing law and representing clients, I've had clients that were a breeze to work with, and clients that were exceptionally difficult to deal with. In many instances, I think that the difficult clients were difficult in large part because they didn't know what to expect from an attorney-client relationship. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to future clients, and for those looking for attorneys to have a few tips or guidelines for working with their lawyers.
1. Remember that although you have just this one case, your lawyer has many cases. This doesn't mean that your case is unimportant to your lawyer, it is. But lawyers have lots of cases that are all important to them and their clients. Remember this, and that it sometimes means your attorney cannot get back to you immediately. It is reasonable to expect a response from your attorney at some point, and for a time frame for when you can receive a response.
2. Set expectations at the outset. For example, it is reasonable to expect your lawyer to put the fee agreement in writing at the outset. I put into my engagement agreement some expectations that I have for clients. It also includes what clients can expect from me, and what I'm representing them on.
3. Remember that some issues you present to your lawyer may require legal research. Some questions (probably most) are easily answerable by an attorney who regularly practices in the particular area of law. But specialized issues, or when a case borders on different areas of law may require additional research by your attorney. It doesn't mean that he or she is inexperienced or stupid, but just that your attorney wants to give you the right answer.
4. Share all of the information with your lawyer, not just the good stuff. About the worst thing that can possibly happen to you is for your lawyer to be surprised by opposing counsel, particularly in court. You can avoid this scenario by sharing the good information and the bad information with your lawyer at the outset of his or her representation of you.
5. Don't be afraid of lawyers' secretaries having information. The staff in our office has access to our clients' files, and works closely with the attorneys to ensure that deadlines are met, and that everyone is on the same page. I've had clients who were afraid to leave any information in a message with a secretary. This does the client a disservice. Sometimes the answer to a client's question is a simple one, and if the client leaves a message with my secretary, that means that they might get a quicker call back than a client who refuses to leave a message, when I only have a few minutes to return calls.
6. If you're upset or concerned about something, tell your lawyer. Your attorney doesn't want you to be in distress. If they know about your fears or that you're upset, they can address those issues, which may help you to keep from worrying unnecessarily.
7. Make a list of any questions that you have, so that your appointments or telephone conferences with your lawyer are efficient. This will ensure that all of your questions are answered. It will also help to keep your bill lower if you are billed by the hour, than if you call several times with only a single question each time.
8. Follow the advice of your lawyer. You hired a lawyer because he or she is an expert at the law and you are not. If you don't understand, seek clarification. But follow your lawyer's advice.