Taking the initial step to contact an attorney to talk about a difficult situation isn’t easy. Discussing the details of your life with a stranger isn’t easy. It is not unusual to be nervous or anxious. Attorneys have different styles. Not every attorney is a good fit for every client. It may take meeting with more than one attorney to find one that is a good fit for you. An effective attorney-client relationship is one based on honesty, trust and good communication.
When you find an attorney who is a good fit for you, the expectations for communication should also be established and both the attorney and the client should agree to them. Among other things, you might wonder: Can the attorney share things you tell him/her with others? How will you know what fees and expenses you should expect? When will phone calls be returned? What about communication by email? How will information be provided to you? Will you need to provide information? How often will face-to-face meetings take place? Other than the attorney, who else will be working on your case? What should you do if you are unhappy with something the attorney has or hasn’t done?
Can the attorney share things you tell him/her with others? Information you share with the attorney is confidential, and protected by the attorney-client privilege. When you first meet with the attorney, he/she should explain the privilege to you, including exceptions.
How will you know what fees and expenses you should expect? Your initial meeting with the attorney should include a thorough discussion of fees and expenses. The attorney should explain how he/she charges, hourly rates, potential expenses, when you will be billed and payment expectations. You should also receive this information in writing.
When will phone calls be returned? If the agreement is that phone calls will be returned within 24 hours, then if the attorney cannot return the call personally within the designated time, he/she should arrange for an assistant/paralegal and/or associate to return the call. Adhering to this rule allows you - the client - to trust that a call will be returned and will make it unnecessary for you to leave multiple messages.
What about communication by email? You should discuss communication by email with your attorney at the beginning of your relationship. There may be privacy concerns which your attorney should discuss with you. You should also discuss the time frame for responses to emails. You should discuss whether you should expect responses after hours, on weekends, during vacations, on holidays.
How will information be provided? As the client, you should be informed as to everything that is happening during the legal process. It is reasonable for you to expect to receive copies of everything related to your case that comes into or goes out of your attorney’s office. Copies can be provided to you by U.S. Mail, by fax or by email, whichever you prefer. Depending on the type of information it could be provided by email or by telephone. If you have a preference, say so.
Will you need to provide information? You will need to provide your attorney with information. He/she may request that you provide a lot of information at once. Or you may be asked to provide information as it is needed. Either way, it is not your responsibility to figure out what your attorney needs. It is your attorney’s responsibility to let you know what is needed and when it is needed.
How often will face-to-face meetings take place? It is convenient for information to be provided by email and communication can take place by telephone, but neither is a substitute for a face-to-face meeting. There may be times that your attorney asks that you meet face-to-face. There may be times that you want to meet with your attorney in person and you should not hesitate to request a face-to-face meeting.
Other than the attorney, who else will be working on your case? It is likely that the attorney will have other people in his/her office assisting with aspects of your case. These may include an assistant, a paralegal, a law clerk and/or other attorneys. You should expect to be introduced to all people who will be involved in your case. You should expect to be provided with a description of each person’s role in your case.
What should you do if you are unhappy with something the attorney has or hasn’t done? Speak up! Whether it is by phone, email or in person – commit to having an open and honest relationship with your attorney.
No doubt, family law matters are difficult. Although having an attorney with whom you can effectively communicate won’t solve your problems, it will make addressing them less difficult.