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The Basics of Working with an Attorney

Most family law clients have never worked with an attorney before. The attorney client relationship is new to them. In an effort to help you have the best possible outcome in your case it is important to understand some basic guidelines when it comes to working with an attorney.

  1. You need to make an appointment. You can’t call or show up and expect to be able to see your attorney whenever you want. We’re in court, meeting with clients, or often getting ready to go to court.
  2. Ask your attorney about the best time to call. For me, it’s always afternoons and it’s easier for me to connect with you if we have preset times to talk by phone for any extended phone calls (30 minutes or more).
  3. Ask your attorney who you can talk to about nonbillable matters and how to get ahold of that person. You don’t want to talk to your attorney and be billed for asking for a copy of your bill, asking for copies of documents, or for minor typographical errors that you see in documents that staff can easily fix.
  4. Know that your attorney bills by the hour. All they have to offer is their billable time. This means you are being charged for every client meeting, phone call and email. Because of this ask your attorney how you can save money on attorney’s fees. Some attorneys will allow clients to be more involved in the actual assembly of documents or typing up of forms. Others prefer to have staff do that for them and it may create more of a burden on your attorney if you are trying to type up legal documents yourself. Save up your questions and ask all of your questions in one email as opposed to sending multiple emails or calling multiple times in one day. You will likely be billed separately for each phone call, email, and conference so the more you “save up” your questions the cheaper it will be for you.
  5. Get a therapist if your case involves a divorce. Why? Because it will save you money. Your attorney is not your therapist. We are here to offer legal advice; not to listen to the emotions that you are going through. While many of us don’t mind listening to the emotions you are going through the problem with that is we’re much more expensive and we’re not trained to give you good feedback or help you think about things in a different way. Therapists are.
  6. Don’t make unreasonable demands on your attorney. Many clients assume that their attorney will drop everything to draft settlement documents the same day, have a meeting with you and/or the other side, or to deal with your crisis at the very moment it is happening. Remember that your emergency is not your attorney’s emergency. Your attorney has lots of cases and a schedule that may already be jam packed with court hearings and client meetings. It is unlikely that you are your attorney’s only client. Do not assume that your attorney has the ability to drop everything to handle your emergency. You should also be prepared for the fact that if your attorney does drop everything to deal with your emergency then you will likely be billed a premium hourly rate for dropping everything. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call when you have an emergency, but it does mean you need to be aware of these issues with your attorney’s schedule. Also, be aware that true emergencies for attorneys are you getting arrested, your children being taken away from you, and judges demanding that an emergency hearing take place the same day. These are three situations that are true emergencies and require the attorney to drop everything immediately. If your emergency is that you need to know whether it’s okay to date while going through your divorce you need to know that this is not a true emergency and that we do have clients that are getting arrested or who have had their children taken away and those clients need immediate attention.
  7. Get organized. Your attorney bills you more for organizing your paperwork. If you want to save money on legal fees then provide every document requested by your attorney immediately and deliver it to your attorney in an organized fashion. Don’t make your attorney ask for the same document from you more than once. If you can get a document for free then get it. Don’t make your attorney request documents you can easily obtain yourself. Again, this costs you money.
  8. Everything you tell your attorney is confidential. A lot of clients don’t understand that everything you tell your attorney is confidential. The attorney client privilege belongs to you. You alone decide what gets relayed to other people. Because of this you are better served sharing sensitive, embarrassing information with your attorney than your attorney finding out from someone else or in court because you didn’t want to share or thought your attorney would pass the information along.
  9. It’s not like TV. Alot of clients don’t understand that attorneys do not function like on tv. We spend way more time drafting legal documents, sitting in front of the computer, and waiting on the judge in court than they ever show on tv. It also takes months to get to court. Rarely does anything happen the very next day. The wheels of justice turn slowly and it’s not an efficient process.
  10. Listen to your attorney. Some new clients make the mistake of assuming that they have read enough, know enough, or listened to enough people that they know exactly what should happen in his/her case. Your attorney has experience and you should be asking your attorney lots of questions and then listening to the advice offered to you. You don’t have to take the advice offered but it’s a mistake to think that your friends, family or the internet know more than the attorney you are paying to give you legal advice.

Whether it’s the first or fifth attorney you have worked with hopefully these tips will assist you in helping make the attorney client relationship the best that it can be.