Developing a Professional Relationship With Your Attorney
There are a wide variety of circumstances that bring people into my office for the first time. It is the unfortunate nature of the law that these circumstances are often emotionally taxing. Whether someone seeks my counsel for a divorce, a child custody dispute, estate planning, or a financial loss, finding yourself in the need of an attorney is seldom a pleasant experience. To make matters even more difficult, the legal process can feel unfamiliar and confusing—such that one is burdened by consequence, yet also unsure of how to proceed. For these reasons, it is helpful to have a sense of direction and preparedness established well-ahead of time. Today, I want to bridge these issues to help you establish a set of expectations. I would like to share with you how to take the very first steps in initiating your case, so that you can choose a qualified counselor, start your case expeditiously, and, ultimately, set yourself up for the best chance of success.
Even before your initial consultation, there is much you can do to begin preparing your case. In over three decades of practice, I do not think I can say that I have had a client who was too prepared; it is many times better to have gathered too much evidence than not enough. Throughout your case, there will be moments where your preparedness is absolutely essential and where it will be necessary to have clear and consistent communication between you and your attorney to ensure that all crucial details are accounted for. The consequences for failing to provide this necessary documentation can be costly. Fortunately, the remedy for unpreparedness is awareness and consistency.
As soon as you find yourself considering legal action, it is a good time to begin collecting and organizing documentation that would support your case. In most cases, this would include: documentation of any agreement between you and the other party to the action, evidence of relevant dates and events, invoices and receipts for claimed financial damages, your personal financial records and, in cases of divorce or separation, the financial standing of the each party. Should any other details seem relevant to you, it is always best to place them in safe-keeping until you can bring them to the next meeting with your attorney.
Remember, an attorney can only advise a client based information that the client provides. So, it is important for the client to explain everything about the case for the attorney to be able to advise the client well, and to plan an appropriate course of action. By providing the evidence for your counsel to examine, you are able to receive a more accurate assessment of your case, and, in some instances, additional remedies and damages that you may not have known to have existed. Taking the time to dutifully put together a case is time consuming, but it is always advantageous.
The relationship between attorney and client requires consistent communication and mutual understanding. For these reasons and many others, it is especially important to find the right attorney for you. When selecting an attorney to represent you, it is wise to seek out a counsellor who listens to your needs and who values and respects your interests. However, if an attorney simply tells you what you want to hear, they are not doing their job. I would advise searching for someone who is honest, fair, and just. Appropriate questions to ask your potential counsel may include: “What is your tolerance for risk?”, “Have you handled many cases similar to mine?”, “What are your billing practices?”, “What can I do to make this process run smoother?”, and “What can I expect throughout the course of my case?”. The attorney should also answer any questions that you may have doubts about.
Although initiating your case may seem daunting, knowing how to prepare, who to seek out, and what to ask allows you to take the first step with your best foot forward. As you continue to move forward along your case, the guidance offered here will continue to serve you. Document everything. Communicate openly. Certainly, do not be afraid to ask questions. Although some cases may be more akin to a marathon than a sprint, with the right legal team and a healthy perspective, developing a collaborative approach with your legal counsel will put the end to your troubles in sight.