A. The Importance Of Communication
The lawyer-client relationship works best when the two of you are able to communicate — not only about the facts of your case, but about your working relationship.
Information should flow both ways between you and your lawyer. Just as your lawyer should satisfy your need for information, you should provide your lawyer with all information that your lawyer requests. Advice based on incorrect or incomplete facts may be worse than no advice at all.
If you do not understand the advice you are given, or find it hard to accept, tell your lawyer. If, for example, you do not understand why your lawyer is recommending that you accept or reject a particular settlement proposal, you should ask why the recommendation is being made. Only by giving your lawyer the opportunity to explain things will you know whether there is a real problem to be addressed.
B. Financial Information
Your lawyer will ask you for financial information, and perhaps ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Financial information includes income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Your lawyer may also want to see papers such as income tax returns, paycheck stubs, statements of savings and investments, employee benefit statements, and papers regarding your debts. Your cooperation in getting this information to your lawyer, although time consuming, is essential to the proper preparation of your case.
C. Marital History
Your lawyer may also ask you to prepare a history of your marriage which includes personal as well as financial information. Where the custody of your children is in dispute, more than financial information will certainly be necessary. In addition to a history, some lawyers ask their clients to keep a diary of events related to the divorce. Complete candor, including any negative facts about yourself, is crucial.
D. Keeping in Touch
Your lawyer will be communicating with you. There may be periods of inactivity, but when something important happens, your lawyer will want to let you know. If you move, or are planning to be away, be sure your lawyer knows where you are.
E. Calling Your Lawyer and Returning Calls
Lawyers work on more than one case at a time and the practice of matrimonial law requires lawyers to spend time in court, at depositions, in conference, and on the telephone. So you should not expect your lawyer always to be available immediately when you call. You should, however, expect that your lawyer, or a staff member, will respond to your telephone calls promptly. If an emergency arises, tell the person who answers the telephone that it is an emergency and explain the situation. No matter how upset you are, be courteous to your lawyer’s staff.
Likewise, if your lawyer calls and leaves a message for you to call back, you should do so as soon as possible. Your lawyer will understand that you also have commitments that may make you temporarily unavailable.
Your lawyer will appreciate your calling during regular business hours. But most lawyers will make every effort to be available when needed for a real emergency.
F. Being Available
You and your lawyer will have a hard time communicating if you are not available to each other. Before hiring any lawyer you should consider whether your schedules are compatible. If you can’t meet with your lawyer during normal business hours, make that clear before you hire the lawyer. Remember that your lawyer is a human being, entitled to free time. If you expect your lawyer to be available evenings or weekends, say so in advance so that the lawyer can decide whether to take your case under those conditions.
When you receive correspondence from your lawyer, read it and respond. Delay in responding to correspondence could be harmful to your case.
H. Your Involvement In Other Legal Proceedings
If at any time during your divorce, you are involved with any other legal proceeding, such as criminal, traffic, juvenile, probate, tax, bankruptcy or a civil lawsuit, let your lawyer know as soon as possible. It may affect your divorce.
I. Some Questions and Answers about Communication:
1. What result can I expect? Don’t be concerned if your lawyer’s opinions and advice are guarded. There is little that is black and white, and much that is gray, in divorce. First impressions of a case can be wrong, so be wary of lawyers who say at the beginning that they can accurately predict the results. As the case progresses, your lawyer will be able to give you a range of possible results.
2. Can I get a second opinion? Yes, but keep a few things in mind when you do. Many lawyers believe it’s best to tell your lawyer you’re going to do it and ask if it’s OK to have the second lawyer call for information. They feel that second opinions can be valuable, but only if based on accurate information. Other lawyers do not like to limit a client’s ability to get a second opinion without telling their lawyer.
3. Do I really have to tell my lawyer everything? Generally, yes. It is extremely difficult for your lawyer to represent you effectively without knowing everything. But look at Chapter X (Confidentiality) for exceptions to the lawyer-client privilege.