Standing InThe Shadow of
Special Edition - Expanded and
More information than Original Version
By Marilyn Harrison
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As in any successful relationship, a good lawyer/client relationship involves cooperation on both sides. As a client, you should do all you can to make sure you get the best possible legal help. To do so, you must hold up your end of the responsibilities. Below are ten common sense steps to establishing a successful relationship with your lawyer.
Your lawyer needs information to represent your interests successfully. Every fact and detail could be critical to your case. Once your lawyer knows all the facts and details from you, he or she will determine which information is the most important. Facts which may not seem important to you may have serious legal consequences.
Make sure that your attorney is on your side. Send a letter to him/her in the beginning outlining exactly what you expect from the representation. This letter should clearly outline all details of the representation, including the time frame in which they should return phone calls or answer letters.
You should require that your attorney read everything in the court file and become familiar with it so that he/she is adequately prepared to defend you.
You should require your attorney to present all possible legal options to you in a clear and concise manner, then tell you which option he/she recommends and why. Since you are the one that stands to lose your child, you should make the final decision.
Above all, require that your attorney believe in your innocence and ability to rear your child. If the attorney has doubts about your innocence and abilities, he/she has no business representing you.
Document all interactions with your attorney the same way you do for state agents (see Document All Interactions). If the attorney consistently fails to heed your requests or provide an adequate defense, you may file a formal complaint against him/her with the bar association or attorney disciplinary board in your state.
Get organized before you talk with or visit your lawyer. Prepare a written summary or detailed notes outlining your problem or questions; write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of all persons involved; bring papers relating to the case to your first interview. Be prompt for all appointments, since an attorney's time is your money.
Be as brief as possible in all interviews with your lawyer, and stick to business. At the rate you are charged for calls and conferences, socializing is expensive. Your legal matters are what is of interest to you and you attorney. You lawyer will appreciate it if you are prepared for meetings, and you will save money.
Tell your lawyer immediately of changes or new information that might affect your case. It might mean that the lawyer will have to take a totally different action -- or no action at all -- in your case. This could greatly affect your lawyer's fee. If your lawyer asks you to gather information about you case, do so promptly. Make or ask for a checklist of what you need to do and when, then make sure you get the things done. You will need to let your lawyer know how he or she can keep in touch with you. If you have a change of address, phone number, or place of employment, let your lawyer know right away. Be sure to give your lawyer any new documents you receive that may be relevant to your case.
We live in a complex society with a complex legal system. If you have any questions or are confused about something in your case, ask your lawyer for an explanation. In order for your lawyer to serve you effectively, you must understand all aspects of your case and the legal process. This may go a long way toward putting your mind at ease -- and will help your lawyer do a better job of handling your case.
Be prepared to make full and honest disclosure of everything about your problem, including facts which may be unfavorable or embarrassing to you. Only if you are completely candid from the start can the lawyer advise you properly. Strict rules require that the lawyer keep information about your case confidential, unless you admit to ongoing or planned criminal activity.
If you are concerned about confidentiality, tell your lawyer and discuss your expectations. Talking about it will help all parties feel more at ease and can help reassure you of your lawyer's commitment to confidentiality. (Related Reading>> Attorney-Client Work Product)
Your lawyer should be prepared to talk about fees at your first meeting. Often a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be because it is difficult to estimate how much work is going to be involved. But lawyers can usually estimate the minimum and maximum limits of the fee for that particular work, or give you some idea of the problems involved and the time that will be required.
In some cases fees are charged on an hourly basis or as a flat fee, and in some cases you will not pay any fees unless there is a recovery. In most cases, you will also have to pay for any expenses incurred (for example, filing fees or copying costs) on your case. You can and should negotiate fees and discuss payment plans with your attorney. Get your agreement in writing and keep a copy for your records. Most fee disputes arise when there is no written agreement.
Remember that a client has the duty to promptly pay a fair and reasonable price for legal services. In fact, when a client fails to pay in some situations, the lawyer may have the right to stop working further on the case. Still, the lawyer must do whatever is reasonably possible to make sure that the client's case is not harmed.
Your lawyer should report to you regularly on the progress of your case. Discuss how frequently you will be informed about your case and by what method, telephone or letter. Remember, your lawyer is working for you. If you have any questions about your case, don't hesitate to call your lawyer. But remember that you are paying for your lawyer's time. It is usually more cost-effective to ask several questions at a time, rather than calling each time a question arises.
You should request that your attorney immediately mail you a copy of everything he/she receives involving your case.
Read any document you sign. Before you sign, ask your lawyer to explain fully anything you don't understand. Remember, what may be clear and routine to your lawyer can be (and often is) confusing to people without legal training. Ask if you have questions.
Along with the working contract or letter of agreement between you and your lawyer, you should ask for and keep copies of all letters and documents prepared on your behalf. This will help you understand the progress being made on your case and assist you when you talk to or meet with your lawyer.
Suggested Outline Template (Download) Instructions for use are on template.
Give careful consideration to what your lawyer advises. The lawyer's judgments are based on experience and training. Don't waste your money or your lawyer's time if you don't have confidence in his or her special knowledge and skills. Remember, however, that lawyers cannot work magic. No lawyer can be expected to win every case, and the best legal advice may not be what you want to hear.
Your lawyer is your advocate and this means that his or her advice has your best legal interests at heart. After you have hired a lawyer you trust, listen to the advice carefully.
If the representation is so bad that it severely impacts the outcome of your case, the attorney can be sued for malpractice. In order to do this, you must be able to prove your claims and this is done through documentation letters.
Suing an attorney for malpractice will not effect the outcome of your case, it will simply require the attorney to compensate you for the damage he/she caused. This means you've lost something needing compensation (your child). Thus, it's better to ensure that the attorney is doing a good job through proper communication and documentation.
Related Information: Legal ethics
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