Attention Legal Clients: A Few Do’s & Don’ts
(Grab a cup of your favorite beverage because this definitely “ain’t” one of my shorter lists and as usual, it is not intended to be an all-inclusive one…By the way, many thanks for sharing a virtual cup of coffee, tea or whatever with me today!)
1. Contact and choose an attorney sooner than later if you know or think you may need legal representation and/or advice.
2. Heed the tip above in #1 and yet also do your “homework” carefully. Don’t select a law firm just because your best friend used them or you like their advertisements. Search out the right one for you and your legal needs. Seek references from trusted sources and try to “interview” at least two attorneys before making a final decision on retaining your attorney. Give special attention to:
- Did they give you their undivided attention or seem distracted with other things while you talked with them?
- Did they answer your questions clearly and give you plenty of opportunity to ask them?
- Did they explain your discussions would be confidential even if you don’t retain their firm?
- Were their professional fees and what your out-of-pocket costs would be explained clearly?
- Did the staff greet you warmly when you arrived and treat you respectfully and professionally throughout your visit?
- Is the office easy for you to get to and what about parking access…safe, affordable, nearby, etc.?
- Was the office décor professional, but comfortable or was it overly pretentious?
- Could you clearly hear other conversations while in the attorney’s office that did not include you? What about other confidential matters…could you see client names on files lying around?
- After meeting the attorney in person, what do your instincts say about him or her? Make sure your frustration over having to seek legal advice in the first place isn’t being misinterpreted as your inner voice. If you didn’t have this legal matter on your plate, do you feel the attorney has your best interests at heart, is good communicator and teacher? If not, keep looking
3. Remember no employee can give legal advice unless they are licensed to practice law in your state. Yes, you can usually make contact with a staff member more quickly and you are usually not charged to talk with an employee, HOWEVER, they are NOT attorneys, CANNOT give legal advice and if they are true professionals, they will remind you of that each time you ask them a question that would require legal advice to answer.
4. Be yourself and relax as much as possible when meeting with your attorney. Yes, they are the legal experts and you respect their legal expertise, BUT they are humans too and aren’t to be put on a pedestal because you think they are smarter than you (they are when it comes to legal matters most likely — hopefully — but you are smarter than they are in other subjects no doubt). And, reversely, don’t assume from the onset that your lawyers can’t be trusted just because they are a lawyer and, therefore, the bunt of many lawyer jokes. Trust is and should be the foundation of your entire attorney-client relationship. It can’t be demanded by either of you, however, as it must be earned. Be open and expecting a trusting relationship to develop and if you’ve chosen your attorney wisely and an ethical one, the trust will build quickly.
5. Don’t talk rudely to the staff. They are not your hired punching bag and should be treated with the same respect you expect from them
6. If you have a legitimate gripe against your attorney, let him or her know that ASAP in an effort to get things back on track sooner than later. If you keep your concern to yourself or complain to any and everyone, but him or her, it will only grow and become far thornier and troublesome that it needs to be…not to mention your stress level over it. Attorneys are human like you. They make mistakes and sometimes say or do the wrong thing. Even the best of the best mess up occasionally with poor communications, over-promising too much to too many, etc. Just don’t compound his or her oversight, miscommunication or other error by failing to talk directly and promptly with them about what’s bothering you.
7. When you call or meet with your attorney, be prepared! Have your list of questions written down along with any key points you want to make sure to make clear to them during the conversation. And, take good notes…ask your attorney to also give you his/her written summary of your meeting including what was decided, who is to do what by when, etc. Better yet, before leaving ask your attorney to give you a verbal summary of those same things so the chances of a miscommunication will be minimized.
8. Be a good listener! While your attorney is talking, listen carefully and don’t be thinking about where you have to go after the meeting, your to do list or what you want to say next…just listen and listen carefully. Think of this way, if you don’t have to keep asking the same questions over and over because of your poor listening skills, you WILL save money! And, that’s always a good thing!
9. Hold your attorney accountable to do what they promise to do and the time frame within which they assured you it would be done. Ditto about your promises to get the firm documents or other materials and information they need for you to gather. Keep your word and do things in a timely fashion. By the way, if your attorney repeatedly does not return your calls in a reasonable time or complete other things as promised, fire him or her and hire a new one. When folks repeatedly apologize for their delays, but keep repeating the same actions or non-actions, their apologies mean zilch. Yes, it’s that simple… so remember your time is just as valuable as your attorney’s and if they don’t value it or the promises made to you, don’t be scared to say “Goodbye” and find another one that will.
10. Just like I recommend in #6 above about letting your attorney know promptly if you are “miffed” over any thing ….. a big Ditto for letting them know what you appreciate them for — things they and their employees have done for you that meant a lot (little things, big or in-between).
Yes, you’re paying them to do a job for you. We are all human, however, and it does motivate attorneys and feel good to receive positive feedback from their clients. Heavens know, we all are subject to the old saying: “When I’m right, who remembers and when I’m wrong, who the heck forgets!” And, sadly, there’s plenty of negativity and disparaging jokes from which to choose when it comes to the subject of attorneys these days.
Clients need their attorneys to take care of their legal needs in a positive and progressive manner. Attorneys need their client to do their part in the same manner and this includes the occasional “Thank You” in the midst of it all.
You and your attorney are indeed a team during this chapter of your life — albeit not a fun situation to be in — I know that from personal experience and from observing what my wonderful clients during my years of practicing law.
Successful resolutions have the best chance of growing from teams where all members support each other 100%, And, when they don’t do that, well… successful conclusions may result, but only by chance.
You are indeed a critical part of your legal team and just as valuable as all other team members. Never forget that and do your part 100%, If you’re unwilling to do so, then you certainly won’t have a legitimate gripe when you feel your attorney has let you down?
Your attorney will appreciate your efforts to be a productive team member, the resolutions will most likely be of a higher quality and come more quickly … and you and your attorney can always look back on a tough job well done…together.