A successful outcome for a family law case will largely depend on the relationship a client has with their attorney, and the attorney’s staff, throughout the case. A lawyer and the staff can only be effective if their client is honest and forthcoming with details and must be honest! Information must flow both ways. It is the lawyer’s job to satisfy your need for information, as it is the responsibility of the client to provide all requested information in a timely manner while being honest and truthful.
Lawyers are trained to present their client’s side of the facts and their client’s ‘version’ of the case so that their client will be viewed favorably by the court while exposing the weaknesses, or problems, of the opposing party. We cannot be ‘blind-sided’ by our client withholding important information, which is why we utilize an extensive questionnaire in the beginning of all of our client/attorney relationships, as many times a client does not see the value/importance of sharing ‘details’ which could impact the outcome of their case. This document is then reviewed by the attorney and staff when appropriate.
For example, in cases involving a child custody situation whereby the client has known the opposing party for many years, information can be shared about the opposing party such as any mental health/mental illness history, the use of prescribed or non-prescription medications, the use of alcohol and drugs, a diagnosis or suspicion of PTSD, domestic violence, etc. All of these details will shape the direction I will take, and the recommendations I will make to bring on any necessary experts so that the court can make the best determination for the ‘best interest’ of the child/children. Without this knowledge in the early stages of a legal matter, attorneys will find themselves limited, with the chance of an unfavorable outcome due to a lack of information provided by the client. It is important to realize that it is the attorney’s job to ‘ask the right questions’ and the client’s job to present truthful answers.
The support staff that an attorney has working in the office will be a vital component to the communication process. As an attorney works on more than once case at a time, there may be those occasions when the attorney is unavailable to take a client’s phone call. The staff will be able to express the client’s questions if the attorney should call in on during a court break, thus getting the client the answers they need in a timely fashion. 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.
When I make recommendations to my client, and my client does not understand the rationale for my advice, it is always best to immediately ask for clarification, so that everyone remains on the ‘same page’. Very often, a client’s understanding of what it is they ‘deserve’ can greatly vary from what the law will allow. Clear, concise communication will always yield a smoother journey!
The means by which a client and an attorney/attorney’s staff communicate, can be either via telephone, email, or via written correspondence sent via U.S. mail. As a client is charged by time used, I typically encourage our clients to send emails so that there is comparatively less time needed vs. a phone call, as well as providing a ‘paper-trail’ of communications. Certainly, if email is not the client’s preferred mode of communication, telephone conversations or face-to-face meetings are always options. I typically schedule a ‘strategy’ meeting with all clients after their financial documents have been submitted, and then, client meetings (when the client is a local resident) are scheduled when preparing for any upcoming Hearings.
Needless to say, the communication between a client and their attorney is an important element in all family law cases.