The relationship you have with your lawyer is sacrosanct. When you retain a lawyer, whether for a divorce or another issue, the lawyer is ethically charged with holding what you say to him/her as confidential. That means your attorney cannot talk about your case in public or to third parties without your consent.
There are exceptions to this, but I'll save that for another article.
Going through a divorce is a stressful time. It's stressful for both you as the person getting divorced and for the attorney who is representing you. There's a saying within legal circles that "criminal law deals with bad people at their best and family law deals with good people at their worst." From my experience, I can't argue with that.
Put yourself in your attorneys shoes. How would you handle yourself in your case? Odds are it is not an easy situation. And, unless you hired an attorney who just graduated law school, you're not your attorney's only client. I know you don't want to hear that, but...it's true.
Divorce attorneys work hard to achieve favorable and fair results for their clients. Good clients appreciate the effort, even if things don't always work out the way they hoped. Many clients are never happy, win or lose, and are not afraid to let their attorney know it. After all, who wants to spend all that money and feel like they lost? I get it.
Here are five things your attorney really wants to tell you, but doesn't because he wants to maintain the relationship and keep you as a client. You're better off knowing this though because it will influence your relationship with your lawyer and the value he/she provides to you.
1. You call too often. It's true...you do. If you get your legal bill at the end of the month and you are astonished at how high it is...the culprit often times is the number of phone calls made to your attorney. Most attorneys charge on an hourly basis, which is stated in your retainer agreement. Clients pay for an attorney's time.
Your attorney is not your therapist, although I play one on t.v. I always tell clients I will talk to you as long as you want, but don't be surprised when you get the bill. I understand the client's need to vent and talk it out. It's very important, but that's more the job of a therapist. If you're going to spend money, might as well do so to a qualified professional counselor.
Your attorney will contact you when he/she needs something from you. There are periods in every case where nothing is going on and there is down time. Your attorney should give you periodic updates on the status of things and it's ok to check in yourself, but daily calls are unnecessary and only run up your bill.
Try to handle little disputes with your spouse on your own. Then, if you can't resolve it, think about how bad it really is and whether it's worth it to involve your attorney. Good attorneys will tell their clients that something is not worth the cost of their time to fight it. In the end, it's the client's decision, but again...don't complain when you get a high bill.
2. You don't help him help you. Remember, your attorney is YOUR advocate, even if you don't always feel that's the case. However, he is not a mind reader. Your attorney can only work with what you tell him and what documents you give him to back up what you tell him. He cannot make it rain when the sun is out if you know what I mean.
My best clients are the ones who come to me prepared. I mean, they come to a meeting with a binder, organized with tabs for bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit card statements and any other documents I ask for or they think I will need. This cuts down the time I need to go through them and find what I'm looking for...which in turn lowers their bill!
Other times, clients just don't listen to what their attorney tells them to do. Remember, an attorney charges for their time. The more time you make them spend on your case, or repeating themselves to you, the higher your bill will be.
Help your attorney help you!
3. You don't listen to his advice when he gives it, so what's the point? I had a case that involved a high conflict custody dispute. I told my client how to handle a certain situation when it came up and what happens? I get a call from this client to find out they did the exact opposite of what I told them and now they were in a pickle and expected me to get them out of it. I felt bad, BUT, if they had listened to me they wouldn't be in this situation.
Attorneys expect clients to listen to them. That's why they are there. If you as a client didn't want to listen to your attorney, why did you hire them to begin with?
4. He can't continue to represent you because you are not paying his bills. Attorneys are not free. They get paid for provide you with their time, knowledge and services. Now, it's often the case in a divorce that money is tight and most attorneys are sensitive to this, but they have to pay their bills too and can't work for free.
You can't expect them to work for free. You don't walk into a store and expect to take what you want and not pay, right?
You have to communicate with your attorney on a regular basis and if money becomes an issue, have that discussion. But, don't ask your attorney to rush and file an emergency application because your ex is threatening not to give you the children on your weekend if you haven't been paying your legal bill.
5. You chose to have children and now you have to parent them, either with your ex or alone. If I had to bet, I would say that one of the reasons you are getting divorced, or already divorced is because of conflicts with your spouse over parenting. It's very common and one of the more stressful phases of a divorce. There is no way of getting around it though...you have to co-parent effectively with your ex, or you will be knee deep in court battles and conflict for years to come.
Your attorney is there to help you learn how to co-parent well. It is a learned skill set. You have to learn to accept and work with your spouse's different parenting style. You won't agree with everything they do, but unless it amounts to neglect or abuse, you will have no choice. This is the bed you made by choosing to have children with this person and now you have to learn to co-parent with them in a post divorce world.
I hope this wasn't too harsh. Remember, your attorney is on YOUR side. A divorce is a roller coaster ride with its share of ups and downs. You are a team and you need to work together to get the best results for your case.
Jason Levoy, a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy, is an attorney who teaches people without a lawyer how to navigate the divorce process and represent themselves in court. He regularly provides free advice via his blog, VIP newsletter and Private Divorce Facebook Group.
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