Helping Your Lawyer Help You
- Give your lawyer the complete story.
phone calls and meetings.
Ask your lawyer
Talk about fees
and money at the first visit.
Agree on a
Know what you
own case file.
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.
1. Give your lawyer the complete story.
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
2. Prepare for phone calls and meetings.
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
3. Keep your lawyers informed.
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
4. As your lawyer questions.
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.
5. Trust your lawyer.
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.
6. Talk about fees and money at the first visit.
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
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.
7. Agree on a reporting procedure.
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.
8. Know what you are signing.
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.
9. Keep your own case file.
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.
10. Listen to your lawyer.
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
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.