Whenever a relationship is established, its participants form expectations of each other. The lawyer client relationship is no different. And as in any other relationship, lawyers and clients have rules and boundaries which govern those expectations. Some expectations are appropriate; others are not. Here is an overview of what you can and cannot expect of your lawyer.
What You Can Expect from Your Lawyer
Having the assistance of a skilled lawyer during your divorce gives you the security of having someone on your side who knows what to do. Furthermore, you will have someone you can talk to in confidence about your situation and how best to deal with it.
Lawyers provide a variety of specific services for clients going through a divorce. These services include:
- Consulting with you
- Educating you about the law and facts
- Devising and carrying out case strategy
- Investigating the law and the facts
- Preparing and reviewing documents
- Negotiating a settlement
- Preparing and filing all necessary court papers
- Preparing you to testify
- Preparing other witnesses to testify
- Hiring experts and appraisers
- Conducting discovery
- Responding to discovery initiated by your spouse
- Preparing for court appearances including trial
- Conducting trials and hearings
- Advising you about what to expect.
- Advising you on conduct and alternatives
- Taking the heat for tough decisions
What You Cannot Expect from Your Lawyer
- Your lawyer will not handle matters that are beyond the scope of your agreement. The lawyer you have hired to represent you in your divorce will not usually represent you in other matters unrelated to your divorce, unless the two of you specifically agree otherwise. For example, if you need legal assistance in selling your home, preparing your will, or defending against a civil lawsuit, it will be necessary to make specific arrangements with your lawyer, or to hire another lawyer, possibly in the same firm, with the appropriate specialization or expertise.
- Your lawyer cannot guarantee results. The eventual outcome of your divorce depends on the facts, the law, how the judge views your case, and other factors. Every case is different. Although your lawyer may express an opinion on possible or probable outcomes, nobody can be sure of the result until it happens.
- Your lawyer cannot do anything unethical or illegal. Lawyers work under very strict legal and ethical codes and take them very seriously. If you ask your lawyer to do anything unethical or illegal, your lawyer will refuse. If you insist, your lawyer will withdraw from your case. Examples of forbidden conduct are: encouraging or permitting perjury, hiding assets or income, and in any manner deceiving the court or the other side.
- Your lawyer may be reluctant to act against the best interests of your children. A lawyer’s first duty is to look out for the client’s best interest. Yet divorce lawyers are also concerned about the welfare of the children and some ethical guidelines encourage lawyers to keep the children’s interest in mind.
- Lawyers and Clients Should Maintain an Appropriate Professional Relationship. Sometimes friendships and even romances develop between lawyers and clients. Many lawyers have close personal friendships with former clients. But because of the intense emotional nature of a divorce, it is usually best for lawyers and clients to defer establishing a social relationship until after the case is over. Romantic relationships are not advisable as they interfere with a lawyer’s objectivity and affect a client’s expectations. A divorce lawyer and a client should never have a sexual relationship during the case.
COMMUNICATION BETWEEN LAWYER AND CLIENT
A. The Importance Of Communication
The lawyer client relationship works best when the two of you are able to communicate — not only about the facts of your case, but about your working relationship.
Information should flow both ways between you and your lawyer. Just as your lawyer should satisfy your need for information, you should provide your lawyer with all information that your lawyer requests. Advice based on incorrect or incomplete facts may be worse than no advice at all.
If you do not understand the advice you are given, or find it hard to accept, tell your lawyer. If, for example, you do not understand why your lawyer is recommending that you accept or reject a particular settlement proposal, you should ask why the recommendation is being made. Only by giving your lawyer the opportunity to explain things will you know whether there is a real problem to be addressed.
B. Financial Information
Your lawyer will ask you for financial information, and perhaps ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Financial information includes income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. Your lawyer may also want to see papers such as income tax returns, paycheck stubs, statements of savings and investments, employee benefit statements, and papers regarding your debts. Your cooperation in getting this information to your lawyer, although time consuming, is essential to the proper preparation of your case.
C. Marital History
Your lawyer may also ask you to prepare a history of your marriage which includes personal as well as financial information. Where the custody of your children is in dispute, more than financial information will certainly be necessary. In addition to a history, some lawyers ask their clients to keep a diary of events related to the divorce. Complete candor, including any negative facts about yourself, is crucial.
D. Keeping in Touch
Your lawyer will be communicating with you. There may be periods of inactivity, but when something important happens, your lawyer will want to let you know. If you move, or are planning to be away, be sure your lawyer knows where you are.
E. Calling Your Lawyer and Returning Calls
Lawyers work on more than one case at a time and the practice of matrimonial law requires lawyers to spend time in court, at depositions, in conference, and on the telephone. So you should not expect your lawyer always to be available immediately when you call. You should, however, expect that your lawyer, or a staff member, will respond to your telephone calls promptly. If an emergency arises, tell the person who answers the telephone that it is an emergency and explain the situation. No matter how upset you are, be courteous to your lawyer’s staff.
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.
Your lawyer will appreciate your calling during regular business hours. But most lawyers will make every effort to be available when needed for a real emergency.
F. Being Available
You and your lawyer will have a hard time communicating if you are not available to each other. Before hiring any lawyer you should consider whether your schedules are compatible. If you can’t meet with your lawyer during normal business hours, make that clear before you hire the lawyer. Remember that your lawyer is a human being, entitled to free time. If you expect your lawyer to be available evenings or weekends, say so in advance so that the lawyer can decide whether to take your case under those conditions.
When you receive correspondence from your lawyer, read it and respond. Delay in responding to correspondence could be harmful to your case.
H. Your Involvement In Other Legal Proceedings
If at any time during your divorce, you are involved with any other legal proceeding, such as criminal, traffic, juvenile, probate, tax, bankruptcy or a civil lawsuit, let your lawyer know as soon as possible. It may affect your divorce.