It is all too often that family law clients errantly believe that they should only communicate with their attorneys when called upon. While it is true that many counselors are busy, we should not be too busy to return your call or email or to set aside time to meet with you when you need it. I am not suggesting that I am available at my clients’ whim nor that any attorney should always be. However, it is important that you feel that your attorney is accessible.
Please allow me to share several suggestions so that you can have more effective communication with your attorney. Use e-mail. Don’t abuse e-mail, but use it wisely. Since most attorneys bill you incrementally for their time, use their time effectively. If you can build up a few questions at a time to ask, that is very helpful. By asking those questions in writing, you can (hopefully) get clear written answers. You can then save the email for easy future reference.
If your family law matter is taxing you emotionally, invest in psychological counseling. If you can reduce the time you spend sharing your emotional issues with your attorney and can obtain effective mental health counseling you will save a lot of time and money. There are very few family law dilemmas that are “simple” to deal with. While at the beginning of a relationship with an attorney it may be essential to share exhaustive background information, it is rarely necessary to communicate your emotional challenges in depth with your attorney. It is not that we don’t care. For me, at least, I am typically attempting to focus on the legal result you are seeking. There are many times that the more a client shares with me his/her emotional strife, the less time I have to move forward with preparing for a hearing, preparing necessary paperwork or negotiating with opposing counsel in order to settle your issues.
Thirdly, trust your attorney or choose someone else whom you can trust. It has taken me almost 20 years to have the knowledge and experience with the law that I have. Let your attorney handle the legal end of your case. I am not suggesting that you do not guide your attorney nor that you blindly trust your attorney. Rather, consider your experience in the law and how it relates to the firm you have chosen. As attorneys, we can give you recommendations for you to take in order to obtain the best possible result. It is completely your decision whether you follow those recommendations. Nevertheless, your attorney is responsible for dealing with every legal obstacle and each legal issue posed in your matter and should be allowed to govern the legal handling of your file (i.e.-language put in a Motion to Compel Production; what exhibits should be prepared for trial; etc.). If you do not feel you can trust your attorney, choose another attorney.
Fourthly, recognize that litigation (as opposed to settlement) is costly. If you and your ex are fighting over who gets the newer car and whether pick-up of your children should be at his place or your mother’s, please be aware that your dispute will involve a fair amount of time on the part of your attorney and the parting of money from your wallet or purse. If you are in a custody battle, make sure you have the financial wherewithal to spend over $10,000 and possibly a lot more, depending upon your exact issues. Sometimes you have no choice but to litigate, but if you are realistic about your financial expenses, it will help you greatly.
Don’t wait to communicate with your attorney. If you think something should have been done by now, but you are not sure, call. If your attorney said she would get back with you by Friday at noon, don’t call her the following Friday. If you have a Mediation approaching but there is no pre-Mediation conference scheduled, call to get one on the books. Don’t forget to use e-mail, too. There are days we are in trial and days we are preparing for trial. Please keep in mind that we may not be able to respond to you as quickly as you would like. Yet, don’t wait for a few days for that return call. Any attorney should be able to respond to you within 48 business hours 99% of the time and within 24 business hours about 50-75% of the time, even if it is having a staffer set up a telephone conference for you both.
Lastly, make sure your attorney provides written status reports every 30 to 60 days depending upon your circumstances. Those reports will clarify for you what has been done, what is planned and what their recommendations are. These status reports differ from a normal e-mail communication or a quick phone call as they are more exhaustive and will provide greater depth to your understanding of the legal bills you are receiving.
In summary, there is so much you can do in order to hold your attorney accountable and make sure that you are using your financial investment wisely. Look for a counselor if you need one. Seek a clear written understanding of the status of your case. Speak up. My favorite clients are open and honest with me and have no problem pointing out when they think I have made an error. We all make errors and many of us appreciate the opportunity to correct them. I hope you find this helpful. Please let me know your thoughts about this article by e-mailing me at Scottbrook@scottjbrookpa.com.
Scott J. Brook, Esquire
Scott J. Brook, P.A.
1401 N. University Dr.
Coral Springs, FL 33071