When establishing any new relationship, be it personal or professional, it’s important early on to set reasonable expectations. And even though lawyering styles may vary, a good family lawyer should have certain traits and habits. I’ll highlight my top 5 here:
- An Appropriate Communication Policy. This is tough to establish in the age of instant communication, when everyone always has their mobile devices at the ready. How much or often to communicate with clients is a thin tightrope that we walk, especially when we have clients who expect us to be available to speak whenever they need us. Although I personally have a policy of returning client emails and phone calls within 24 hours, that may not be possible for others. A couple of days might be okay; a lawyer who goes weeks without returning your emails or phone calls is not a good lawyer. Whatever the policy is, make sure you as the client are comfortable with it, and can abide by it.
- Honesty. Although as a profession we often get a bad rap, I don’t know many attorneys who outright lie. It’s one thing to go into mediation or the courtroom with a sense of bravado, and it’s another to feel like your attorney isn’t telling you the truth. It’s our job to extract the pertinent facts from your situation, apply the law, and give you reasonable advice. In the law, there are never any sure bets, so if you ever meet a lawyer who guarantees that he/she will win your case for you, be very wary.
- Time for You. Not all lawyers will agree with me on this one. I personally think that if you don’t have the time for the case, don’t take it. That means that if my client calls me with questions, I know I have time (maybe not immediately, but within my 24-hour time frame) to call them back. Family law is a tough field to be in, full of challenging and heartbreaking situations, lots of hard questions with no real answers, and no winners. My clients are often emotional and fearful of their unknown future, and they look to me for guidance. If I’m not there for them, then I’m not doing my job.
- Competency. If you’re getting divorced, don’t ask the family friend down the street who has a law degree, but has only ever represented HOAs, to help. He/she may be willing to help you out, but do they have the skill and knowledge to handle your case appropriately? Do they know the family court facilitators? Do they know how to guide you in completing your Sworn Financial Statement, or how to negotiate for (or around) maintenance? Divorce is such a significant life event, one that potentially has implications for the rest of your life, especially your children’s lives, so why wouldn’t you want to hire an expert to make sure you come out of it in the best possible position?
- A Team Approach. Always always always remember that your lawyer works for you – not the other way around. You’ve hired them to provide a service, and they should guide you in a way that makes sense with your life. Together, you’re a team, and your lawyer should keep you involved in the decision making process the whole way. If you don’t feel comfortable sitting down to talk out the nitty-gritty strategy with your lawyer, then perhaps it’s not a good fit. Don’t be offended if your lawyer offers you a suggestion that you don’t immediately like. You’ve hired us to know of, and think of, things you can’t/won’t/don’t know.
Again, always remember that YOU are the client and it’s YOUR life. You get to pick and choose who you turn to for guidance, so make sure it’s a good choice.