The relationship between a lawyer and client is critical to effective representation. It should be built on mutual trust and respect, which depends in large part on effective communications. And it helps if you can actually connect on a personal level. All of this is even more compelling when the matter involves divorce, which is obviously a very personal matter. But how exactly should that relationship work?
The trust and respect between lawyer and client must be mutual.
A client should be completely forthcoming with his lawyer with all the facts, good and bad. A lawyer cannot prepare for or deal with facts of which she is unaware. It’s better to learn the ugly facts ahead of time instead of at trial or deposition. And a client cannot assume that the bad facts aren’t known or discoverable. Even if they aren’t known now, 99% of the time they come out eventually. So, the lawyer should know up front. And the lawyer must be brutally honest with her client. It does no good to tell a client what they want to hear. If the facts are bad from a legal perspective, the client should know as soon as possible.
Lawyers and clients should make sure that they communicate effectively.
From a client’s perspective, that means knowing what is happening and what to expect. It doesn’t mean that the communication should be constant. Again, if the relationship is built on trust, a client should be able to trust the lawyer to communicate with the client when necessary. It’s good for the lawyer and client to discuss how best to communicate with each other at the outset of the relationship. Email? Text? Phone calls? Though every development is important, many times clients reach out to their lawyer too much, which just cost them more. A good lawyer will let a client know what types of “developments” can wait in order to be mindful of a client’s bill.
The rules which govern the attorney-client relationship are clear – the client should make all substantive decisions, such as on settlement. However, that does not mean that the client should make all decisions regarding the representation.
A lawyer is not serving her client well if she merely does whatever the client wants to do strategically. Again, effective communication means that the lawyer fully informs the client of the advantages and disadvantages of different options, strategies, or offers, so that the client, if appropriate, can make an informed decision on a course of action or settlement. But the lawyer must draw the line where the client wants to undertake some action which is not in the client’s best interest. The client must trust the lawyer’s professional judgment.
Bottomline? The client is in the driver’s seat but not alone. A healthy divorce attorney client relationship is more like flying an airplane than driving a car – each pilot shares the controls, deferring to the other when appropriate but working together always. This is our philosophy and how we do business at Watson McKinney.