Forming a productive and understanding attorney-client relationship may be the best thing you can do to further your legal goals, but finding an attorney who will fiercely advocate for your rights and fit within your budget is no small task! It can difficult to understand how to navigate the legal system, including the attorney-client relationship. So, once you’ve found the right attorney to fit your needs, how can you best make use of your time with that attorney?
We understand how confusing it can be to be thrown into a legal battle. We’re here to help! Talkov Law’s attorneys have compiled this list of tips to effectively working with an attorney so you can make the most out of your time with your attorney.
10 Tips to Working with an Attorney
#1 – Listen to your attorney
The single most important piece of advice we can give our clients is to listen to your attorney! In addition to devoting their lives to the practice of law, every attorney in California must have spent a minimum of three years in a Juris Doctor program and must have passed the grueling two day California Bar exam. While it may be tempting to take the advice of a well-meaning friend or family member, remember that your attorney is the one with the legal education and his or her suggestions are in your best interests. Whether the issue relates to settling a real estate dispute, or any other matters, hiring an attorney just to shrug off their advice is counterintuitive, self-destructive, and needlessly expensive.
In other words, attorneys have the extensive legal knowledge required to practice law in California. Their advice is worth listening to.
#2 – Seek counseling
Just like you wouldn’t hire a psychologist to give you legal advice, you didn’t hire an attorney to give you psychological advice. While attorneys are compassionate of their client’s predicaments, an attorney’s expertise ends with their legal advice. Feelings of anger, betrayal, resentment, sadness, etc. are, unfortunately, relatively common during heated legal disputes. We completely understand that legal issues can bring out complicated emotions, but attorneys are not the best sounding board for these issues. Attending to your mental health by speaking with a qualified psychological counselor is extremely important when going through an emotional legal dispute. This can be particularly important for family law and custody disputes.
Before calling your attorney with an issue, ask yourself the following questions: Is this a legal issue? Does my attorney absolutely need to know this information? Can I afford to pay my attorney for this time? If your answer to these questions is “no,” speak with a close friend, family member, or mental health professional instead of calling your attorney. This will help keep your bill within your price range by reducing the number of hours spent speaking with an attorney about issues he or she cannot fix.
#3 – Understand the retainer and hourly billing process
At Talkov Law, like many other law firms, our attorneys require an initial retainer before beginning any work on a case. A retainer is a sum of money paid in full to secure attorney services. Depending on the complexity of the case, the retainer amount can vary drastically. The full retainer amount will then be transferred into what is known as a trust account. Attorneys cannot access money in a trust account until they have completed the work.
Generally, the matters at Talkov Law bill on an hourly basis. This means that attorneys must work for the money in that account by billing their work hourly to our client management system. Once the attorney processes the bill and applies the trust, each bill is sent to the client. If you spot any errors or have any questions, this is your chance to ask your attorney.
If the funds in the trust account are depleted before your case is resolved, the attorney will continue to bill you hourly, generally sending an invoice each month showing the time that billed on the file. On the other hand, if there are remaining funds in the trust account after your case is resolved, the remaining funds will be transferred back to you.
Note: Opposing sides almost always pay their own attorney’s fees in the US, regardless of who wins the case. Even if you are eligible to recover attorney’s fees in a partition or other matter from your opponent, a retainer in full is required before litigating.
#4 – Plan out your questions
When preparing for a consultation or scheduled meeting with your attorney, develop a list of questions and concerns as this can be incredibly beneficial for both yourself and the attorney. This gives you time to contemplate why you want to hire an attorney and what your ultimate goals are by pursuing legal action. Since attorneys typically charge by the hour, preparing beforehand can save you both time and money.
For a list of specific questions, it may be beneficial to email your attorney instead of calling. Email is both the easiest and least expensive form of communication with your attorney. An email gives the attorney time to provide a well-thought out response to each of your questions that may not be possible if you catch your attorney off guard on the phone.
#5 – Have relevant documents ready for a consultation
Just as it saves time and money to have concerns written out beforehand, it also helps to have relevant documents on hand for your attorney to review. An attorney needs as many relevant facts as possible to give a proper evaluation of your case. While your summary of the case is important, lawyers are rightfully expected to review original documents to ensure they reach their own, independent conclusions. This is only possible by allowing the attorney to review important documents.
To further expedite the process, ensure that these documents have been scanned and organized digitally. For example, sending an attorney 30 screenshots that are unnamed and undated creates an enormous amount of work for an attorney, which translates into attorney or law firm staff time billed to you. Taking the time to organize these files helps both you and the attorney understand your situation better and saves you money.
#6 – Have a goal in mind
Many times, clients will enter a consultation without having a clear idea of what they want to accomplish. They may be feeling vengeful, angry, or that someone did something “unfair” to them. These feelings are unfortunately not helpful in producing a legal remedy. Attorneys cannot pursue legal action based on emotion alone but rather need actionable judicial relief. Take some time to really think about what it is you are trying to accomplish in the legal system and if/how an attorney will help you achieve this.
Many sophisticated clients view attorneys as a tool to accomplish a goal by use of legal system, whether that means asserting a claim for breach of contract or pursuing a partition action under California law to end a co-ownership relationship. As another example, instead of telling your family law attorney that your ex is a raging alcoholic who doesn’t care about your children, try explaining that you would like to have full legal and physical custody of your children. This gives the attorney a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Be prepared to provide your attorney with any documentation they request to strengthen your argument.
#7 – Be concise and precise
Concentrate on the relevant facts of your case. Attorneys need as much pertinent information as possible, but going on long-winded rants to your attorney about how unfairly you’ve been treated will not change the facts. This will only result in a huge legal bill. Attorneys understand that the legal process can feel polarizing and downright unfair at times, but staying focused on the facts, the law, and moving forward are the only ways to resolve legal issues.
#8 – Manage your expectations
As tempting as it may be to feel like an attorney can fix any and all of your problems, this just isn’t true! An attorney can’t wave a magic wand and make all your problems disappear. Not only must attorneys follow the law, but they must also go by the facts in the case. An honest attorney will give you a realistic breakdown of your chances of succeeding (or not). This may be a hard pill to swallow and you may not like everything the attorney has to say. Remember that you hired an attorney to give you an honest, realistic opinion of your legal situation and getting everything you want just may not be possible for a reasonable fee.
#9 – Organize your documents to advance your case
Attorneys cannot produce documents out of thin air. If you don’t have a document, chances are the attorney isn’t going to be able to obtain it either. Even if the attorney can access the documents online, you would still be paying the attorney for his or her time to find the documents as well as any costs associated with downloading and organizing the documents. It is drastically more cost effective to organize your documents yourself, including by giving them descriptive names, perhaps with the date of the document, rather than pay an attorney to hunt them down. You need to provide the attorney with high quality, relevant documents in order to make the best use of your time with the attorney.
For example, we may get a call from someone with questions about a will contest of a deceased loved one. We’d love to help, but there’s not much we can do if that person doesn’t have the contested will and there is no record of the will in probate court.
#10 – Communication
An attorney is handing a very important part of your life. For that reason, it is important for your attorney to be available to return any calls or emails within a short period of time. Conversely, it is important for a client to respond to calls and emails promptly. Otherwise, the attorney may be required to look for additional sources for a document they couldn’t find, try to investigate other, more expensive avenues to answer the same question, or otherwise. Our attorneys are generally available during work hours to assist your needs, and your availability during that time or ability to respond within a day or so is important to advancing your case. If you have schedule limitations, be sure to let your attorney know in advance.
The bottom line is that the clients of Talkov Law have left us rave reviews for the outstanding outcomes that we have been able to achieve. These outcomes are dependent upon creating a healthy and productive attorney-client relationship using the tips outlined above.