Be prepared, organized and calm
Your lawyer is hoping you’ll be the ideal client: calm, businesslike, competent, and well prepared. “Ideal clients can control their emotions, are organized, are willing to work together with me to attain their goals, and are willing to listen to my advice — even if they don’t follow it all the time,” says Alton Abramowitz, past president of the AAML (NY) and head of the matrimonial practice at Cooperman, Levitt, Winikoff, Lester & Newman.
Your lawyer is hoping you’ll be the ideal client.
Your lawyer will expect to be paid on time and in full. If your financial situation is bad and getting worse, talk to your attorney immediately; he or she may be able to work out some kind of payment plan that works for you. If you’re broke because your ex cleaned out the bank account (or did something else equally irresponsible), you should tell your attorney about it right away. He or she can file motions asking the court to grant temporary orders for items such as child or spousal support, child custody, control of assets, payment of your attorney’s fees, etc. Temporary orders are meant to ensure that certain things do or don’t happen; if you suspect your divorce might get nasty, ask your lawyer about filing orders to protect you and/or your kids — financially and physically.
If you haven’t paid your bill because you think it’s unfair, speak to your lawyer about it. “If there is a mistake on the bill, the lawyer will usually be quick to correct it,” says Lee Goodman, a professional mediator and arbitrator in Northbrook , IL . If you aren’t satisfied after talking to your lawyer, Goodman suggests asking the judge in your case to review the bill. Another possible avenue is your local bar association; find out if they offer mediation or arbitration programs to settle fee disputes.
Beverly Pekala is a Chicago-based attorney and the author of Don’t Settle for Less: A Woman’s Guide to Getting a Fair Divorce and Custody Settlement (Doubleday). In her book, she lists five golden rules for being a good client. Here’s a synopsis:
- Rule 1: Everything is not an emergency; your lawyer is not on call 24 hours a day.
- Rule 2: Your lawyer is not a psychologist.
- Rule 3: Communicate honestly with your lawyer.
- Rule 4: This is not L.A. Law — don’t expect your lawyer to do something just because you saw it on TV.
- Rule 5: Your lawyer didn’t create and can’t change the system.
According to Pekala, “Failure to follow these rules may result in your lawyer ‘firing’ you. Just as you can discharge your lawyer, your attorney can choose to stop representing you and withdraw from your case. This usually happens if you fail to communicate with your lawyer or consistently fail to follow her advice. It may also occur if you cannot or will not pay your bill.”