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How to Work with Your Attorney

Copyright 1997 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.



Your relationship with your attorney is very important because you have to trust this individual with helping you to make decisions that may affect you for many years to come. For this reason, you must feel comfortable and trust your attorney's ability to represent you. Often times, parents are disappointed with his or her attorney because they have unrealistic expectations about what their attorney can and should do for them. After all, for most parents, having an attorney is a new experience. They only know what they see on TV or in the media. You may not know what to expect or how to relate to your attorney. To avoid feeling disappointed with your attorney, it may be helpful if you are realistic about what to expect from your attorney. Also, kept in mind that attorneys have different styles and personalities just like everyone else. Take time to listen and get to know your attorney just like you would with anyone else.

Providing Emotional Support Is Not Your Attorney's Job:

Parents frequently complain about their attorney not returning phone calls. Often an attorney perceives phone calls from their client as a nuisance unless they have new information to give them or they are waiting for their client to return their call. Clients often turn to their attorney for emotional support. Most attorneys do not see themselves in the role of a counselor and to not feel qualified or comfortable in a supportive role. When a client calls to get a status report, most of the time your attorney will have nothing new to say. Consequently, the attorney may avoid taking your call.

Phone calls:

I can empathize with how attorneys feel when they receive an unsolicited phone call from a parent. Parents frequently call with no new information. Frequently, they may just want to talk and feel reassured that their case is not forgotten. These calls are very time consuming when there is a busy schedule. In my own work, I find it helpful to have the case in front of me so I can review my notes before talking to the parent. This allows me to be better prepared to answer questions. A spontaneous call from a client throws me off balance. To keep this from happening, I have my secretary screen my calls and take a message so I can return the call later. I explain this practice to my clients so they will understand and not feel offended.

Timing:

You are not unusual if you believe that your case is unique and the most important in the world; but remember, most cases are ordinary and not unique and require no special attention. Your attorney has many cases and will usually ignore your case after your initial consultations until the hearing is scheduled and the date is approaching. This may offend you but good attorneys is busy and has to prioritize their time.

Getting to court can take a long time, especially if you require a full hearing because of a contested divorce or custody case. Some court's schedule can be backed up for up to a year. To find out how long you can expect to wait to get to court, ask your attorney. You must be patient.

Keeping your feelings in check:

It is not uncommon for a parent to make his or her case a personal crusade. This is most noticeable when I see a parent carry a large briefcase of files and documents. You may make frequent calls to your attorney with new or additional information about your case. Though your voice is filled with excitement and you expect your attorney to share your enthusiasm, you may find your attorney busy and not available. Feeling disappointed, you may keep calling until you get through. When you finally reach your attorney and share your information, you may be disappointed by your attorney's lack of excitement and failure to praise your labor. Your disappointment is understandable. However, realize that your attorney cares about your case but won't necessarily share your passion. Many crusading parents tend to overkill on the amount and relevance of the information they give their attorney.

When you go to court and hear what you think are lies or embarrassing comments, it is important for you to maintain control of your feelings. It doesn't look good for you or your attorney if you have an emotional outburst. Plus, you may say something that could hurt your case. Instead, pass a note to your attorney or wait for the break to talk. Before the hearing, you and your attorney can arrange how the two of you are going to communicate during the hearing. Passing notes usually works well.

Many parents are surprised when they go to court for a hearing and find themselves sitting for hours while the attorneys and judge are talking in chambers (judge's office). This is stressful and boring. What is happening is the judge is trying to encourage the attorneys and parents to come to some kind of an agreement without a full hearing. If an agreement can be reached, this is usually to your advantage because you avoid the emotional stress of the hearing and it is less expensive.

If you think you need more support that what your attorney can offer, consider getting counseling or joining a support group. Your attorney may be empathetic but cannot be your counselor.

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