You have probably heard the saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. But guess what? Your lawyer doesn’t want to have a fool for a client either, even if it is a paying one. This is especially true of your divorce lawyer, who has a lot of work to do to get the settlement that will fit you and your family best while making sure you and your children (if you have any) come out of the process strong and ready for a happy, productive, and sound future.
For your divorce lawyer to make these objectives reality, they need you to do your part, which is to be a strong divorce client. How? As a Seattle lawyer who heads a law firm devoted to divorce and family law and estate planning, I have a few ideas.
1. Set realistic expectations.
Your divorce lawyer is a lawyer, not a miracle worker. So if you come to them with an unrealistic set of expectations, for instance, expecting to walk away with the farm, so to speak, in your divorce, you may be in for a rude awakening. Not only is this unrealistic, but it also isn’t healthy or helpful for healing and moving forward.
If you have found yourself an honest divorce lawyer, they will tell you early on, and any time during the divorce process, that you are not being realistic about your options. A competent, responsible divorce lawyer will also tell you that one person doesn’t win a negotiation.
You and your ex can both walk away winners, where each of you gets some of the things you want. This is what it means to be realistic about your divorce. Or any negotiation in life, for that matter.
2. Be reasonable.
Being reasonable is very much related to setting realistic expectations. To be reasonable means you have an open mind about your divorce. Often, divorce clients go into the divorce process blind, either because the breakup of their marriage blindsided them or because they haven’t gone through a divorce before.
A reasonable divorce client, no matter how smart, educated, or knowledgeable they are in other aspects of their life, needs to come to terms with the idea that they may not know as much as they think they do about divorce. It is likely the reason why they hired a divorce lawyer in the first place.
What clients do know is their life and what they want to see in it. Sometimes, as I discussed above, that laundry list of wants isn’t entirely realistic. Or realistic at all. But when your lawyer tells you that it isn’t, it is important to be able to adjust your expectations from there and, you guessed it, be reasonable about it. This brings me to my next point.
3. Treat your legal team with respect.
In other words, don’t shoot the messenger. Keep in mind that your divorce lawyer is there to protect your interests and your children’s because protecting theirs is the same as protecting yours. If you are a parent, one of your interests should be the well-being of your family.
You may not always like what your divorce lawyer says or agree with them. However, everyone, including your divorce lawyer, is deserving of your respect. The same goes for the rest of the legal team — paralegals, administrative assistants, receptionists, anyone in the office. This holds even if you are having the worst day ever.
Part of your lawyer’s job is to educate you about the decisions you are making so you have a clear understanding of the impact of your choices. It is also okay to ask for updates along the way. You have likely never gone through this process before and may not fully know what to expect, unlike your lawyer who has gone through dozens if not hundreds of cases and may not be aware you are feeling lost.
Your legal team is there to help you. So treat them like it. Just as you can fire your divorce lawyer, your divorce lawyer can fire you. If you aren’t treating them with respect, it will be with good reason.
4. Respond in a timely manner to requests from your lawyer.
The divorce process is filled with deadlines — internal deadlines and those from the court. Legal research, due diligence, and the drafting of documents take a long time. It takes even longer when your lawyer and their team are held up because they are waiting for a response from you.
To keep your case moving along in a regular manner, and, accordingly, to get the best possible results from your representation, respond in a timely manner to requests from your lawyer and those who work with them. And, if due to no fault of your own, or unrealistic expectations from your lawyer about how quickly you can respond, communicate that to them as soon as possible. Speaking of which…
5. Keep your lawyer up to date.
Learn something? Say something. To your lawyer. Even if you don’t think the information you obtained is relevant or important, your divorce lawyer may have other ideas about that.
Unless they are the ones with the surprise, divorce lawyers don’t like surprises. Surprises mean they won’t necessarily be prepared or as best prepared as they could be.
Changes, even small ones, can alter the course of your case and potential outcomes. For this reason, your lawyer needs to be on your speed dial. Or email. But not about everything.
6. Find emotional support elsewhere.
If you are looking for a person to vent to or a shoulder to cry on, go elsewhere. Your lawyer shouldn’t be it. Not only will you distract them from their job, which is to represent you, but you will also wind up exacerbating your legal bills. Every time you talk to your lawyer, or they read or have to respond to a text or email from you, the clock is running. Not to mention, there are other people who will be better suited to meet your emotional needs.
As part of your divorce dream team, along with your divorce lawyer, you should consider hiring a mental health professional. This can be one person or a few people. A psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker are among just a few of the mental health experts you can turn to for help. Your support system can also include trusted family, friends, and clergy. Regardless of who you choose, your divorce lawyer shouldn’t be top of mind for this particular job.
7. Follow your lawyer’s advice.
As for your lawyer’s true function, which is to provide you with sound advice and legal guidance about your divorce and life after, your lawyer should be your go-to. So you need to have confidence in them and trust. If you don’t, then you need to look for someone else.
Not every lawyer is the right fit. And sometimes it is wise to make a change, especially if you are not confident in the advice they are giving. However, if you know you are receiving good advice because you have confidence in your lawyer’s reputation and know they are skilled and passionate about what they do, then, by all means, listen to them. Don’t make their job more difficult and compromise their representation of you by not following directions.
8. Don’t start fires your lawyer will need to put out.
One of the quickest ways to interfere with, even compromise your case, is to start trouble your lawyer will need to manage after the fact. What do I mean by this? The first thing that comes to my mind is having confrontations with your ex. This can be anything from an exchange of words to assault and battery and include everything in between, none of it good.
Stay out of trouble. Stay away from your ex if you find it impossible to get along and co-parent for the sake of your children. Instead, let your lawyer do the communicating for you until you can learn to communicate with your ex independent of your lawyer in such a way that you go into and leave the communication amicable. Again, your lawyer doesn’t like surprises, especially phone calls from you or others that there is a “mess” they need to clean up.
9. Pay your legal bills on time.
It takes a lot of resources to run a case from start to finish, right down to the website host your lawyer must pay for to email you. Everything has a cost to it, not just your lawyer’s time, which, by the way, they should be compensated for, too.
Paying your lawyer at regular intervals as arranged and on time ensures that there won’t be a disruption in your case. Starting and stopping will end up costing you more in the long run as your lawyer has to scramble to get back up to speed. The goal is to have your case completed quickly yet competently.
The best way to ensure this outcome is to take all of the suggestions I have just made, including this one. Serving you, helping you, our clients, is our job. And it is a job we love because we get to see all of our hard work help people live their fullest and best lives. Not in spite of their divorce. But as a result of it.
If you are at any stage of the divorce process, we can help. Call us today.