When you are a paying client, it’s easy to get into the mindset that because you are paying for a service, your lawyer (or doctor or hairstylist) should be the one to magically make everything perfect for you. It’s true that when you work with a professional, you are paying for a service, which they should absolutely deliver (After all you asked for a shag, not a bob). But it’s also true that treating your lawyer like a partner is sure to garner the best results.
The ideal client has a few characteristics and behaviors that not only produce better results, but often help keep costs down by saving the attorney time. To be a good client:
- Communicate well — In your first consultation with a lawyer, you will discuss why you are seeking legal services. You should also have clear goals, so that the attorney understands your priorities. If your goals are unrealistic, this is the time to discuss your legal options and possible outcomes. It is also an opportunity to be open and honest, so that you can start to build a meaningful relationship of trust and respect, which is critical to reaching a successful outcome.
- Do your homework — If your lawyer asks you to submit bank account information and a list of assets, don’t drop off a pile of receipts and a couple of random statements. Do the legwork to get information you don’t have on hand, organize it well and add a cover sheet listing everything you submitted. Messy paperwork slows your lawyer’s work down, which can slow your case down and — if you are paying by the hour — will cost you in terms of higher attorney fees.
- Be Accessible — Between work and family (or recovery, in the case of a personal injury), it can be challenging to find time to manage your case. But the more responsive you can be to your lawyer, the better. Answer calls, make time for meetings, and complete tasks on time.
- Have an opinion — Lawyers are neither all-knowing nor infallible. Although you don’t want to clog your lawyer’s inbox with constant questions and comments, when you do have a meeting or a call, be ready with follow up questions and any pertinent details that you haven’t discussed in a while. If you have developed a trusting relationship with your lawyer, you probably know they are on top of key issues. You don’t want to nag or obsessively retread the same territory, but you also don’t want to assume that as a professional they won’t benefit from your input.
- Keep an open mind about what “winning” means — Clients who have an all-or-nothing mindset are bound to feel dissatisfied with their results. Let’s say you are going through a divorce and your ex is insisting on taking your favorite pots and pans, knowing you love them. You know your spouse doesn’t cook, but what you really care about is staying in the house — a much bigger “get.” In any type of case — civil, criminal, business, personal injury — sometimes it’s better to compromise to get something you value, even if it feels like the other side is getting a win they don’t deserve.
Like being a good patient, being a good client means holding up your end of the bargain by communicating clearly and honestly (lawyers hate surprises), being organized and responsive, speaking up, and being open to compromise. You did your research to find the right attorney for you. Now it’s time to get to work so that, together, you can achieve the best results possible.