Lawyers are no different than any other professional. Each person will have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some attorneys are more client-oriented and will guide you through the process hand-in-hand, while others prefer to simply do the work for your case attempting to secure the best possible outcome but through less individual guidance. The best attorneys are typically are in sync with the client’s wishes on how to approach the case. They acknowledge their client’s goals (while also providing a steady hand and protecting the client from their worst impulses). The right attorney makes the process easier and less stressful. Conversely, a bad attorney-client match may cause additional stress or frustrations.
Signs that it is not working
Mistakes can happen, but there are red flags that can cause a client to reevaluate their legal representation:
- Not available: A busy lawyer can mean that he or she is good at the job, but they should typically return messages in a timely fashion. Clients may think things through and need to make changes to the stated goals, which can be hard to convey if an attorney is never available for a consultation. A skilled attorney must make himself or herself available to you promptly. Do not trade phone calls. Ask the attorney’s staff to schedule a telephone or Zoom appointment for you at the earliest possible date. When selecting an attorney, ask about how he or she prefers you to communicate.
- Not an advocate: We generally do not want friends (or spouses) who are indifferent to our needs or acts dismissively. The same may be true of your attorney It is important that you select an attorney who you believe can effectively advocate for your wishes but also be honest with you when your goals may not be reasonable. While the attorney knows the law, the client must live with the divorce or custody battle outcome. The best relationships function in tandem and there is a sense of teamwork.
- Unethical: It is a red flag if your attorney suggests lying to a judge or during the mediation process. This should be a deal-breaker as this exposes you to significant risk. Also, note how they treat other clients, Opposing Counsel, and even the Opposing Party.
- Missed deadlines: Frequently, you retain an attorney because you feel overwhelmed by the process and unfamiliar with the required steps and the crucial deadlines in a case. Therefore, if an attorney is missing deadlines or waiting until the last minute to discuss important case aspects to “meet the deadline” that is cause for concern. Missing deadlines can cause delays to your case or even result in the entry of a default judgment. This could be because your attorney is stretched too thin and should not have taken the case. It is important that this be discussed with your attorney should you feel deadlines are missed or important tasks are being completed last minute at this may be a sign they are not the right fit for you.
- Don’t remember details: It can be disheartening if your attorney cannot recall your backstory or what was discussed in previous meetings. While it is reasonable that your attorney may need to be reminded of some nuances from time to time, they should easily be able to recall general information as to your case, your case status, and needed steps for resolution of your case.
- Unsuited for the job at hand: Some attorneys are successful because they go to battle in court, but not every dispute requires litigation and confrontation. It is important you select an attorney who views the court process similarly to you. This will help you obtain your goals as well as give you better control of the total cost of the process. For example, an attorney with a reputation for calmly solving problems may be better suited for you than an attorney whose instinct is to take every issue to court.
You should discuss your concerns with your attorney
Clients are entirely within their rights to voice concerns or frustrations regarding their treatment by the attorney and staff. Lawyers cannot control other attorneys or judges’ actions and thoughts, but they can control themselves and their process. Your attorney should always act in you, their client’s, best interests. If you feel that is not happening, having a discussion with your attorney is appropriate. It may be a bigger issue, or it may simply be that you are not the right fit. If you have a sense that this is the case, a change of attorney is better accomplished early in your case, rather than as you get closer to the trial date.