Tips on working with your lawyer

Recently, I reread an article by an attorney titled, “Fifty Things I Wish I Would Have Learned in Law School.” As I read it, I remembered one of my client’s advice to his employees about working with lawyers. To the best of my memory, here are his ideas on what clients should know; the explanations are mine.

1. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Whether it’s a contract that needs to be drafted, an idea patented, a dispute resolved, it usually seems relatively clear-cut. But remember, if it involves the law, it involves at least one other person with different perspectives, desires, needs. Even if everyone agrees on the goal at the outset, the details complicate the simplest matters.

2. Lawyers are objective advocates. Well, we are supposed to be, anyway. Even though clients are emotionally involved in the situation, our job is to remain objective and not only give the client our objective evaluation and advice but also work professionally and pleasantly with the other attorneys or the other parties involved. Sometimes our advice may not be what the client wants to hear, but we need to give it and hope the client listens. But, in the final analysis it is the client’s decision.

3. Try to let go. While the particular matter is the most important thing in the world to the client, the attorney has others to whom he or she is responsible. So, if you don’t get your call returned immediately, try not to worry. This is exactly the opposite of what I told my students when I taught in law school – I told them, and stand by it – return client’s calls immediately! But, from the client’s perspective, let the lawyer take over as much of the problem as possible. Let go and let the lawyer do the job.

4. Every lawyer doesn’t know everything about the law. Sometimes we have to research the point; sometimes it is a field (like family law, for me) that we have no clue about. So, don’t always expect an instant answer. Sometimes, “we’ll have to find someone else to help you with that,” is the best advice a lawyer can give.

5. Filtering is good for water; not for law. The lawyer knows the law and what is needed. When clients, in giving information to lawyers, try to figure out what is important and what is not, they typically filter out something that is very important. How many times have I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that before, that’s a great fact for us!” And, each time, the response is, “I didn’t think it was important.” Oddly, most clients tell all the facts that are bad for them, but often filter out the ones that are good.

6. Courts and government agencies set their own schedules. As much as I would like to be able to get a court or a government agency to decide something for my client, I can’t. They will take their time and decide when they want to. So, “No,” is the answer to the question, “We filed that document months ago, can’t you make them go any faster?” Asking them will either slow them down while they answer or annoy them – and no one wants someone with their future in their hands annoyed.

7. Lawyers have overhead. Some clients think that the hourly rate a lawyer charges is his or her take-home pay. But, just like everyone else, we have overhead – rent, insurance, employee salaries, books, office equipment. It can be an expensive business. Most lawyers would be happy to charge less – we don’t like talking about money, either – but we have to pay the bills and have some left over for a cup of coffee.

8. Sometimes the best tactic is to sit and wait. This was a lesson I had to learn as a lawyer, too. Waiting not only gives me time to think, but if the other party or attorney hasn’t learned this, often they will agree or withdraw a demand they’ve made because they think we are up to something. I taught legal writing once and told students to finish writing every project, then let it rest a day, go back to it and revise it. I could always tell who took my advice.

9. Anything that looks easy looks that way due to preparation.

10. It takes time. These last two go together. It takes time to think through the situation, to analyze it, to plan the proper approach and to modify the plan as others get involved.

Alan F. Blakley is a lawyer with CR MILES PC in Fort Collins. He can be reached at afblakley@crmiles.com.

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