Most clients have a certain pre-conceived perception about what their attorney does on a daily basis, and the legal process in general. Television has only served to distort the perception. Legal television shows give the impression that a person can walk into a lawyer's office the day before a jury trial and the lawyer will not only take the case, but will win it simply by providing a brilliant closing argument that will sweep the jurors off their feet. The jury comes back a short time later with a multi-million dollar verdict for the client (who cries and shares her deep appreciation to the lawyer for the rest of her life). And there is of course the million dollar contingent fee for the lawyer (not bad for a case that walked in the door just 24 hours ago).
These shows make lawyers go crazy. They make it seem like we only need a few minutes to get fully prepared for court, or a full blown jury trial. So when the process takes a long time, or their attorney doesn't seem to be doing anything on their case, clients gets restless. So I want to address some things that may make the relationship between you and your lawyer a little more understandable.
A lawyer's work (at least one that is busy) is never done. There is always work to do on someone's case. Is there a letter to be sent? Do we need to do discovery? Do we need to ask for a hearing? Do we need to meet with the client? Do we need to make a settlement offer? Is there an issue in a case that needs to be researched? These are all questions that lawyers are dealing with on a daily basis. And for many lawyers they are dealing with well over a hundred cases at any one time.
In my office I meet with my assistant and our associate attorney first thing every Monday morning. We review what is going on for that week and each week for the next month. We review cases and their status and what needs to be taken care of next in that particular case. We review the mail for that day to see if any court dates have been scheduled, and if so, are they conflicting with other court dates? If so, do they need to be moved (continued) to another day so that we can be properly prepared? Are there any deadlines (discovery due, responses to motions that have been filed by the other side, etc.) coming up that we need to address this week? If a response to a motion is due this week then am I going to draft it or is our associate attorney? If I have hearings this week then do I have time to respond to the motion or do I need to delegate it to our associate attorney? These are considerations/decisions that are dealt with during this meeting and pretty much on a daily basis throughout the week. What about court appearances? Court hearings and trials take up a substantial amount of time. When I have a jury trial scheduled, depending on the length of the trial, I will usually schedule a few days of preparation time - which means no client appointments or other interruptions during those days. (Ever been told it will be a week or two before you can get an appointment with an attorney? - many times this is the reason) Of course current clients still have their cases (and lives) going on so my assistant will keep me apprised of urgent matters that need tending to.
What about your lawyer not returning phone calls? This is the number one complaint of clients across the country year in and year out. If your lawyer is in court all day, or has been in meetings with clients or other lawyers all day, or needed uninterrupted time to prepare for court, then phone calls will likely not be returned on the same day you left the message - simple as that. But if you are leaving messages for your lawyer over several days, and neither he nor his assistant are calling you back with information, then that's a problem. You need to set a time to meet with your attorney and find out what's going on. Some of the best attorneys I know are notoriously bad at calling their clients back. You may just have one that is bad at it - but your case is proceeding just fine. Bottom line, if you're worried about it then set up a time with your attorney to talk about it.
Let's talk about email. Email is great. And email is not so great. Email is great for sending documents back and forth between attorneys, clients, and sometimes the court. Its also great for sending a list of questions to your attorney to respond to. Email is not so great for sending any of the following: URGENT, EMERGENCY, READ NOW, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY, WHERE ARE YOU?, CAN WE TALK?, or any variation of these. If you have something truly urgent that you need your attorney to address then you need to call her office and tell her or her assistant. This also goes for something that needs to be read immediately - call ahead of time and alert your attorney that there is something in his email that needs to be read immediately. Now understand that not all things are urgent or need immediate attention. In fact, 99% of the issues we deal with on a daily basis do not need to be handled immediately (in the next few hours or even that day). So make sure you really need to contact your attorney before you send an email. If its something that can wait until your next meeting with your attorney then let it wait. Write it down and bring it up in the meeting. Your attorney will be very thankful that you waited. Most attorneys are inundated with email on a daily basis. Its difficult to respond to everything that is received.
How long should my case take? This is a very popular question. And I have the answer! The answer is however long it takes. Yes, your sister may have completed her divorce in record time. Good for your sister. That doesn't mean that yours will. Every case is different and there are numerous factors involved in how long a case will take: Is discovery needed? Is the court busy or not busy? Is the judge busy or not busy? Is the settlement offer sent to the other side really a reasonable offer? Is the client being unreasonable by refusing the settlement offer that has been sent by the other side? Is the other side being unreasonable? And a multitude of other variables will determine how long your case takes. Some of these things are within your control, but most are not. Ask your lawyer in the initial consultation how long your case should take. Then, if you think its taking too long ask again and find out what's going on. I would add that it is normal for cases to go through periods of inactivity, sometimes several weeks.
What about that continuance that your lawyer says he needs? Well, there's normally a very good reason for those requests. Lawyers want to be just as prepared for your case as we are for that jury trial I was talking about earlier. So trust your lawyer when he tells you a continuance is needed. What about when your lawyer doesn't object to the other lawyer's request for a continuance? There's normally a good reason for that too. Lawyers that constantly object to the other side's request for a continuance often find themselves getting the same treatment when they are the ones that need a continuance. And when that happens it might be your case that needs the continuance and doesn't get it.
I have found some universal truths in this profession, one of which is the following: Lawyers that never return phone calls, ask for multiple continuances, are ill prepared on the day of trial, and never meet with their clients usually aren't lawyers for very long. Or don't have a very busy practice. If you have done your due diligence, and have hired an attorney with a good reputation, then you are likely in good hands. They didn't get that reputation easily. It took years of hard work taking care of their clients in order to build a successful practice. You picked that lawyer for a reason, so trust that she is going to take care of you.