Most of us aren’t jacks (or jills) of all trades, so when we have a leaky pipe, loose tooth or lagging brake pedals, we put a lot of trust in the experts to get the job done.
It’s likely you have at least one experience with a not-so-handyman, the contractor who kept you waiting, or the mechanic who overcharged you. On the flip side, you (hopefully) have a longer list of reliable companies you routinely call upon and recommend to others.
Most often, the key to good customer experiences is mutual respect and friendliness. Your go-to guy or gal is polite, punctual, and skilled but also friendly and caring. And you respond in kind, only further encouraging that positive bond.
Domestic law is no different.
If you need an attorney due to divorce, a custody dispute, or other family matter, you certainly want a top-notch professional at your side. And, as with any other contracted service, you are naturally going to have certain expectations.
With nearly four decades of experience in the field, I know that domestic attorneys have some very clear duties to their clients:
• Tell the truth, even if it’s not the “truth” you want to hear. A good lawyer knows the importance of being upfront, even if it’s going to be tough for his or her client to swallow at first. Just being told what you want to hear won’t help you win your case.
• Explain the process. No one knows the ins and outs of the legal system like an attorney! In initial meetings with clients, I try to give them a very clear picture of the process, which often includes delays.
• Be reasonable about billing. Lawyers spend a lot of time on a client’s case, before and after business hours. But they shouldn’t overcharge, and will often offer a fair payment structure in the form of a retainer – a set amount of money for representation.
• Work hard, be diligent, and show respect. These should go without saying, and apply to almost any business or professional that hopes to succeed.
If a domestic attorney is meeting his or her end of the bargain, you, as the client should keep in mind some reciprocal responsibilities that will foster that positive relationship throughout what can be a tedious and emotional process.
Here are a few simple rules of thumb:
• Payment does not equal ownership. People often think of their lawyer as their lawyer, but attorneys are usually juggling multiple cases and not beholden to you alone… or on call 24/7.
• Legal counsel is not therapy. Good domestic attorneys understand the emotional complexities of divorce. But beyond expert legal advice and a compassionate ear, they cannot help you untangle all those complexities. It may be helpful to seek psychological counseling in tandem with your legal counsel.
• The Golden Rule works every time. In short, treat your lawyer the way you would an acquaintance. Of course, you should expect the best service for your money, but giving a little understanding and good rapport back to the legal counsel that is working hard for you will ultimately benefit you in the end… and make a difficult situation much easier along the way.
Jim Lea has been practicing law for 36 years. In 1996, after only 16 years of practicing law, he received an “A preeminent” rating from Martindale Hubbell, an honor earned by only 10 percent of the country’s lawyers. He has also been named a “Super Lawyer,” honored as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” and “preeminent lawyer,” all for over 10 years. He was recently inducted into “Lawyers of Distinction,” limited to the nation’s top 10 percent of lawyers. His firm has been named by US News and World Report as one of the nation’s top law rms for over five years.