Navigating the legal process requires teamwork between the attorney and client. It is crucial that you find an attorney with whom you can maintain open and honest communication. Your lawyer’s ability to properly prepare your case depends upon your providing all relevant case information. To be a “successful” client, be sure you do so.
Performing the following actions will increase your understanding of how your case will proceed and, thereby, assist your attorney in making the legal process proceed smoothly and efficiently:
Ask your lawyer about the plan: A good attorney “reasonably consult[s] with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.” (ABA Model Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 1.4(a)(2).) An attorney should provide the appropriate information about the legal strategies to be utilized at varying stages of your case. The attorney should also inform you about the short- and long-term steps required to prepare your legal case.
Attorneys are trained to utilize many legal “tools” on your behalf. Key witnesses may need to be deposed, subpoenas may need to be issued, or discovery may need to be propounded to obtain critical evidence in your case. Attorneys should not forget to inform you how such “tools” will be utilized to advance your cause.
Seek Sound and Candid Legal Advice: You should not shy away from raising difficult issues with your attorney. A good attorney will use his or her skill and experience to advocate on your behalf. (ABA Model Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 1.1.)
If you believe given facts are not favorable to your position, raise your concerns with your attorney and discuss a strategy to address those facts. Rather than avoid a given topic or “hide” an issue from your attorney, allow your attorney to address the matter in an appropriate manner. It is never a good scenario for your attorney to be surprised by facts that you never told him or her.
Trust your attorney’s candid assessment of the difficult issue. Your ability to follow where your attorney leads allows for a more efficient resolution to the legal matter.
Request Progress Updates: Attorneys are obligated to “keep a client reasonably informed about significant developments related to the [legal representation].” (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-500.) Good attorneys are almost always busy ones. If you do not hear from your attorney, call the lawyer yourself.
A good attorney knows that informing you of updates reassures you about the ongoing legal process, which can be difficult and emotional. Family law clients, in particular, may be dealing with the additional stress of adjusting to a new, court-ordered custody schedule that allows less time with the children or the strong emotions that arise when dividing sentimental or valuable possessions between spouses.
A good attorney also knows you appreciate knowing the practical results of your retaining him or her. If a goal is not yet accomplished, ask your lawyer for a call.
Ask Questions: The old adage that the bad question is the one not asked holds true in the context of the attorney-client relationship. Be an active participant in your case and ask questions. A good attorney recognizes that thoroughly answering your questions – even ones about basic issues – builds trust and enhances the relationship.
A good attorney also knows that a client plays a key role in moving the case toward resolution – whether by trial or settlement. An attorney should always “explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.” (ABA Model Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 1.4(b).) Your making informed decisions, in light of the sound legal advice provided by your attorney, is critical to moving the case forward.
A successful working relationship with your attorney is key to efficient management and resolution of your legal case. Your efforts to stay informed and actively involved in order to maintain this strong working relationship will allow your attorney to better advocate on your behalf and increase your satisfaction with the outcome of your case.
Michelle Forrest is an attorney with McManis Faulkner. Her practice focuses on family law, assisting clients in all aspects of marital dissolution, including child custody and visitation, assessment of child and spousal support, domestic violence and enforcement of court orders. For more information, please visit mcmanislaw.com.
 Though the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are not binding on California attorneys, the Rules serve as strong suggestions of how California attorneys should conduct themselves professionally.