You see ads every day of a lawyer sitting down with a client, or walking with them on the street talking about something. You see lawyers say they will stand with you, fight with you, give you a voice, etc. But beyond the sales pitch, what should you really expect of your attorney? I hear a lot of people say they were “swindled”, “ignored”, or “just a number”. Many people with the biggest advertisers say they never even talked to their lawyer until the day of a hearing; all communications went through a “secretary”, “assistant”, or “paralegal”. None of these three is actually a lawyer, but in many cases they are left to the task of client relations. While that doesn’t necessarily mean the lawyer isn’t working on your case, or doesn’t know who you are, it does mean that you don’t feel like you know them at all. So what should you expect when you hire a lawyer to help you?
The number one thing you should expect is to have communications with the attorney themselves. There are some things a staff member can help you with such as scheduling appointments, reminding you of important dates, addresses of where you are supposed to be for events throughout your case, and even a quick update about the last few tasks performed in your case. What they cannot and should never do is give you advice or be asked to explain legal issues to you. They may have learned over years on the job, but they are not a lawyer and have no formal training about the law. Your attorney should discuss these details with you.
If you wish to discuss things with your attorney, you should always be able to schedule a meeting, or receive a telephone call. Lawyers are very busy 99% of the time, so the phone call might not be returned until the next business day. On RARE occasions maybe even two days if they are up against a deadline. But this should be the exception, not the rule. If you leave a voicemail you may expect an assistant to return the call to determine if you need an appointment or if there is something they can help you with. That isn’t because an attorney is too busy, but rather because it is faster and easier to answer your question, or determine your needs quickly while the attorney may be off in depositions or in court. There is a fine line between an assistant trying to expedite the assistance you receive, and a lawyer pawning clients off on their assistants to deal with. You should ALWAYS be comfortable asking to speak to your attorney, and you should receive information about when they will be available to call you back.
You should expect to receive information from your attorney about the process itself. What are the steps that have to be taken? What is the approximate timeline of these steps? What do legal terms mean? What are the papers you received in the mail? Etc.
You should receive some type of regular contact from your attorney. Many of us are moving toward an email system. Some of us text regularly with clients. Some of us prefer phones and letters. No matter the method, you should be hearing from someone regularly. If you haven’t, you should call or email the attorney. There are times I don’t hear from my clients for months, which in turn means I work on their file as my reminders come up on my calendar, or when I do a full list file review once a month. But if I don’t get updated information from them, I am not always up to speed on what I need to be doing. The legal relationship is a two way street, but often clients make me chase them to get information. You should never be afraid or feel like an intrusion to contact your attorney every three weeks or so, or more frequently if there is a lot going on with your health or other matters related to your legal case. There is of course a limit to how much you should be contacting or sharing. Every day, five times a day is way too much. If there is a lot going on, a few contacts a week is a good idea. If you are mindful that the attorney may have 50-100 other clients, some of whom also have very urgent matters, everything should be fine.
Beyond these basics, your expectations of the process depend on what type of case you have. But if the attorney is not living up to these standards, you may want to consider finding another attorney. Your case is important, and you are important. If your attorney isn’t conveying these truths with their actions, you have a right to find someone who will.