Follow Your Lawyer's Advice: Help Your Lawyer Help You
Clients often ask me how they can put themselves in the best position to "win" their case, whatever that means to them. This blog series focuses on a set of suggestions designed to improve a client's position for litigation.
I was in court last week, which is of course not unusual (for the record, it was Shelby County Circuit Court on this particular occasion). I had the opportunity to observe a motion hearing on a divorce case I'm not involved in where the lawyer was clearly frustrated with his client's failure to take his legal advice. Now, ethically, he couldn't say that his client was failing to take his advice, but his client had taken certain actions that no lawyer would tell his or her client to take...and the lawyer was making frustrated faces. The judge was lecturing the attorney about how his client should not have done the thing she did. I could tell from the look on the judge's face while giving the lecture that the client was, slowly but surely (and through no fault of her lawyer), sabotaging her own case past the point of no return.
If you have marshaled the resources to hire a lawyer, you should really listen to your attorney's advice. It will lessen your frustration with the process and reduce your legal fee bill. Here are just a few reasons why.
Your Lawyer Knows the Law
Chances are that you hired a lawyer because you need help navigating either the substance of the law or court procedures. You came to your lawyer with a legal problem, seeking advice. You aren't just paying a lawyer to look professional at trial, or to file documents on your behalf. You are hiring a lawyer because the lawyer has knowledge and information that you don't have, and it's information that you need.
Let me analogize for a moment. Imagine that you're sick. You have a fever and a sore throat. You've heard the flu is going around, but so is the common cold and so are sinus infections. You think it's probably just a cold, but you've been sick for longer than usual. You decide to see the doctor just in case, even though you haven't met your health insurance deductible so it will be totally out of pocket.
You get to the office, they run some tests, and the doctor tells you it's strep. The doctor prescribes antibiotics, which you pick up from the pharmacy but never take. Then you contract scarlet fever and, because you still don't start the antibiotics, eventually end up in the hospital with pneumonia.
Are you thinking, "Why would I do that? That's insane! Why would I pay a doctor for her time and advice and then completely ignore it?"
But clients do this all the time. They pay for good legal advice and then totally disregard it. Don't do this! It will make your legal problem way worse and probably more expensive to fix, if it can be fixed at all.
Your Lawyer Has the Benefit of Experience
What people often don't realize is that they're not just paying for their lawyer's legal knowledge, but also their lawyer's legal experience. At this point in my career, I've handled hundreds of divorces. The most "experienced" client I've ever had was going through his fifth or sixth divorce. Unless my client is also a divorce lawyer, it's almost guaranteed that I've been involved in more divorce cases than my client has.
I know the way certain judges view things, and I have insight that my client doesn't have that helps me predict outcomes in court based on what my client chooses to do. I have been there, and I have seen and done that. My clients have the most success when they leverage my experience.
Listen to me. I am trying to help you! If you don't listen to your attorney, you are NOT getting what you are paying for.
Your Lawyer Can Help Keep You from Offending the Judge
Judges are important and powerful. They have almost unlimited control over your case, and in the domestic relations arena, that can mean your children and everything you own. Upsetting the judge is bad news...and it may permanently affect your case because judges have long memories.
Clients don't always understand what might be offensive to a judge. Examples include wearing inappropriate clothes to court, saying inappropriate things to your spouse via text message or on audio recordings, disobeying court orders, having a bad attitude toward the judge, and so on. People involved in a court case sometimes don't understand that the other side will use everything possible against them and paint it in the worst light possible. Taking the good advice of a lawyer can help you avoid giving the other side ammunition against you.
Listening Will Make Your Case Less Expensive (Usually)
Legal help isn't cheap, even if your lawyer makes every effort to hold costs down. If you don't listen to your attorney's advice, your case may take longer and be more expensive.
For instance, failing to gather the necessary evidence or participate in pretrial procedures like discovery can force your lawyer to request extensions from the court, or put the opposing party in a position to request extensions or continuances. The longer a case takes, the more it costs.
It's also true that a lawyer who must expend time and resources undoing problems you created in your case by not following advice will have to charge you for that time and those resources. Legal fees are expensive enough without incurring them unnecessarily.
Listening Will Improve Your Working Relationship with Your Lawyer
An excellent relationship between an attorney and his or her client is essential to a positive outcome. Attorneys don't always know if their clients are being totally honest, and most of us have been burned occasionally by a lying client. No one appreciates looking like a fool in front of a judge or colleague. And it's sometimes hard to tell if someone is being honest when you've just met him or her.
Trust is fundamental to a great attorney-client relationship. If you follow your lawyer's advice, you will build your lawyer's confidence about how seriously you're taking your case and you will come across as a fundamentally honest person. If your lawyer trusts you, she will be far more likely to stick her neck out for you if it becomes necessary. That works to your benefit and it will improve the outcome of your case.
On a personal level, it's also extremely hard to put my heart and soul into a case when the client is actively sabotaging my efforts by not taking my advice.
Other lawyers have expressed a similar sentiment to me by saying that I shouldn't "care more about the client's case than the client does." While I can't quite agree with that because I care way too much and I have an ethical responsibility to advocate zealously for my clients' positions, I do understand the reasoning behind it.
A client who cares about his or her case and behaves accordingly causes me to feel more strongly about his or her case. I'm going to do my job either way, and do it well, but the clients who take my advice are usually the ones for whom I have 3 a.m. epiphanies. I think about them more often. I pray for them. I don't just communicate with them; I enjoy it. I like them more, and I go above and beyond. This isn't a conscious choice on my part. I don't intentionally play favorites. But it's human nature, and lawyers are humans too.
Bottom line: following your lawyer's advice positively impacts the outcome of your case.