Evidence Gathering: 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.
As a lawyer, I'm usually not the one in the best position to gather and develop evidence - the client is.* In general, it is not your lawyer's job to generate evidence. That is work better suited to yourself or in appropriate circumstances, a private investigator. The lawyer's job is to organize the evidence and develop litigation strategy surrounding that evidence. Here's how your involvement in the evidence-gathering process helps your lawyer.
You Know Where the Documents Are
If you're still married to the opposing party, you usually know where the documents that will matter at trial are located, such as tax returns, insurance policies, pay stubs, school records for minor children, medical and psychological records, etc. You can either gather those documents for your lawyer if they're in your possession, or alert your lawyer to their existence so he or she will know to request them in the discovery process.
You Know Where the "Bodies" Are Hidden
You are more likely than I am to know what your spouse is hiding. You're the one in the best position to know your spouse was disciplined at work for drinking on the job, or the name of his mistress, or the fact that she snorts cocaine while no one is looking. You are the one who knows about his domestic violence conviction in another state, or that she has supervised visitation with her son from a previous relationship (and why), or how she pays her employees under the table, or what method he uses to send his money back to his family in a foreign country.
The best lawyer in the world doesn't have all this information at his or her fingertips in the same way that you do. There are ways to find out, but they're expensive and lengthy (and not guaranteed to succeed). You'll save yourself time and attorney fees if you tell your lawyer everything you feel is relevant to your case in an organized fashion.
Some Evidence Is Actually Created By You
A perfect example of this is a parenting journal. Recording who spends time with the children and when is valuable in the initial custody case, in any proceeding related the child support, and in proceedings where a parent desires to relocate with the children. Recording significant events or conflicts involving the children can also help your lawyer when advocating for a certain parenting plan, and it can help you remember what happened (and when!) months later when you finally get to trial to testify about it.
Other examples of evidence created by the client include recordings, photographs, text messages, etc.
Suffice it to say that I have lots of advice for clients about how to position themselves best for litigation when it comes to evidence the client can develop him or herself.
The bottom line is, you shouldn't expect your lawyer to "win" your case if you cannot point her in the direction of the evidence that supports your position. Your lawyer is on your side, but she needs your help in order to get the best result for you.
* There is one notable exception, which is that I am usually better able to gather information about an ex-spouse's income by subpoenaing employment records than my client is. That's a very limited exception, however.