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How to be the best family law client that you can be

Most of the time when we write about the attorney-client relationship on this blog we do so from the perspective of how the attorney can serve you as the client. After all, that is the nature of the relationship. You do not work for your attorney. It can be made to feel like that given some attorney-client relationships but the reality of the situation is that your attorney works for you and not vice versa. Therefore, we write a lot about how your attorney he's supposed to interact and guide you during your case and what he or she can do to help you. 

The only thing that is left out of this type of characterization with you and your attorney is that ultimately your family case is yours and not the attorneys. Even though the attorney may be the one who files the paperwork and represents you in court the bigger point is that you are the one whose life is being impacted by whatever circumstances you are facing in this divorce or child custody case. As a result, you should have more of an interest in the direction of your case than your attorney just due to self-interest alone. 

Sometimes all that is standing in between you and a bad outcome in your case is your lawyer. Your attorney's experience and engagement in your case can make a world of difference for you and your family both now and in the future. You decided to select your attorney based on some combination of their skill, experience, price, and the comfort level he felt for him or her. All of these factors combined to give you the confidence to go ahead and hire him or her. Given the level of financial commitment that you have made it will behoove you to want to do everything possible to help him or her in their representation of you.  

While you may know that this is a worthwhile goal for you to try and achieve the fact is you may not know to be able to figure out exactly how you should go about accomplishing this goal. If you have never been through a family law case before then you are walking in uncharted territory. Rather than stumble around and make mistakes I could harm your attorney's ability to represent you I would like to spend some time talking with you about what steps you can take on a practical level to help you and your attorney during a family law case in Texas.  

Make yourself available to your attorney 

If you are in small business for yourself then you are likely well aware that there are many different kinds of people who ultimately become your client. One type of client is the person who is always at your place of business or is always talking to you on the phone about issues with your product or service. These people can be well-meaning but are very high maintenance and cause you to earn every dollar that he or she has ever paid you. There is nothing wrong with being this person as a client but certainly, there is a lot more handholding associated with representing a person like this in a divorce or child custody case.

By the same token, there are those clients who scarcely make a peep after signing a contract with an attorney. As high maintenance and difficult as it can be to have a client who is constantly in contact with you the exact opposite of this situation is not desirable, either. Staying engaged with your case is critical to accomplishing goals. Leaving all of the decision-making to your attorney and touching base with him or her at the end to see where your case ended up is not a great plan. Rather, I would recommend that you take every opportunity to set a schedule with your attorney to go over the details of your case.

For instance, you can arrange a time Each week to go over updates with your attorney on your case. This could mean that these updates occur in person, over the phone, via email, or even via video. You know your schedule best and your attorney knows theirs. Find a middle ground and make yourself available in this way to receive updates and give updates from your perspective. There are fairly long periods in a divorce or child custody where little happens. This is to be expected. However, you all are still free to contact your attorney and be provided with updates. 

Next, you need to be able to make yourself available by phone or email as frequently as possible. Situations change on an hourly basis sometimes within a family law case. Sometimes your attorney will be contacting you to go over a recent settlement offer from your opposing spouse or will simply be asking for more information about some aspect of your community estate. When negotiations can hinge on small bits of information you need to make yourself available as much as possible during the divorce so that your attorney can more fully engage in negotiations. 

Finally, there are stages in your case where you have to be side by side with your attorney 4 you all to be successful. I am thinking about times before any temporary orders or trials as well as after either of these hearings when temporary orders hearings or trials are complete and orders need to be reviewed and signed. If your attorney has to contact you multiple times simply to get ahold of you then you are not being the best possible family client that you can be. 

Become organized before your case begins

 one of the major misconceptions that I hear about with some frequency regarding divorce cases is that you hire an attorney and then the attorney there is most of the work for you in the case. All you have to do is attend hearings or mediations and then the attorney takes care of the details. While this is true on a certain level for the most part a good attorney-client relationship is built upon mutual effort.  

This means that when you are preparing to hire an attorney and file for divorce that you can be thinking ahead to two later stages of your case and planning accordingly for them. For instance, at some point in your divorce, you will likely have to respond to discovery requests from your opposing spouse. Discovery requests involve responses to questions as well as requests for documentation. Your attorney is reliant upon you for these documents and information. Why not take the time before your case even begins to start to organize yourself and get these documents and pieces of information lined up to provide to your attorney and their staff once the case begins? 

Financial documents are frequently requested in discovery requests during a divorce. Much of the time he will be able to anticipate the specific financial documents that are needed ahead of time. Retirement account statements, details on your 401K from work, bank account information, title documentation for a property that is owned by you and your spouse, and many other types of financial disclosures may all be relevant to your opposing spouse in their calculations. By being able to come up with this documentation ahead of time you are saving your attorney and their staff from having to request the information from you during the case. Not doing the work yourself ahead of time will require you to spend time during the case searching for the documents and paying for the help of your attorney and their staff.

Another important consideration to make in this regard is that you may ultimately lose access to your home at some point in the divorce. Consider what happens if you are ordered to exit your home and find replacement housing during the divorce. While I'm sure that something can be arranged to allow you to gain access to your house 2 copy documents or access your computer this is not a given. Therefore, you should take advantage of the time you have 2 collect documents, make copies, and put files from your computer into a cloud that you can access.

Your attorney will thank you for doing this, as well. Keep in mind that any work that you do to begin to organize your case ahead of time is less work for your attorney and their staff. While your lawyer will want to show that he or she is committed to your case the reality is that your lawyer will have multiple clients who are in the same stage of their case as you are in yours. That means your attorney in their office will likely be spread a little thin during the pendency of your case. Do not add to this problem by contributing to the already high workload of your lawyer. Having a lawyer does work for you during your case is unavoidable and is the whole point of having an attorney. However, take some work off of their plate in yours by getting organized ahead of time.

Make sure to pay your attorney on time and in full 

I don't mention this part only to ensure that our office can pay their light bill. Rather, an attorney needs you to pay your bills so that he or she can continue working on your case. Keep in mind that an attorney has to battle every day with opposing lawyers and clients who want nothing more than to take advantage of our office in our clients. That doesn't mean that opposing parties are mean or nasty, but rather it's just the nature of family law. Your attorney will have enough on their plate besides having to worry about whether or not you are going to pay your bills. 

The way I explain paying bills and hiring an attorney to clients is like this: think of your attorney's office like an ATM. At the beginning of your case, when you hire an attorney, you pay a retainer which is like depositing money into the ATM. Once it comes time to begin working on your case your attorney and their staff will insert their debit card into the ATM and take out the money you have deposited to do work on your case. Your attorney and their staff will work with you to make sure that there is always money in your account for work to be done. The last thing you want is to not have work done in your case during an important part of the proceedings. By the same token, the last thing your attorney wants is to do work for you for free.

You should work with your attorney when you are beginning to interview lawyers at the hiring stage to learn how your attorney handles client payments. Most lawyers are very flexible as far as how they can be paid and what payment methods are accepted. You should also take the time to learn how and why family law attorneys bill the way that we do. This knowledge will help you to be able to guide yourself through the process and begin to work as a team with your lawyer. 

The last thing I will note in this regard is that family law attorneys and our office specifically understand How difficult it is at this moment to pay for expenses like attorney fees. The pandemic and our response to it has impacted everyone's life in many of us have taken a hit economically. For that reason, I always recommend that if you believe that you are going to experience problems at any point in your case with paying your attorneys fees then I would reach out to that lawyer and talk to him or her about it directly rather than let it become a problem down the line. You may be surprised to learn that your attorney has available payment plans or other options for you to take advantage of if you come into some difficulties from a money perspective.

Provide your attorney with the information he or she needs to help you 

the difficult part about a family law case is that just about all of the subject matter involved is private and personal. In a business dispute, the nature of the information being discussed is usually pretty dry about money. Even a personal injury lawsuit deals a great deal in facts and circumstances that are contentious but not personal. However, in a family law case, we deal in subject matter related to children, your job, your marriage, and everything in between having to do with your family. As a result, the situation can get personal and can be difficult to discuss.

This is especially true there you are having to discuss circumstances that did not put you in the most positive light. Again, sharing private information that is not necessarily flattering is not fun. However, I would point out that your attorney has likely experienced situations like yours before and certainly he or she will not be judging you. With that said it is incredibly important for you to be willing to share information with your attorney that could be essential to your case. When in doubt, I recommend to clients to overshare with me to allow me to decide what is relevant to your case. After all, everything you share with your attorney is private and confidential.

The worst thing that you could do is fail to share information at the beginning of your case that is relevant to the proceedings only to find that that information comes out in a less than favorable circumstance for you. Suppose that you do not tell your attorney something very important about your case because is unpleasant. rather than telling your attorney about this circumstance or fact, you choose to keep it from him or her. You may even believe that it's not relevant and not worth discussing at all. What I would tell you about that is that it is not uncommon for this information to come up in mediation, hearing, or even at trial. Do not let your attorney be caught flatfooted because you failed to provide relevant information.

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

Thank you for your interest in our law office. I hope that the information and material that we have shared today are both interesting and relevant to you and your family's circumstances. We post unique and informative content on our blog each day of the week. Please join us each day to not only read these blog posts but to learn more about our office in the services that we provide to our clients.

If you have any questions about the material we touched on today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations can go a long way towards helping you learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about the particular circumstances that you and your family are facing.

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