What To Expect from Your Attorney and What Your Attorney Expects from You

Whether you hire an attorney to negotiate a contract for your business, represent you during a contentious divorce or to file a malpractice action against your physician, you must be able to trust your lawyer and he you.

A strong attorney-client relationship is essential to successfully navigate litigation, as it is often stressful and can take years to resolve. Too often, attorney and client expectations are not established in the beginning of this relationship, to the detriment of the case. In this article, we highlight key expectations for both client and attorney.

What You Should Expect from Your Attorney

Ethical Conduct: This should go without saying, but as legal malpractice attorneys, we unfortunately see many cases where this expectation has not been met. Your attorney should always practice ethically and abide by the rules of professional conduct, including, at a minimum:
- Maintaining separate financial
accounts for client money and attorney money;
- Acting within the limit of the law at all times;
- Fulfilling the duty of loyalty owed to the client and not engaging in matters that result in a conflict of interest;
- Making only truthful and honest representations to the client and tribunal.

Communication: Rules of ethics governing lawyers require a lawyer to keep their clients reasonably informed about the proceedings. At a minimum, this includes when:
- The case is filed;
- Settlement demands or offers are made;
- Key motions are filed and resolved, and
- The case is dismissed.

Your attorney should also be able to provide you with a general overview of your case upon request. You should always feel that you can ask your attorney questions, and receive responsive, patient answers in a manner which you can understand. When to expect answers to your questions varies, depending on how busy your attorney may be, whether he is in depositions, court hearings, or trial. How you communicate with your attorney should be established early on in the relationship. Some attorneys prefer the majority of client communication by phone calls, in-office meetings or mail, while others prefer communicating mainly by email. There is no "best" method – only what you and your attorney agree works for both of you. For example, in our practice, we've found a phone call or in-person meeting followed by an email summarizing the conversation works well for our clients.

Decision Making: This goes hand-in-hand with good communication established early on in the attorney-client relationship. You hired an attorney for a reason so do not expect to micromanage your case. Your attorney will decide what motions to file and what questions to ask witnesses at trial. However, you alone will make final decisions regarding settlement of the case.

Knowledge: Your attorney should have a thorough knowledge of deadlines, procedure and general legal principals in the area of law in which he or she specializes. But, do not expect your attorney to know all aspects of the law on command. Even if your attorney is the foremost expert in the area of the law in which you hired him, applying the relevant law to your case facts will take time and require thoughtful analysis.

Skill: Your attorney should be skillful and comfortable in his or her area of practice. A contract attorney should be able to draft clear, unambiguous contract language. Although your trial attorney will likely not be as dramatic as we see on TV, he or she should be comfortable in the courtroom. Similarly, your appellate attorney should have excellent writing skills. Ideally, you've found an attorney skilled in both writing and trial skills!

Preparation: Your attorney should be well prepared for occurrences in your case. Whether it is a negotiation meeting in a transactional case, a deposition, a court hearing, or trial, your attorney should be knowledgeable about the facts, the law, and your position.

Attorney Fees and Costs: Whether your attorney accepts your case on a contingency fee arrangement (typically 33.3%) or hourly fee, it is imperative the agreement be established at the outset of the representation and be in writing. If you are paying an hourly fee, you should expect to receive an invoice, ideally monthly, that details the time spent on your case and the amount charged, such as "6 hours: Review and summarize trial court records." Your attorney should also explain anticipated costs associated with your case, including expert witness and filing fees, and whether the attorney expects you to pay the costs upfront or whether he will advance some or all of the costs until the case is resolved.

Fair Representation: It is not fair to expect your attorney to work miracles. There are too many factors outside of the attorney's control, including the facts and the law. Even when the facts and law are on your side, you never know what a jury will do. Instead, you should expect fair representation, which is accomplished by the attorney fulfilling the above expectations.

What Your Attorney Will Expect from You

Communication: Communication is a two-way street. Let your attorney know your preferred method of communication. Keep your attorney updated with phone, email and address changes. Be available; try to respond to your attorney within 24 hours - sooner if time is of the essence. Be an active participant in your case - ask questions!

Be Receptive and Open-minded: Sometimes, your attorney may give you news you don't want to hear, i.e. there are factual or legal weaknesses of your claim or the value is not what you believed it to be. Remain open-minded and work with your attorney to address case weaknesses and develop a strategy to resolve your claim for a reasonable amount.

Participate in Your Case: When your attorney requests documents, emails or phone messages, diligently work to identify and provide these items in a timely manner. Put in the extra time at the beginning of your case to search through boxes in your attic and set aside time to prepare for your deposition. Your active participation in your case may very well be the difference between a substantial settlement or a no cause at a jury trial.

Honesty: This should go without saying. Your attorney has a right to expect you to be honest. Do not lie. Do not destroy evidence. Do not hide facts. Your attorney can deal with "bad facts" and minimize their impact if he knows about them in advance. If what you have hidden, lied about or tried to destroy suddenly surfaces during litigation, there is not much your attorney can do to help you and your case will likely be over.

Pay Your Bill On Time: Believe it or not, most attorneys do not enter the practice of law for the money. Some practice for the thrill of trial, to correct injustice, or to develop the law. As much as attorneys love what they do, it is also their job. You don't expect your doctor or your barber to work for free; please don't expect your attorney to either.

Have Realistic Expectations: Your attorney cannot guarantee a case's outcome. Litigation is fraught with uncertainty; no matter how hard your attorney works, there are many things that can happen outside of his control. Be receptive and open-minded if, and when, your case takes unexpected turns, and above all, have realistic expectations.

Remember, the attorney-client relationship is a partnership. Know what to expect from each other, keep expectations reasonable, and trust one another.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hoffer & Sheremet, PLC
Hoffer & Sheremet, PLC, represents clients in medical malpractice, legal malpractice and appellate proceedings throughout Michigan. The firm prides itself on providing personal representation, treating each case as unique, and leading with innovation to achieve the best possible results for their clients.

Copyright Hoffer & Sheremet, PLC

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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