When you go to a physician with a health problem, you are likely putting your complete trust in that doctor’s expertise. You want him or her to evaluate you and, based on training and experience, offer you a diagnosis and best course of action.
The same could be said of seeking help from a plumber, electrician, car mechanic, psychologist or mortgage banker.
Unless you know a little about a lot – or a lot about a lot – you, like I, turn to the pros when we need a job done that falls outside our wheelhouse.
The same should apply to domestic lawyers.
I say should because in my nearly four decades of experience, I have come across numerous clients who seem to view me – the attorney – as the source and symbol of all anger and resentment surrounding their divorce.
While I certainly understand that divorce can be a very emotional experience, I am here to help. I am committed to your case, and that means working hard, being upfront (even with hard truths), fair and communicative.
And I, like all domestic lawyers, can do that most effectively when clients remain open, honest, amicable and respectful throughout the process.
So, how can you be sure you’re doing your part instead of earning a reputation throughout the legal community as a “problem client”?
Here are a few “don’ts” to keep in mind:
• Don’t “window shop.” Of course, you should interview a few lawyers before landing on the one who best meets your needs and with whom you feel most comfortable. But “shopping” with the goal of preventing your spouse from getting well-known representation on the other side of the case only serves to frustrate the process and the lawyers with whom you have discussed your situation.
• Don’t assume “ownership.” People often think of their lawyer as their lawyer, but attorneys are usually juggling multiple cases and not beholden to you alone… or on call 24/7.
• Don’t treat your attorney like a therapist. Good domestic attorneys understand the emotional complexities of divorce. But beyond expert legal advice and a compassionate ear, they cannot help you untangle all those complexities. It may be helpful to seek psychological counseling in tandem with your legal counsel.
• Don’t take it out on your attorney. As stated above, I understand the stress a divorce can create. However, your attorney is not your spouse… or the source of that stress. We want to be your ally in this journey and, hopefully, help you find the best possible resolution.
When it comes to the “do’s,” there’s really just one:
• Do follow the Golden Rule. Treat your lawyer the way you would a friend or family member. After all, you will be working very closely with him or her. Share a joke, be warm and understanding and value your attorney’s time.
Remember: Good customer experience, in most cases, isn’t solely dependent on the provider, whether that be an attorney, doctor, or wealth consultant or a waiter, retail salesperson, or grocery store clerk. Those people should be friendly, patient and polite, of course, but that’s not easy if they aren’t being treated in kind. Show them the same treatment, and you’re likely to get much more in return.
Jim Lea has been practicing law for 36 years. In 1996, after only 16 years of practicing law, he received an “A preeminent” rating from Martindale Hubbell, an honor earned by only 10 percent of the country’s lawyers. He has also been named a “Super Lawyer,” honored as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” and “preeminent lawyer,” all for over 10 years. He was recently inducted into “Lawyers of Distinction,” limited to the nation’s top 10 percent of lawyers. His firm has been named by US News and World Report as one of the nation’s top law firms for over five years.