Both you and your lawyer share responsibility for keeping your relationship on the right track. Your lawyer should keep you informed about important developments, estimate what the legal work will cost, include you in the decision making process, and prepare you for important events like testifying in court or answering questions in a deposition.
Here are some things you can do to help your lawyer act effectively on your behalf, save time and money, and help lead to a successful result.
Keep your lawyer informed. As soon as you hire a lawyer, tell the lawyer everything that might pertain to the dispute. Hand over any documents or other items that might be relevant. If you aren’t sure whether a particular fact is important, err on the side of full disclosure. Lawyers are trained to sift through information and determine what is useful and what is not. Your lawyer might be able to use a fact or document you thought was insignificant as the basis for a creative legal argument. And if the information is troublesome, the lawyer will have the chance to think about how to deal with it.
Carefully prepare summaries, timelines, and other materials. If you’re involved in a lawsuit, your lawyer may ask you to write down a timeline, a detailed summary, or just a few notes about events leading up to the lawsuit. Make sure that what you write is accurate and complete. Your lawyer will base your claims and defenses on this information.
Pay attention to deadlines. If your lawyer is representing you in a lawsuit, there may be very tight deadlines. So if your lawyer requests documents or information, provide them as promptly as possible so your lawyer can do a better job of using them. If you can’t respond quickly, or if you won’t be available for a hearing or other scheduled event, let your lawyer know as soon as possible. Many events can be rescheduled, but only if your lawyer has enough warning.
Pay your bills on time. The single most important way you can tell your lawyer how much you value your relationship is to pay your bills on time or, if you can’t, explain why and ask for a payment plan.
Group your questions. You'll save money if you consult with your lawyer on several matters at one time. For example, in one conference, a small business owner may be able to review the annual updating of the corporate minutes book, review a landlord’s lease renewal proposal, and discuss how best to draft a noncompetition agreement for new employees to sign.
Help out. You can do a lot of work yourself. For example, you could help gather documents, line up witnesses for a trial, or write the first draft of a contract. Make the best use of your lawyer’s time; don’t waste it on routine tasks.
Educate yourself. You’re hiring a lawyer to handle the legal stuff for you—why should you have to learn about the law? The answer is that being an informed client helps you work with your lawyer effectively, know what questions to ask, and understand what’s going on. Nolo’s website includes hundreds of articles on many common legal issues. If you need more information, there are many do-it-yourself books and software programs that explain the law in plain English.
Stay in touch. If you have an ongoing need for legal help—for example, if you own a small business—be sure to let your lawyer know if your business wins an award or otherwise is recognized as a leader. Everyone feels good when an enterprise they’re associated with prospers. Also let your lawyer know when you recommend him or her to others.