The relationship between lawyer and client often comes under considerable strain during the long course of a lawsuit, and how well you and your lawyer manage that relationship can significantly affect your litigation experience. A good working relationship can increase the odds of a positive outcome -- and reduce your anxiety considerably.
There are many things a good lawyer should do to keep your relationship on the right track, such as informing you of important developments in the case, including you in the decision-making process, and preparing you for important lawsuit events, like testifying in court or answering questions in a deposition. (For more on what your lawyer should be doing for you, see What You Should Expect From a Lawyer.)
There are also some things you can do to help your lawyer advocate more effectively on your behalf. Following these tips will save you time and money -- and may lead to a more successful result in your lawsuit.
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 might harm your case, the lawyer will have plenty of time to prepare defensive maneuvers.
Carefully prepare summaries, timelines, and other materials. At the beginning of a lawsuit, your lawyer may ask you to write down important facts or a summary of events leading up to the lawsuit. Lawyers request this information in different forms -- some will ask for a timeline, others for a detailed written summary, and others might simply request a few notes. No matter what your lawyer requests, make sure that what you write is accurate. Your lawyer will base your claims and defenses on this information.
Search thoroughly for documents and information. During the course of a lawsuit, your lawyer may ask you for a particular document or certain facts relating to an important incident. Remember, you have much easier access to information about your lawsuit than the lawyer does. Try to answer these requests promptly.
Respond promptly to your lawyer's requests. During a lawsuit, lawyers often have to work under very tight deadlines. The more time you give your lawyer to digest the material you provide, the better job your lawyer can do of using that material to prepare important legal papers. If you aren't able to respond quickly, let your lawyer know as soon as possible. Your lawyer might be able to get an extension of time from your opponent or the court, or rearrange other matters to accommodate the delay.
Keep your lawyer apprised of your schedule. There are certain events in a lawsuit in which you must participate. Often, these events are scheduled weeks or months in advance. Most of these events can be postponed or moved up to accommodate your schedule if the lawyer has enough advance warning that you won't be available. But be prepared to change your plans if you must -- a judge might insist on holding important events (including your trial) on a particular date, regardless of your availability.
Before you meet with a lawyer, you might want to learn some common (and perhaps even not-so-common) legal terms. Get Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary, now available as a free iPhone app, also compatible with iPod touch.