ATTORNEY AND CLIENT

This section discusses the relationship and inter-workings between you and your attorney and his or her staff.

  1. ATTORNEY AND STAFF

    The attorney and staff work as a team, each doing the tasks which they can do most efficiently. You are charged less per hour for the legal assistant’s work than for the attorney’s; therefore, the legal assistant handles many of the more time consuming tasks, like gathering information and day-to-day contact with the client. You will be dealing with both the attorney and the legal assistant, throughout your case.

    As a side note, always be courteous to your attorney’s assistants and staff. These people do more to put your case together than you can imagine.

  2. YOUR ROLE AS CLIENT

    Remember, this is your case, not your attorney’s. Here are some of the things that YOU must do during your case:

    1. Be Informed

      You should be as informed and as involved as your case as possible. Educate yourself about the process of divorce (for example, by reading this guide). Read any and all letters or paperwork your attorney sends you. If you don’t understand something, ask a question. Better yet, make a list of questions for your attorney, and ask them all in one phone call or email (we do charge by the hour, you know).

    2. Keep A File

      Your attorney is should send you a copy of all the documents that are either sent between your lawyer and the opposing lawyer or filed with the court. Save these documents! Make a file in which to keep them. This may be a single folder, a file box, a filing cabinet or a warehouse depending on your case. Please remember to bring that file with you each time that you visit your attorney’s office, or at least the parts of your file your the attorney asks you to bring or you want to talk to him/her about.

    3. Tell Your Attorney the Truth

      You should be totally honest with your attorney. Give all information about anything that even MAY be important in your case. This includes not only information that helps you but, all facts which might hurt your case. Chances are your spouse or his/her attorney is going to find out about them anyway, so don’t let your attorney be the last to know. The "bad stuff" is usually not as harmful as you think.

      Be aware: Any time you are placed under oath at a deposition or hearing, you will be required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Lie under oath and you subject yourself to criminal perjury charges. Likewise, Texas law requires your attorney to see to it that you tell the truth. When you are under oath, your attorney cannot and will not allow you to testify to anything he knows is not the truth.

    4. Information Gathering

      Facts are the heart of your lawsuit. You will be given information sheets to fill out and asked to gather other information and documents. Yes, this will be time-consuming, tedious, and annoying, but it is extremely important. It must be done. You, the client, have a much greater knowledge of and access to these facts than your attorney. As you research and piece together this information, you will develop a deeper understanding of your case. Besides, when you do the work yourself, you aren’t being charged by the hour! For all of these reasons, you should do as much of the information gathering (under the direction of your attorney and staff) as possible.

    5. Review Spouse’s Documents

      Your attorney will give you copies of all documents supplied by your spouse’s attorney. Look at these documents immediately and familiarize yourself with them completely. Then you will be able to ask questions about the documents that your attorney may not know to ask or detect anything important or unusual in the documents (for example, checks written for unusually high amounts or repeated phone calls to a number you don’t recognize).

    6. Decision Making

      Just as there is a division of labor between your lawyer and his/her staff, there should also be a division of labor between you and your lawyer in making decisions about your case. Your lawyer cannot settle your case without your approval and consent. You also must give your approval for other major decisions such as whether to demand a jury or what kind of child custody to seek.

      On the other hand, you need to allow your attorney the authority to make other decisions which involve professional judgment or courtesy. For example, your attorney should decide how to phrase your pleadings and when to file the pleading. You pay us to use those big legal words, right? Also, on occasion, your spouse’s attorney may ask for to reschedule a hearing, deposition, etc. If the request is legitimate (i.e. the witness was in a car wreck the day before), allow your attorney the leeway to extend professional courtesy to the other attorney. Hey, you may need to ask a similar favor in the future. Your attorney should be the decision maker for these kinds of matters.

      Side note: don’t be surprised or offended if your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer are friendly to each other outside of court. This doesn’t make your lawyer a traitor to you. Your lawyer should be fully capable of arguing your case to its fullest, and still having coffee with opposing counsel after the trial.

  3. ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

    You and your attorney and her staff are in an attorney-client relationship. This relationship is recognized by the law, and is very special. Your attorney CANNOT have this relationship with both you AND your spouse. Your attorney and staff owe one hundred percent of their loyalty to you and your case and owe none whatsoever to your spouse (let ‘em get their own lawyer). We call this "zealous advocacy" of our client.

    While it is your attorney’s job to be your champion, so to speak, it is NOT his/her job to be your mom, best friend or psychotherapist. Attorneys are in fact trained to be advocates for their clients without becoming emotionally involved. You hire a lawyer to have someone on your side who has legal expertise. You want your lawyer to use his/her head, not heart. Indeed, you should expect your lawyer to be objective and to remain unemotional on your behalf, because it will often be hard for you to do so. Divorce is an incredibly emotional event for the soon-to-be-exes. You need someone who can keep a clear head.

  4. ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE

    Remember that stuff we discuss earlier about telling your lawyer the truth? Here’s why it shouldn’t scare you to do it: Confidentiality. The privilege of confidentiality (also called "attorney-client privilege") prohibits disclosure of any information, whether spoken or written, between the attorney and the client, so long as the information was meant to be confidential. For example, if you tell your divorce lawyer that you are having an affair with an intern, your lawyer cannot tell your spouse or spouse’s lawyer. Just don’t tell your lawyer one thing then testify to something completely different in court. Privileged communications also include all correspondence or documents from your attorney/staff to you, and vice versa (e.g., information sheets you prepare for us), as well as all telephone conversations and in-person conferences between you and your attorney and staff.

    CAUTION: The attorney-client privilege exists only between you and your attorney and his/her immediate, in-house staff. The privilege can be waived if you tell the otherwise confidential information to people other than your attorney and her immediate staff. For example, if you tell your spouse something that your attorney has told you, then the information has lost its privilege and will have to be disclosed by you in court. Also, the privilege does not exist between you and other persons who may be involved in your case to assist you (e.g., CPAs, appraisers, etc.). Be very careful what you say to people, even if they are "on your side".

  5. CONTRACT

    Read and understand your fee contract. If you don’t understand the financial obligations required of you under the contract, you should immediately discuss those questions with your attorney. Rule #2 of all things legal is "Don’t sign it if you don’t understand it." (In case you’re curious, Rule #1 is "Get a lawyer.")

    Be aware: This may seem like common sense, but lawyers will expect to be paid. If they are NOT getting paid, they may quit your case. This is called "withdrawing." Remember, this is how your lawyer makes a living. You would expect to be paid for the work you do. So does your attorney. Bottom line – pay your lawyer.

  6. OTHER PROFESSIONALS

    Besides your attorney and her immediate, in-house staff, other outside professionals are sometimes hired to assist in the divorce case. It may be necessary to hire an appraiser, a tax expert, CPA and/or other such professionals. Your attorney will talk to you about the necessity of these experts, and will hire only those that your case needs, and you consent to.

    Remember, even though these persons are hired on your behalf, information provided to them is not confidential.

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