As hard as it may be to have a relationship with your ex during a divorce, the one you engage in with your attorney can be even more challenging. If you’re one of the many people who has to retain a lawyer for your divorce process (which is hard to avoid), it will serve you well to have the best attorney-client relationship possible.
Relating to an attorney is unique because it involves a mix of dependency and power. You need your attorney for your livelihood, but your attorney does work for you so you also have some control over how things unfold.
Whoever you retain to assist you with the legal aspects of your divorce will be one of the most important people in your life for a long time. It can become a love-hate relationship very quickly, but there are certainly ways to make it go more smoothly and effectively.
It was important for me to offer you first-hand advice on this topic, and since I’m not an attorney, I consulted with a colleague who is. Allie Weinstein, a prominent divorce attorney in Beverly Hills, California contributed to the following advice:
1. Don’t use your attorney as your therapist.
Lawyers are not trained to do therapeutic work, and although they deal regularly with highly emotional people, it turns out they don’t really feel it’s helpful for your case for them to play a therapist role. Allie also makes a very good point when reminding her clients that the average hourly rate of an attorney is significantly higher than a therapist so you want to use your time with them well.
2. Don’t withhold information.
Allie highly recommends being completely honest. Although this may seem obvious, she says that many of her clients feel embarrassed and ashamed of the whole story of their divorce so they withhold information, not realizing that it’s essential to their case. She stresses that details are important to crafting the best deal, so if you’re not comfortable being honest you might want to be sure that you’re with the right attorney.
3. Don’t fire your attorney out of anger.
It can get frustrating working with a lawyer, especially when emotions and anger are running high with regard to the divorce. Avoid projecting your anger onto your attorney, and remember that there’s always a bigger picture, so don’t jump to firing your attorney without exploring what’s going on within yourself and in the relationship. Plowing through a string of attorneys is not only costly, but it also takes up your time and energy, so interview a few before making a final choice to ensure it’s a good fit.
4. Do get organized documents in on time.
It may seem like you can just send all your documents to your attorney in the same manner you’ve been maintaining them, but Allie advises that you make sure they’re neat and tidy. The less organized your information is, the more work your lawyer has to do and the more money you’ll be charged. Your time is way less valuable than your lawyers when it comes to paperwork, so spend some time doing it yourself.
5. Do Keep your attorney in the loop.
It’s essential that you keep your attorney updated on financial changes and on any concerns you have with your kids, says Allie. While you don’t want to be sending daily emails, you should keep fastidious notes and send one summary when you feel you have a good amount of information to share. If you’re unsure about whether something is a big deal, air on the safe side and run it by your attorney so you don’t cause any unnecessary damage.
6. Do treat the relationship with respect.
Even though you are employing your attorney, it’s important to treat the relationship as you would any valuable interpersonal relationship you sustain. Expressing gratitude, using your manners, treating them like a human being and remembering that they are working hard for you will help you keep the dynamic reciprocal and healthy. Even in the harder moments use your best relational skills to be a good communicator and partner in the process.
Lawyers have a bad rap, but the attorney-client relationship is a two-way street. This is true for any service profession, but know that you have the power and control to make the relationship as positive as possible. Avoid making things harder through an already challenging life transition by treating your attorney as an ally and not your adversary. A good attorney wants to help you settle and to get you the best deal possible so you can go on to live a good life beyond divorce.
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