Lawyers are only human. This means that you don’t need to be intimidated by your lawyer or someone else’s. It also means that your lawyer won’t be perfect. 

Rules of conduct

Every lawyer is required to follow professional rules of conduct. This includes things like this:

  • They must be competent (able to do a good job). 
  • They must respond to your reasonable communications.
  • They must not have any conflicts of interest.
  • They must respect confidential communications. 

This link to the American Bar Association will take you directly to those rules.  Almost every state has adopted these rules. If you are working with a lawyer, read through them so that you know what to expect. For more information and examples, check out this article by Nolo.

Understanding your lawyer

If you have a lawyer who is polite, highly qualified, and ready to help, then you hit the jackpot! 

People who don’t have the funds to hire an attorney often work with public defenders and legal aid attorneys. Public defenders represent people in criminal cases. Legal aid attorneys work on civil cases. These kinds of lawyers often work hard and are not paid as much as other lawyers. They have large caseloads. It’s hard for them to do their best on every case. Under this stress, they may become tired and irritable. Honestly, that’s how a lot of us feel when we are overwhelmed; we are only human.

Lawyers in private practice are under pressure as well. Many of them work long hours and are expected to bring new clients into their firms. For many attorneys, the kind of work they do feels pretty dull. 

3 tips for working with your attorney

You can improve your chances of success by following these suggestions. If you do your part from the beginning, it will be easier for your lawyer to work on your case. If things don’t go well with your lawyer, then you’ll know you did your part; they should not try to put the blame on you.

1. Be organized. Being organized helps you and your attorney focus on your case and work efficiently. 

  • Keep all of your important papers together.
  • Write down important information about your case.
  • If you have questions, write them down ahead of time. Ask them all in one meeting, email, or message.
  • Provide copies of your important papers, questions, and notes to your attorney so that they can go into your file. Keep a copy for your own file!

2. Respect their time.  They are busy and so are you. A little respect for each other’s time makes for a better working relationship.

  • If you have a hearing or an appointment, be on time. If you can’t avoid being late, call and let them know.
  • If you get a message from your attorney, respond promptly while your case is still fresh in their mind. Also, the question might be time-sensitive if there is a deadline involved. 

3. Be clear that you care about your case. One time I asked someone how his lawyer was doing in his case. He said, “I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out when it’s all over.” This is not a good strategy! Be hands-on with your case.

  • Ask your lawyer how you can help.
  • Follow up if you have questions or concerns.
  • If you think your attorney should have contacted you, don’t wait for them. Remember, they are busy with a huge caseload.
  • Focus their attention on you with clear and polite communication:  “Hello, how are you? I’m just checking in on my case. How are things going? What is the next step I need to prepare for? How can I help? Thank you for your work on my case.” This will let them know that your eyes are on them and your case. 

If you’re unsure about your lawyer

Every lawyer must follow the rules of conduct. No matter how tired, stressed, overworked, or underpaid they may be. Those may be reasons that your attorney is falling short, but they are not good excuses or justifications. If you think there is a problem, check out these strategies.

There are good lawyers out there who advocate for their clients. That is what every person deserves. Knowing what to expect, understanding your lawyer, and following these tips will put you and your lawyer in a better position to succeed.