Have you ever stood at a store counter, waiting for help or to make a purchase, while the clerk stands there a few feet away with her back to you, doing something else? She knows you're there. You KNOW she knows you're there. You're in a hurry. You need something. You're a paying customer and the reason she has a job. Yet she doesn't even acknowledge you, not even murmuring a "be right with you" as she finishes typing a text or rearranging a display. It's infuriating, right?
It's even more infuriating when the person you're trying to get help from is your retained attorney, and you're in the middle of a divorce, likely the most stressful event of your lifetime. This is the person who's supposed to help you! You've paid him a big retainer! Why can't you get a simple phone call?
There are a lot of reasons your lawyer might not be calling you back — some of them actually reasonable. Let's talk about some of them, along with ways you can get what you actually need from your attorney.
When you call your attorney and don't get a call back, it's easy to take it personally, but most of the time, it's not. Good attorneys are busy--meeting with clients, preparing for motions, mediations, and trials, and of course appearing in court. It can be difficult to even catch your attorney in his or her office, let alone with a few minutes free to talk.
That said, even good attorneys do sometimes avoid talking to clients on the phone. There are some good reasons why (and a couple of bad ones). Your attorney may not want to take your call because you call frequently for updates and he or she has no news to share. Remember that attorneys bill for their time.If your attorney bills you for phone calls, as most do, you could easily be getting a large bill for a phone call that you didn't really need. Alternately, the attorney may not bill you, but has lost time — his or her most valuable asset. Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but if an attorney takes twenty unnecessary fifteen-minute phone calls a week, that's five hours of work lost.
Reasonable or not, attorneys also dread calling back clients who go on at length rather than getting to the point. We all have friends, acquaintances, relatives and co-workers like this. Do you ever let these people go to voice mail when you see them pop up on Caller ID, especially when you're too busy to talk for an hour? Your lawyer does, too.
Divorce lawyers may also avoid talking to clients who have a history of calling them for support they're not able to provide. Most divorce clients are sad, angry, stressed, anxious, frustrated and confused by turns, and sometimes all at once. If you have a good divorce attorney, he or she will care about your feelings. But your lawyer is not the first person you should call to talk about them--he or she probably isn't trained as a therapist, and would be a very costly one in any case! If you need someone to vent to, your attorney probably can connect you with a counselor or support group that will meet your emotional needs better than he or she can.
Divorce attorneys also don't like to return calls to clients who are likely to be abusive. Let's face it: divorce is very stressful, and people under great stress are not often not calm and reasonable. (Think about your own work: if a co-worker or client was demanding, unreasonable, and yelled at you in nearly every interaction, often for things out of your control, how willing would you be to deal with them?) Your mom was right: you do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Of course, there are those attorneys who don't call back because they haven't done work they promised, or because they're swindlers, lazy, or irresponsible. But remember that this is a very small group; most divorce attorneys go into this challenging practice area precisely because they genuinely like and want to help people.
If your attorney truly won't respond to you, changing attorneys is an option, even well into your divorce. Your attorney does have an ethical obligation to keep you informed about your case. While you can change attorneys at any time in your case, you want to make sure you're not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire in terms of attorney communication. Before you choose to switch attorneys, consider whether there's anything that can be done to fix the problem with your current attorney, especially if you are otherwise happy.
To learn more about what you should expect regarding communication with your divorce attorney, we invite you to contact Shaffer & Associates online or call (619) 595-3167 today to schedule a free consultation. And keep your eyes on our blog — in our next post, we'll share tips for getting the communication you need out of your attorney's office.