You're in the midst of a divorce, one of the biggest and most stressful events of your life, and your divorce lawyer won't return your phone calls. There might be any number of reasons why, but understanding the problem is only the beginning of finding the solution. Your goal is to get your questions answered and your stress level reduced--not increased by the frustration of being unable to communicate. Here are some tips for getting what you need from your divorce attorney without your blood pressure going through the roof:
If you're early in your attorney-client relationship, ask the following questions in an initial meeting: How long should I wait for a call back if I call you? How often should I expect updates about my case? What's your preferred way to communicate? What kinds of things should I contact you about, and when should I deal with your staff instead? Take note of the answers.
It seems obvious, but many people pick up the phone and dial without knowing what their objective is. If you know what you need, you'll be able to ask for it more efficiently. Your lawyer's a lot more likely to call you back (and less likely to bill you for it) if he or she knows it will be a two-minute call instead of a twenty-minute one. Or, in figuring out your objective, you may discover that what you're looking for is something you might better find elsewhere, like emotional support for the stress you're going through, and you may decide not to call your attorney at all.
If you're calling to convey factual information or ask a brief question, consider doing it by e-mail. First, this gives your attorney a record of what you wanted to communicate, and second, allows them to respond when they have a moment – which may not be when you're free to talk. Even if the information merits a call, an advance e-mail can make the call more efficient.
It may be that your question doesn't need to be answered by your attorney. Try his or her paralegal or assistant first. Support staff often have a wealth of knowledge, especially about procedural things. If the support staff isn't equipped to answer your question, they'll give it to the attorney, who now knows his staff has deemed it necessary for him to deal with.
Yes, your attorney has an ethical duty to keep you informed about your case. That doesn't mean he or she is subject to disbarment for failing to call you back quickly. Threatening to call the State Bar on your attorney will not make him want to do his best work for you. Thinking about your own work experience, how do you feel when you hear that a customer who is known for harsh language and complaining is waiting for you to pick up on Line 1? Your attorney gets the same feeling. Also, don't make threats to fire your attorney unless you really plan to. No one responds well to ultimatums.
If all else fails, make an appointment for a fifteen-minute phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Explain, with specific examples if possible, how your expectations for communications have not been met, and ask the attorney what he or she thinks is causing the breakdown. Listen to the answers, and be ready for the possibility that you bear some responsibility. Also be prepared for the possibility that you and your attorney are not a good fit and that you may need to consider retaining a different attorney. It's better to do that than have the outcome of your divorce jeopardized by inability to communicate with your attorney.
Choose carefully. Get referrals from people you know and trust in order to choose the best divorce attorney for you. Interview your prospective attorney, and make clear that communication is important to you. As noted above, ask how, when, and with whom you can expect to communicate, and clarify what to do if those expectations are not being met.
The bottom line is that, although your attorney is surely busy, they should recognize that you are relying on them for information about something that will affect your life and your relationships. Your attorney deserves to be treated with consideration and respect, but so do you. Your relationship with your divorce attorney is a partnership, which like all partnerships, requires regular and clear communication. If you do your part, your attorney will be able to do his or her part much better.
Learn more about why we believe mutual respect and solid communication between divorce lawyers and clients is so essential. We invite you to contact Shaffer & Associates online, or call (619) 595-3167 today to schedule a free consultation.