For many people, the first (and sometimes only) time they will need the assistance of an attorney is during a family law case. Working with a family law attorney generally does not come with a handbook. However, there are some things that are helpful to know when you retain an attorney. Here are 6 things to keep in mind when working with an attorney:
1. It is your attorney’s job to be your advocate and also play devil’s advocate.
When you retain an attorney, your attorney is promising to zealously advocate for your interests. One of the challenges of being a family law attorney is balancing advocating for your client without taking on your client’s position as your own. In order to be an effective advocate, an attorney must be able to remain open-minded, see the weaknesses in the client’s position, and advise the client about how a court may rule on a particular issue. Please remember that when your attorney plays devil’s advocate with you, it is not because they are not diligently working for your interests. Rather, playing devil’s advocate, understanding the opposing party’s positions, and advising you on how a court may rule on an issue is part of your attorney’s job.
2. A good attorney will help you pick and choose your battles rather than fight every battle to the death.
Particularly in the area of family law, there are times when settlement of some issues is truly in a client’s best interests. A skilled family law attorney will help you to understand which battles are worth fighting and which ones are not. It is always a client’s decision on whether or not to settle certain issues in a case. However, your attorney can help provide insight into which issues are worth investing your time, energy, and financial resources.
3. Your attorney is not your therapist.
In a family law case, it is common for a client to share with their attorney the intimate details regarding their relationship. The attorney may also ask for some of this information so that the attorney can get a better understanding of the dynamic between you and the other party. However, the information your attorney is gathering is for the purpose of preparing your legal case. While your attorney is always there to support you, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or emotionally-drained due to your legal case, it is best to get a skilled therapist or counselor on board rather than rely solely on your attorney for this support. Each professional can assist you in their area of expertise, which is ultimately to your benefit.
4. You must be honest with your attorney.
In order for your attorney to present your best case to the court, you must be completely honest with your attorney at all times. Fortunately, communications between an attorney and a client are confidential, and therefore you can take comfort in knowing that you can be honest with your attorney. If there is a particular fact that you believe may reflect negatively on you, it is always better to be upfront with your attorney so that your attorney can strategize how to deal with the negative fact rather than wait for the opposing side to bring it up.
5. Your attorney is bound to ethical rules that govern your attorney’s conduct.
All attorneys in the State of Colorado are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules govern what attorneys can and cannot do as a practicing attorney. For example, if an opposing party is represented by an attorney, your attorney is prohibited from communicating directly with the opposing party and must only communicate with the other attorney. At times, clients request that attorneys take an action which would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. In that situation, your attorney will explain to you why that action cannot be taken, as violating these ethical rules can result in sanctions against the attorney, including the attorney being disbarred.
6. When Working with an Attorney, Communication is key.
The most important thing to remember when working with an attorney is that communication is critical. If you have questions about why your attorney is taking a certain position or the ultimate strategy for your case, please ask. Likewise, if you need your attorney to explain the law or legal process again, never hesitate to ask. After all, it is your interests that your attorney is advocating for.
Laura Monty Law is a divorce lawyer in Fort Collins, Colorado.