Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Attorney

Tim Tuggey

By Tim Tuggey, chief legal officer at Justice for Me

Make no mistake about it, from the minute you retain a lawyer, you and your lawyer are a team.  In order for you to get the most out of the hard-earned cash you’ll spend with your lawyer, it’s important for that team to function as efficiently as possible. Each of you are leaders of that team, and your roles as leader-in-chief may move back and forth fluidly as your legal matter unfolds.  

Here are five steps for teaming up with your attorney inspired and translated from Patrick Lencioni’s bestseller, Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Attorney

1-TRUST: From the simplest to most complex legal matter, it is NOT going to work out if you and your lawyer do not have mutual respect and trust. Everything you and your lawyer do in your case or matter depends on trust. Hopefully, you began the process of rapidly building trust when you first interviewed your lawyer and made the decision to retain him or her.  

Here, honest disclosure is essential—both ways.  As a client, spelling out the whole truth of the facts of the situation at hand—no omissions, even if it’s uncomfortable, is important.  In return, your lawyer should be direct and candid about his or her capabilities, experience, and bandwidth to work on your matter. 

The economics of the engagement should be clear, there should be a true meeting of the mind on strategy and objectives, risks and possible rewards.  If your lawyer promises or guaranties a certain result, you need to think twice about hiring them. 

2-CONFLICT.  Building on trust, there must be absolutely be NO FEAR of conflict between you and your lawyer.  Here, I am not referring to knock-down-drag-out fights and such, which are clearly beyond the pale.  There is no reason to be rude or no room for abuse.  In fact, neither should be tolerated.  But, you must speak your mind and expect your lawyer to do the same, even when there is a real disagreement about the next step or course of action. If the disagreements are persistent and severe, the relationship may need to end. But, never should the outcome of your legal matter be the result of a failure to speak plainly on all relevant matters, even to the point of harsh disagreement. 

3-LOYALTY.  If there is trust and candor (even with conflict), there must also be loyalty.  I don’t mean blind loyalty.   If you are about to commit a crime, your lawyer isn’t going to stand by your side and help you commit it.  Likewise, if you discover your lawyer is not truthful, there is no reason to hang around.  But, on some matters, there may be genuine disagreement on the next step in your legal matter.  There may also be some level of uncertainty on a specific matter, such as the possible result of an upcoming hearing.  Here, the concepts of team, trust and candor must forge loyalty in the face of disagreement and uncertainty.  You retained your lawyer for legal advice. If you aren’t going to follow that advice, and constantly question or dispute that advice, fire your lawyer. Otherwise—remain loyal and supportive.

4-ACCOUNTABILITY.  This is the flip side of CONFLICT stated above.  You and your lawyer need to hold each other accountable for your respective roles in the legal engagement.  You and your lawyer should map out, and act upon the process, as well as the legal tactics, strategies and objectives, to achieve your objectives in the legal engagement.  It’s where all these words meet action.

I am speaking of both simple and complex matters.  For example, is there an agreement on how often you and your lawyer will communicate routinely? This agreement can eliminate the single biggest obstacle to a successful engagement and help assure your peace of mind.  Is there also an agreed process and assigned responsibilities for information gathering in the engagement?  Is the lawyer projecting completion of your matter in thirty days, or three years?  What items are in your court? And, what’s in the lawyer’s?   And, so on.

5-RESULTS.  Finally, you and your lawyer must spell out and agree upon both process and objective results and the uncertainty inherent in the latter.  

First, if your lawyer is guarantying a specific result in any legal matter, stop and seek a second opinion.  Like all human activity, legal tasks and cases suffer from human frailties of mistake, incompetence and more.  Adding in the uncertainty of results under most of the law, any guaranties of a specific result or outcome in your case shouldn’t be offered or believed.  

Second, you should get some solid assurances of specific results in process. For example, your lawyer should be able to tell you with fair certainty when they will respond to your call or to the opposing lawyer’s last correspondence of an offer to settle the case. 

Finally, your lawyer should also be held to account for the results of best professional efforts.  Your lawyer should be able to offer a range of likely outcomes in your case, along with a range of timelines to completion.  Once these measurable outcomes are agreed upon, hold your lawyer accountable for them.

These 5 WAYS should start to help you understand the best ways to work with your lawyer as a team on your legal matter.

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