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2018 Legal Resolutions

Make A Resolution To Be A Problem Solver

/ Common Questions

Another new year is upon us. In the spirit of making a list of resolutions, I thought it might be helpful for our current clients and prospective clients to get in the minds of their favorite SW&L attorneys. Think of this article as inside information to be a problem solver and help win your court case.

Big Picture First. When a client first meets an attorney, the client has a tendency to drill down to the fine details of the issue and explain as much as possible in a very short time. The attorney is learning the case for the first time. The attorney needs to know general issues first, then details second. For instance, the client can start by saying, “I need a divorce. I want custody of my child. I want child support.” From there, the attorney can divide the conversation into three distinct categories. An efficient conversation takes less time. Less time means less money paid by the client.

Telling the Truth is Hard. Lying is Fatal. Lying is everywhere and it happens all the time. Learning to spot liars is trending. So what’s the big deal if everyone is doing it? One big lie or a series of little lies could mean the difference in whether the client is believed by the court and jury or whether the client is seen as a scoundrel. Judges and juries believe honest witnesses and give them the benefit of the doubt. A witness who gets caught in a lie destroys any credibility with the judge or jury. Always tell your attorney the truth, no matter how embarrassing it is for you or how bad it may be for your case. A skilled attorney can deal with a bad set of facts if she has time to prepare. Just don’t expect miracles from your attorney if she learns the truth from the other side during the court hearing.

Read What Your Attorney Sends. An email or letter from the attorney has a purpose. It can inform the client about an upcoming deadline, make a request for specific evidence, or explain the motion filed by the adverse party. It also looks like blah blah blah…. One occupational hazard of being an attorney is that we have to read…a lot. It can all be very boring. This may be reflected in the attorney’s letters. We don’t expect to win any accolades for this writing style so please bear with us.

Digital Messages Are Evidence. These include the scathing texts that were sent after midnight when the client had one too many sarsaparillas. And the accompanying photos from the same night. Whether the client was in a clear state of mind or even remembered doing it makes little difference. The client’s ex is a piece of trash. That’s something the client shares with his or her closest friends, not the Twitterverse.

Slam Dunks Only Exist in Basketball. Have realistic expectations. A client’s anticipated result from a case may not be grounded in reality. No legal matter, no matter how much the client believes, is a slam dunk case. Memories fade, evidence disappears, and people lose interest. Laws change, judges retire, and juries are unpredictable. It’s called the “practice” of law because no two cases are ever alike and the answer is never the same, regardless of the result for the client’s cousin’s niece’s boyfriend’s case that was pretty much the same except for a few other things.

Ask Questions. Your attorney is not a mind reader. If you have a question or don’t understand what’s going on, speak up. Here are some useful phrases that solve problems:

“What do you need from me?” The client should not limit giving information only to the extent the client thinks it is important. Asking what the attorney wants opens a dialogue. Both the client and the attorney will learn more about the case and the evidence when the client asks what the attorney needs to prove the case.

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me.” Attorneys have a reputation for talking over their clients. And often clients are too afraid to say they don’t understand what attorneys are telling them because clients don’t want attorneys to think they are dolts. A good attorney-client relationship is built on communication. Just as the attorney doesn’t know the fine details of the client’s problem from the start, the attorney should not assume the client knows the fine details of legal strategies.

“When will all of this be over?” Legal issues take time. I always tell my clients that they need to reset their concept of time for a lawsuit. The court’s idea of “fast” is something that happens in two weeks. It’s normal for a client to become impatient with the legal system and the attorney. The attorney can explain to the client why the matter is taking so long. Usually the answer is found in a procedural rule that sets the timeline.

“I’m afraid to be in court.” This is a normal reaction. Lawyers, judges, court reporters, and courtroom staff are the only people who make a living by being in a courtroom. If the client is uncomfortable with the idea of being questioned by another attorney or sitting in front of a jury, the client needs to explain that to the attorney. The attorney can work with the client to dispel some myths about the courtroom to make the experience not altogether unpleasant. It will still suck, only a little less.

“There’s something I forgot to tell you.” To repeat, always tell your attorney the truth. The attorney knows that the client will not be able to recite the entire issue with 100% accuracy during the first meeting. Memory is a tricky thing. If a detail you originally stated was not accurate, you need to correct it right away. Good attorneys are problem solvers. This is especially so when the attorney has time to solve the problem. Withholding information from your attorney doesn’t make the problem go away. Be a problem solver.

If you have legal issues, visit our website to check out our practice areas or call SW&L at 701-297-2890. Or you can email info@swlattorneys.com. We can help solve the problem.

The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.