Best Lawyers recently notified me that I have again qualified for a national Best Lawyer recognition in two categories: Employment Law - Management and Litigation - Labor and Employment. I have qualified for this recognition every year since 2012. This notice started me thinking about ways lawyers can best serve their clients...and how clients can best serve their own interests. I offer a few of my many thoughts on this subject.
Be Honest with Your Lawyer
Your lawyer cannot give you the best advice unless you provide your lawyer with accurate information. Do not withhold information because you are embarrassed by something you did or did not do.
Your lawyer needs to know how you goofed things up to help you plan the best way to tackle your current dilemma. You may not grasp how your misstep fits into the legal big picture. Allowing your lawyer to create strategy without knowledge of something you suspect is significant can be disastrous. Don’t put your lawyer in the unfortunate position of first learning about something you did from the opponent…after you’re committed to a position.
Happily, sometimes what you think is a screw-up can turn out to be a plus for you.
Count on this: Those unfortunate remarks or posts have often been recorded in some fashion, and someone probably still has the texts and emails, so ‘fess up and figure out how to deal with reality.
Long ago and far away, I had someone "test" a story on me. He made it up just to see if he could sell it, but he had already given several other conflicting accounts, so his ruse was not hard to catch. Don’t put your lawyer in the middle of your trying to commit perjury.
The importance of being forthcoming ties in with Rule #1 – be honest and try to provide as complete a picture of the facts as possible.
Your lawyer is not psychic.
Your lawyer is also not your prosecutor. Do not require him/her to explicitly ask for every single piece of information. Don't make her drag the facts out of you. Your lawyer will ask you to provide many types of records and will suggest categories to you, but only you know if you have additional, unusual types of evidence that could be useful. I have learned that evidence can turn up in some pretty unusual forms. Maybe your lawyer overlooked asking for what you have on a flash drive. Maybe he has no idea that several employees had consensual affairs with the boss in the past and omits asking about that. Speak up! If your lawyer asks for all communications with X, including texts and emails, go ahead and point out the communications on WhatsApp and the Facebook comments your HR Manager posted.
You hired a lawyer because you have a problem with legal implications and your lawyer presumably knows more about those legal issues than you do, right? If your lawyer asks you for records that you never thought of as relevant, the better practice is to trust your lawyer and provide the records. Your interpretations may differ greatly from an interpretation filtered through the legal lens. If production will be complex, work through the options to find a reasonable method.
Your lawyer will try to give you an informed opinion, and that may require devoting time you don’t think is particularly necessary. I once received a call from someone who wanted to pay a total fee of $100 "and stop there." Clarifying, I asked, “So, I only get part of the way through reviewing your contract and I’ve devoted the time that yields a $100 fee, you want me to stop reading and only give you advice based on the part I’ve read? Even if I have not finished reading the whole contract?” The answer: “Yes, exactly.” The result: engagement declined. What legitimate lawyer with your best interests at heart would presume to give legal counsel based on just a limited, incomplete chunk of information?
Pay Attention to Your Lawyer
You hired a lawyer because that person presumably knows more than you do about the legal issues you are facing. Accordingly, give your full attention to what your lawyer is telling you. Do not check out of the discussion the minute you think you have heard what you were hoping to hear, because there is often more that needs to be understood beyond the “good news.” Also listen carefully to the part about risks. Ask questions. Pay attention to the comparisons among alternate courses of action. Be open to considering the worst outcomes...because those sometimes happen, despite careful planning.
Your Lawyer Does Not Equate to a Hired Gun
Yes, lawyers can be useful communicators, adding heft to notice letters in the heat of a dispute and extra authority or credibility in responding to government audits. However, most lawyers are not going to write a nasty “go jump off a cliff” letter without an understanding of what has led up to that. Sometimes telling someone to take a flying leap is not in your best interests. Sometimes it is. Your lawyer should try to help you figure that out, so don’t expect on demand poison pen service. If you want to write a “take a flying leap” letter without any discussion of whether that’s a good idea, you should probably just do that yourself.
Nothing in this blog post constitutes legal advice. Content is provided for general informational purposes only. Always consult the statutes, regulations, and competent legal counsel to secure answers to your questions abased on your unique factual picture.