Q: It has been about a month since I paid my retainer, and I haven’t seen much of anything, but I also know the legal process is slow. Any recommendations for how often I should expect to be communicating with my attorney? Is there a step by step guide to working with a divorce attorney out there?
A: This is a good question, but a big one, so I am going to break it down and deal with the larger issue first: navigating the attorney-client relationship. As a divorce attorney myself, I hope I can offer some advice as to what you can and cannot expect from the attorney’s perspective. Much of what I am about to say can be found in New York’s “Statement of Client’s Rights and Responsibilities,” which is available at http://www.nycourts.gov/litigants/clientsrights.shtml. This should be posted in your attorney’s office and/or given to you on your first meeting (at my firm, each client is given a copy of the statement that they sign).
First, your attorney should map out a “game plan” and a step-by-step guide as to what you can expect in your case. If he or she hasn’t done so, ask for one!
Second, you should call or email your attorney as often as necessary and appropriate. Do what feels right: if something major happens, you should, of course, reach out. If you find you are calling her every day just to “check in,” you might be wasting your time and money. I have some clients with very active cases with whom I speak on an almost daily basis and other with whom I may not speak for months. In the latter case, however, the lack of communication is always part of our deliberate plan to take no action or wait for the other side to make the first move.
If it has been a month since you have heard from your attorney and “no action” was not part of your plan, you should reach out and ask what is going on. On that note, it is completely reasonable to expect a prompt call or email back from your attorney. And by prompt, I mean within a day. If your attorney is not responsive or you have to call her several times before hearing back, perhaps she is not the right attorney for you. Finally, you can also expect your attorney to provide you with all of the relevant documents in your case. You shouldn’t have to ask to receive important documents (e.g., settlement letters, your spouse’s statement of net worth)-it is incumbent on your attorney to be proactive.
While I am advocating for holding high expectations of your attorney, also remember that your attorney is only human and may, on occasions, make mistakes or have times where she is not as responsive. She deserves to be treated with kindness, respect, and understanding, especially if she is usually diligent and on top of things. Also remember that, unless your name is Kennedy or Rockefeller, you are probably not your attorney’s only client and you should be accommodating if she has a trial, depositions, or meetings. Of course, if your attorney always seems to be absorbed in another case and never has time for you, something else may be going on.