For the past twenty six years I have been practicing law.  It definitely does not feel as though it has been that long, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

To me, it has always been about helping people.  However as I get set in my ways I notice how habits develop without me even knowing  it.  I was not aware of some of these habits until I was on the other side of the desk, a client with my own lawyer!

What I have taken from this situation is helpful to both clients and counsel alike.

As counsel I have always tried to put myself “in my client’s shoes”.

What I mean by this is that I approach each client as if I were on the other side of the desk. What do I expect from my counsel?  Of course, I use the word and noun “counsel” on purpose.  The first thing I will expect is counsel from my lawyer.  This means counsel within the retainer, not counselling in the psychological sense.  Your lawyer is not a qualified therapist and, even if he or she is, their time is are a very expensive therapeutic option.  As a result, keep your communication in a factual manner. 

The second thing is that I always try to provide personal replies and answers to legal issues and questions, rather than delegating this to a clerk or a junior lawyer.  Answers ought to be dealt with as soon as possible.  I would expect as a client to receive emergency answers immediately – and if the issue is an emergency to me but not, in an objective manner, to my lawyer, for someone to let me know this and be comforted that the answer will be coming.

Thirdly, I  expect my counsel to listen to my needs.  Do I need every dime I can get out of the litigation, or is there a range of results?  What is the range, and most importantly what is the cost /benefit analysis at each stage?  If I have three children and my spouse argues that his personal business only earns $40,000 per year, and he lives otherwise, this may require more resources and time than someone who is arguing the difference between an income of $100,000 and $110,000. What are the costs in continuing?  Is the cost of continuing likely going to outweigh the result?  What are the emotional and psychological costs?  Can I afford the time to deal with a minor issue – is it worth that last court appearance if I am in a new job that I love – and the attendance might prejudice it?  I always look at the person across from me and wonder if I were in his or her position, what could I afford?  How far would I go?  Do I need this “win” (and by the way sometimes one needs a “win” to stop further litigation harassment).

Now that I am on the other side of the desk, I have also learned a few other things.  I cannot control what is happening and I leave that to the expertise of the lawyer I have researched and chosen.  But, I realize that the minor issues that even I sometimes forget about when I am counsel can be very frustrating and even undermine an efficient and reasonable settlement.  For example, facts not relevant to the action are sometimes incorrect in briefs.  While this usually makes no difference in the final result, it can be very frustrating to a client.  The client wonders if the lawyer cannot get a name of a child or a birthdate or other fact straight, is he or she really listening to me?  Do they really care, or am I just a file number?  This is important to a client.

Keep the client apprised of what is going on.  A very intelligent and caring clerk told me to always send everything to the client – keep them apprised about what is happening.  This gives your client confidence and with confidence, the ability to accept recommendations in an educated and objective manner.  Without this information and knowledge a client may be hesitant to accept recommendations. Keeping them up to date as the matter proceeds allows for fair and intuitive analysis and makes the job so much easier for everyone.

In the end a client ought to expect a caring devoted counsel, not a friend.  One should know all the pros and cons to the matter and the eventual results early on.  Is there a game plan? And are you part of the development of the plan?  Do you have a contact if the lawyer is not available?  Ask yourself before any communication, what do you need to learn? What information do you need?  If your lawyer asks you to do something (disclosure, productions, medical reports) they are doing it for a reason.  If there is trust and communication, this will expedite the process and provide a team approach.  Think of the lawyer and his or her staff and associates as your team and like in any good sports team, set up a game plan and try to stick to it.

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Kim Kieller is  a partner at Barriston, practicing  in estate and matrimonial (support and property issues) matters, mediation and arbitration.  For the record, the litigation she is involved in has nothing to do with any of her areas of practice!