Top 10 Things Your Lawyer Won't Tell You

Posted over 2 years ago. Applies to Arizona, 12 helpful votes



You don't always need a lawyer. (Shhhhh! Don't tell anyone!)

Attorneys who do not have a full understanding or appreciation of their role in society and/or just want your money at any cost--including their ability to look themselves in the mirror and even possibly keep their license to practice law--may tell you that you must ALWAYS have a lawyer accompany you every step of the way in all legal matters and proceedings. This may or may not be true, depending on what kind of issue or case it is, how complicated, how much experience you personally have with that area of law or with the law in general, whether courts let you represent yourself in that type of case, etc.


You can do some of the work yourself.

This is a corollary to No. 1 and is not any less important. Even if you find you do need to hire a lawyer to assist you with a legal matter--which is very often the case--there are many things that you can and should do to help your lawyer out and save yourself some money in the process. Things like filling out paperwork (particularly where it involves questions only you know the answers to), digging up records or capturing and preserving evidence (like keeping a diary/log, taking pictures, taking videos, requesting copies of vital, tax or police records), or thinking of friends, family and others you have encountered who may have relevant knowledge of the issue at hand and would make good witnesses and would be willing to testify on your behalf. If your attorney does not ask you to do any specific tasks, volunteer. Trust me: They and their overwhelmed support staff almost certainly will be extremely appreciative and forever grateful.


It generally does not help to contact your lawyer constantly.

Nothing drives lawyers crazier faster than the pest who bugs them every minute of every day (including evenings and weekends) with phone calls, e-mails, texts, etc., inquiring about the status of their case and demanding an immediate reply. You wouldn't like it if other clients kept bothering your lawyer the whole time he or she were trying to do some work on your case, would you? Of course not. So don't do it to them. Your lawyer is a professional and an officer of the court and, as such, they have a duty to promptly inform you when they have news of any real value to share. If they don't do so, of course, then you have a valid complaint of lack of diligence that you should voice. Otherwise, let them do their job so they can best help you.


Be an adult.

Take responsibility for your own actions. If you make a mistake, admit it. If you failed to follow through on a promise, admit it. (Lawyers could benefit from taking this advice too.) Part of being an adult is also just being willing to tell your lawyer everything they need to know--the good, the bad and the ugly--because anything you discuss with them in private stays confidential unless there is some public safety emergency or you both agree it is key to the case and thus should be disclosed. Remember, your lawyer is there to help you, and they can't do that to the best of their ability if you leave out something important. You may think some certain piece of information is trivial, but it may be the key to blowing the case wide open in your favor.


Don't sweat the small stuff. (Spoiler alert: It's all small stuff!)

Well, that's not entirely true. There are usually some pretty big and important issues to contend with too, but the important thing is to try to gain a sense of perspective. Look at the overall picture: Is it really worth fighting over who gets the garage-sale floral couch with the same amount of energy as who gets custody of the children?


A lawyer is not a mental health counselor.

Attorneys understand that you may be going through a very rough time in life, particularly if the legal issue involves family in crisis or demise. However, while lawyers may be called "counselors" from time to time, it is only because they provide counseling of a legal kind. That is, they give legal advice. Make no mistake: Lawyers can be a crucial part of your support team. But if you need a shoulder to cry on or feel a need to pour out your feelings or talk about all your personal problems to someone other than family and friends or even work on some thorny emotional issue, go see a therapist. In fact, your lawyer may know some very good ones to refer you to if you ask.


Another spoiler alert: A lot of it is just for show.

People see lawyers grandstanding and acting very outlandishly and aggressively on TV shows and movies, and even frequently in real courtrooms. It makes for good drama and something even good comedy, and they think, "I want a lawyer like that; a real bulldog." However, the reality is that this type of behavior tends to backfire; not only is it not particularly helpful, it can actually be detrimental to their client's best interests. Moreover, a lot of it really is just showing off for the camera, so to speak. They want their client to think they are getting their money's worth; but all they are getting is a big fat show, not the best possible outcome for their case.


Don't use the legal system just to get even.

You may not think lawyers and judges can see right through this, but eventually they almost always do, even if it takes a while. So don't try it. Do try to get what is reasonably and fairly coming to you, but don't get greedy. Not only does it usually not work, it is unbecoming.


Approach your court case as if it were just a business transaction (because it is).

To you this may be the worst thing that has ever happened in your life. To your attorney and the court, though, this is just another case. The laws are not designed to compensate you for the ordinary emotional angst of going through a court case, even a divorce. (Speaking of divorce, Arizona is a no-fault state, so neither spouse has to prove that the other did anything "wrong" or "bad" to "deserve" a divorce. If at least one spouse wants out of the marriage, they can get a divorce, regardless of what the other spouse wants.) The only thing the judge is concerned with is whether everything that the law says has to be covered in the dissolution of a marriage--dividing assets and debts, awarding child custody and support, etc.--get covered. Nothing more, nothing less. So don't turn it into a soap opera. Leave that stuff out of the courtroom, and just look at it like the winding up of a business. Which is what it is; the end of a personal business, but a business nonetheless.


Budget how to use your money most wisely.

If you pay a lawyer to file your divorce papers but don't have any left for the final hearing, you've wasted your money. If you can't afford to hire an attorney to represent you from start to finish, decide what the most important aspect of your case is to you and concentrate on getting legal help for that. Or have a lawyer behind the scenes supporting you with sage advice when you need it most while you represent yourself in court. Whatever you do, don't leave anything to chance. Figure out how you are going to cover your costs, whether that means putting it on a credit card, getting a signature loan, borrowing from family or friends, etc. And if you really want to stop getting good attentive service from your attorney, stop paying them what you owe. Finally, just ask yourself one question: What must be done to get to the finish line and get on with my life? Not, how can I "bury" the other person? You'll be much happier in the long run, and have a lot more money left in your pocket.


Legal disclaimer

This legal guide should not be construed as formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

Additional Resources

Joan M. Bundy, Chandler family law attorney

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