When speaking with your attorney, does the attorney promise you the world? Are you always 100% right? This may feel comforting at the time and may confirm in your mind that you are right and that you will “win” and that the attorney’s fees are money well spent. However, such promises may not be realistic and may be more designed to please you than to realistically explain your legal position and the options available to you. One of the challenges attorneys face—especially with family law cases—is managing expectations. “Justice”, sometimes in the form of vengeance, is a frequently desired outcome in family law cases. Clients who are experiencing tremendous emotional pain and fear often believe they are entitled to “justice”—but they really mean the way they see “justice”. Sometimes “justice” to a Court is the opposite of what a Client believes it should be. Often, Courts process family law cases without even considering the Client’s vision of “justice”. How does this help a Client who was unprepared for such a result? It doesn’t and often results in the Client believing there was bias or some sort of behind the scenes intrigue at work. So, how does an attorney help a Client become realistic as to their expectations from the family law court? This article briefly touches upon this aspect of communication with your attorney. It is not meant as an instructive treatise by any means, but as an introduction to an issue not regularly encountered by non-attorneys. The information contained, here, does not constitute a legal opinion nor is it legal advice.
The practice of law, like so many other things, is not like it is portrayed on television or in books. TV and books keep our interest because of the drama and surprise inherent in the story being told. While the drama may be present in even an ordinary divorce or child custody case, there are not a lot of surprises in family court rulings. A good attorney knows, or strongly suspects, how a certain judge is going to handle your case—even before you know it. There are laws that govern family law and the interpretation of those laws by a certain judge is familiar to the attorney who practices in front of that judge. There is tremendous value in your attorney knowing how your judge rules on most issues. You and your attorney can create your case strategy in light of their prior experience with this judge, assuring you a better chance for success.
When your attorney tells you ONLY what you want to hear, that is a disservice to you. The chances of you succeeding on every aspect of your case, as well as teaching the opposing party a lesson they will never forget, is not high. You need to hear your realistic chances of succeeding with certain strategies so you may make choices that are right for you. Once you know what is likely to happen for each issue based on the strategy you and your attorney create, you can decide how best to pursue your goals in the litigation. Without the knowledge of likely consequences for each pleading, action, argument and choice, you will be disappointed and surprised when the Court rules against you. Admittedly, the disappointment is sometimes unavoidable—the surprise, though, is almost always avoidable. You should at least have known that the “surprise” was a possibility because of a course of action pursued. The attorney who does not explain to you the pitfalls and risks and options that are a consequence of your choices, is keeping you in the dark.
One of the most difficult conversations an attorney has with a Client is when they explain the problems they are going to encounter taking a certain position—and what the attorney and Client must do to control for that problem. The Client may have done something that will reflect negatively upon them. The attorney must try to explain the action to the Court and control its effect. Managing a Client’s expectations is not only a matter of good practice, it is the best way to respect the importance of the Client’s case and the Client’s ability to make decisions that are unique to their own needs. Sometimes this conversation between the attorney and Client can feel to the Client like blame or shame coming from the attorney. The attorney may be addressing behavior or actions of the Client that are embarrassing or reflect poorly on the Client. However, the alternative is for the attorney to hide this unfavorable information from the Client and just hope for the best when it comes out in Court. This is NOT the way to succeed when litigating. Failing to prepare for the release of damaging information in Court spells disaster. You want an honest assessment from your attorney so you can make the best choices available and maximize your chances of success.
Being told you are 100% right all the time feels good at that time. However, when the Court rules against you and you didn’t see it coming, you will feel horrible for a long time. So, what is some of the best advice when litigating? Develop a thick skin and demand your attorney tell you what you may not want to hear. Don’t let your attorney make you a mushroom—by keeping you in the dark and covering you with manure.