There are countless reasons to hire an attorney. Whether buying a house, starting a business, facing criminal charges, getting divorced or navigating a personal-injury claim, legal advice will come in handy. But there are a few things potential clients deserve when deciding to retain legal counsel.
Honesty is the most important aspect of any attorney-client relationship. All lawyers should be honest with their clients about the strengths and weaknesses of a legal issue. On the other hand, clients should be brutally honest when answering questions their lawyer has about the circumstances. This is especially true when there are facts that may hurt the case. All communications between a lawyer and his or her client are protected by attorney-client privilege, so the client can rest assured that the lawyer is required to hold sensitive information in strict confidence.
Frequent and informative communications are key to a healthy attorney-client relationship. I’m not suggesting that clients should expect daily calls or emails from their lawyer; however, a lawyer should always inform a client when the status of his or her legal issue changes. For example, a lawyer should let a client who is starting a business know when the appropriate documents have been filed with the secretary of state. If a case is in litigation, the lawyer should notify the client anytime there is a deposition, hearing or court ruling that impacts the case.
At the beginning of the attorney-client relationship, clients should be clear about what to expect from the lawyer, and the lawyer should tell the client what to expect as the issue is addressed. A common problem that arises is surprise bills. Just imagine what would happen if a lawyer estimated it would cost $5,000 to handle a case but ended up billing the client $20,000.
Finally, all lawyers should put their clients’ interests ahead of their own, meaning they should protect their clients even if it means a lower fee. Of course, a lawyer should never sacrifice his or her integrity by engaging in unethical conduct to protect a client. But in general, a lawyer should work diligently to benefit the client, not himself or herself.
– Joel Williams is a partner at Williams|Elleby, a Kennesaw-based personal injury law firm. www.gatrialattorney.com.