How do I work with my lawyer?
This page covers general things to keep in mind when working with a lawyer, but if your lawyer gives you different instructions, you should follow those.
By following these tips and being aware of the information presented, you should be better able to work with a lawyer.
Tips for Working with Your Lawyer
Be Honest and Up-Front
Your lawyer needs to know all the information you have about your legal matter to be able to help you in the best way, just like your doctor needs to know your complete medical history to be able to figure out what may be wrong with you medically. If you leave anything out, your lawyer may not get a correct and complete picture of the problem. The lawyer’s advice and assistance may be wrong if it is based on incomplete or incorrect information. The other side will make every effort to know all the facts, even ones you do not give. This can lead to your attorney being surprised by facts at a critical stage of your case. This is never good and can be avoided by telling your attorney the entire story, at the start.
Your Information is Privileged and Protected
In Texas, information you tell your lawyer is protected in two ways: the lawyer-client privilege and the lawyer’s duty to protect confidentiality.
- The Lawyer-Client Privilege, also known as the “Attorney-Client Privilege,” means that you, the client, generally have control over what private information the lawyer can be required to give to others.
- The lawyer’s duty of confidentiality is even broader. It means, generally, that the lawyer must take precautions to keep any confidential information from being disclosed to anyone without your consent. However, if you sign a waiver of confidentiality that means you are giving up the right to keep the information confidential, and the information can be given or told to someone else.
Be Available and Easy for Your Lawyer to Contact
It is very important that your lawyer knows how to get in touch with you when he or she needs to. Even if you think your legal matter is not very urgent, your lawyer may find critical deadlines or due dates that require quick action. He or she may have a question for you or need more information to complete the legal assessment or services.
When you hire a lawyer, you will be asked for several means of contacting you. If any of these change, let your lawyer’s staff know immediately. It is best to send that information in writing or, if your lawyer allows email communications, by email. That helps you make sure the phone number or address information is correct.
Keep Your Lawyer Informed
It is important to let your lawyer or his or her staff know if anything happens or changes during the representation, as soon as possible. Some deadlines are very short, so give your lawyer the best chance to act on your behalf by letting the lawyer know if you are served with court papers, receive any communication related to your legal matter, have a change in your own circumstances, or find additional documents or information related to your legal matter that you forgot or were unable to give the lawyer earlier. In representing you, your lawyer’s best tools depend on complete and correct information. You give your lawyer the best chance of protecting your interests when you provide the most complete and correct information you can.
Follow All Instructions Carefully
When your lawyer gives you instructions or other guidance, it is important that you follow those instructions carefully. Make sure you understand them. If you need the instructions in writing, ask the lawyer to write them down for you. Or, you can take thorough notes and review them with your lawyer to make sure you recorded the instructions correctly. Do not be embarrassed about asking questions. Lawyers sometimes use words that are not familiar to everyone. Most lawyers are happy to help you understand them better.
Be Reasonable About What Your Lawyer Can and Cannot Do
- Before you hire a particular lawyer, make sure you understand what the lawyer has agreed to do as well as what the lawyer is not going to do for you.
- If you have questions about the services promised, ask.
- If you want to know why the lawyer proposes to take or not take a particular action, ask.
- If you are unclear about the basis for the lawyer’s fees or up-front fee deposit (often known as a “retainer”), ask.
- If you need the work completed by a certain date, make sure the lawyer is able to meet that deadline.
- You have a right to know and need to understand these things before you agree to them.
- Be reasonable about what you expect from your lawyer. Unless you are ready to pay a lot of money for essentially all of the lawyer’s available time, you must recognize that lawyers have many clients at any given time, and each client will have different deadlines and different levels of urgency in their legal matters.
- Unless you need to provide an update to the lawyer or the lawyer has not kept you reasonably informed about the status of your legal matter, do not interrupt the lawyer with frequent phone calls or emails to ask about how your case is going. If you have agreed to pay the lawyer by the hour, keep in mind that each phone call or email may add to your legal bill, so save those for important messages.
Your Lawyer Must Also Be Reasonable
- Lawyers have certain duties to their clients.
- Lawyers must not neglect any of their clients’ legal matters.
- Lawyers must complete the obligations they owe to their clients.
- Lawyers must honor their clients’ decisions on how to handle the case, even if the lawyer disagrees, as long as the client’s decisions are legal and reasonable.
- If the lawyer wants to limit the amount or type of work he or she does on a particular legal matter for a client, the lawyer must explain what those limits are and also get the client’s agreement on the limitations.
- Perhaps the most important duty is that the lawyer must keep the client reasonably informed of the status of the legal matter. If you feel that a reasonable time has passed since you last heard from your lawyer or the lawyer’s staff, and especially if you know an important deadline or due date is approaching, you have the right to check with the lawyer to make sure he or she is working on your legal matter.
If You Have a Problem with Your Lawyer
In the unlikely event that you have a serious problem with your lawyer, you have rights and options available.
- First, try to talk to your lawyer to explain your concerns, frustration or disagreement. Give the lawyer a chance to explain and address your points.
- If that does not work, you may need help from someone else. The State Bar of Texas and some local bar associations offer fee dispute mediation services. The State Bar's Client Attorney Assistance Program works to resolve fee disputes and minor issues with the client attorney relationship that do not involve attorney misconduct. Regardless of the type of dispute you have with your lawyer, if talking to the lawyer does not work, you should first contact the Client Attorney Assistance Program to see what your best options are. The toll-free number for that program is 1-800-932-1900.
- Complaints about serious lawyer misconduct are handled by the State Bar Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s office. You can get more information about how to file a written complaint by calling 1-800-932-1900, or going to the TexasBar.com website and clicking on the "For the Public" tab, then "Problems with an Attorney.”