Working with a Lawyer

How can you help your lawyer?

You can, and should, play an active role in solving your legal problem. A lawyer can assist you, however, it is up to you to determine the path the resolution of your legal problem will take. Your lawyer will need to educate you to a point that you are able to make informed decisions and instruct your lawyer on how to proceed. This means you should understand the legal implications of your situation, the potential outcomes and some possible courses of action.

The following are some of the areas of law practiced by lawyers:

  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Personal Injury
  • Real Estate
  • Wills & Estates
  • Civil Litigation
  • Landlord and Tenant
  • Bankruptcy

When you have selected a lawyer, you should ask whether they offer a free initial consultation, explain what has occurred, ask if they are willing to take your case and inquire about the costs involved. Be fully prepared with supporting documents and other relevant evidence for your case when you meet your lawyer. Bring all important documentation and think clearly about how to tell your story, writing down important points, dates and people directly related to your matter.

Create a file for your case and keep all documents, including those from your lawyer, in an organized way for easy reference as your matter proceeds. Keep your appointments and get to know the lawyer’s assistant, as you will likely deal with the assistant throughout the process.

Your lawyer will listen to you carefully and will request certain items, so bring a notepad with you to each visit and write down their requests (and follow up action items). A good lawyer will ask direct questions to clarify your situation and explain the law relating to your problem.

Just as you want and expect a good lawyer, lawyers also want and expect good clients. It is a two-way relationship and if the two of you work together you can develop a positive working relationship. The three main things that lawyers look for in clients are:

  • Honesty and candour
  • Active participation
  • Cooperation

Specific Ways to Help Your Lawyer

There are three specific ways in which you can help your lawyer, depending on whether or not he or she agrees. They are:

Gather and Organize Facts and Information

Clients can not only help lawyers gather information but are often best positioned to do so because they often know more about the situation than the lawyer, and therefore, have a lot of information that might be difficult for the lawyer to locate. One very helpful way of assisting the lawyer is to prepare a brief set of facts for him or her. A simple way of organizing the facts is by listing the parties who were involved, a chronology of the events that happened and the result you wish to achieve.

Help with Legal Research

Although most lawyers prefer to do their own legal research, you may be able to help them in certain ways. Ask your lawyer what kind of research is needed and how long it will likely take. The law is constantly changing so it is critical to all legal research that the information be current.There is some skill involved in ensuring that cases have not been appealed and that statutes have not been revised. This updating of the law should always be left in the hands of a lawyer.

Participate Actively in the File

Although clients can participate actively in their case, often it is more efficient to have the lawyer conduct the transactions. However, there may be tasks which the lawyer can delegate to the client. At this stage, it is really up to the lawyer to decide what can be properly delegated.

Communication should flow freely back and forth between you and your lawyer at all times.

Next steps:

Source: Fitzgerald, Maureen F.; So You Think You Need a Lawyer, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1998