communicate with your lawyer

Dear Divorce Lawyer: The Hard Truth on How and When to Communicate with Your Lawyer

Understanding when to communicate with your lawyer can save you time and money.

You know that advice your best friend gave you about writing a scathing note to your ex when you are fuming about something they said or did? They probably advised you to write down everything you want to tell your ex. Get everything out. Say every mean thing you’ve ever wanted to say. Then, when you’re done—delete it. Or send it to yourself. It’s not worth sending it to your ex when you are upset. Pick your battles. Communicate when you’re calm. Anything you say can be used against you when you are going through a divorce. So, be mindful.

Well, it’s sort of the same when it comes to communicating with your lawyer.

Let’s say you receive a letter from your ex or their attorney containing falsehoods about you or your marriage. And you immediately want your own lawyer to know everything that’s wrong with the letter—every reason why it’s unfair and unjust. You want your lawyer to hear you, to know the whole story, and to know the real you. And you figure the best thing to do is write a letter or email to get it all out, trusting that your lawyer will sort through it and find what is relevant for the case. Your hope is that your lawyer will see past your rage and truly “hear” why your case is better. Stronger. Worthier.

However, this is exactly what you shouldn’t do.

What do I mean? First of all, lawyers are expensive. Every time you send an email, they charge you for their time. So, take a minute before you compose your magnum opus. You most certainly have important things to say. You are fighting for your life, after all. So, please write them down. But pause before you send anything to your lawyer. Ponder what you’ve written. Get clear about what’s important to your case, and edit out the unnecessary information.

Lawyers typically have a full caseload. They get a hundred or more emails per day. When you pepper them with correspondence, they can’t keep up. They get overwhelmed and frustrated. The substance is trumped by the noise. They might miss key ideas.

Instead, wait until you have your lawyer’s full attention to communicate with them. Schedule a call, or make an appointment. That way, your information receives more than a passing glance while they eat lunch, walk from one courtroom to the next, or answer their daughter’s texts. It will only help bolster your case if you know your lawyer has truly heard the most pertinent information.

Angry rants—no matter how passionate they are—aren’t nearly as persuasive as the writer thinks they are. Instead, keep it factual and straight to the point. Here is what your lawyer needs to know:

  1. Your must-haves and goals: What can’t you live without? What do you want your life to look like post-divorce?
  2. The true and unannotated version of events: State the facts clearly and plainly, without critical comments about your spouse or the events in question.
  3. The inaccuracies in your spouse’s story: Not the part where they said you’re a selfish b___. The part that actually matters. For example: Your ex said they put a down payment on the house using an inheritance they received. In reality, you know they received an inheritance but spent most of it prior to purchasing the home. Share that piece of information when you communicate with your lawyer. Don’t succumb to the temptation to talk about how awful your ex is for lying about the down payment. Another example: Your ex said they sacrificed their career to support your professional endeavors by traveling with you to New York for your year-long fellowship. In actuality, your ex always worked remotely, and their employer had no expectation that they would remain in California. This is what your lawyer will want to know.
  4.  All relevant information, regardless of whether you think it’s damning to your case. Say your ex reports details about you that you think will hurt your case. Don’t panic. That information may be completely irrelevant or easily mitigated. But your lawyer needs to know about it so they can prepare to handle it.

What you need from your lawyer

Now that you’ve shared crucial information with your lawyer, what do you need from them?

1. An honest evaluation of your case

Your lawyer should give you a realistic and honest evaluation of your case. This can help quell any fanciful expectations you may have upfront.

2. Your best-case and worst-case scenarios

Knowing the full range of potential outcomes can help prevent you from fixating on only one result, which could lead to massive disappointment.

3. Their strategy

You’re entitled to know the strategy your lawyer will use to get you to resolution in the most streamlined, cost-effective, and favorable way.

4. Other items your lawyer needs from you

Your lawyer needs to notify you of any additional documents, statements, or other evidence you could supply that would best serve your case.

Check-in calls

Check-in calls with your lawyer are highly valuable, even if they are just 15 minutes at a time. Regularly schedule them, and cancel if you need to. Having these calls on your calendar will help keep your lawyer—and your case—on track.

Lawyers are skilled at what they do, but like any professional, they are fallible. Stay on top of your case until the end because the sooner you can resolve your divorce, the sooner you can move on to the next phase of your life.

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