Communicate with your Attorney about how you like to Communicate

While in law school, I completed an internship in the Ethics Department of the Columbus Bar Association.  That department was created to handle complaints of attorney misconduct.  The complaints that we received fell into one of two categories: 1) complaints about an attorney’s lack of communication with his clients 2) all other complaints.  By far, the complaint we saw most often resulted from an attorney’s lack of communication.  Now that I am a practicing attorney, I can tell you that there are several reasons why an attorney does not communicate as often as the client may like.
1. Attorney fees are high and most attorneys bill hourly.  Some attorneys do not communicate as often as a client may like because the attorney believes she is doing the client a favor by trying to keep the client’s bill as low as possible.  If you would like to communicate with your attorney more, you should tell her; just be aware that your monthly bill may be a little higher than it was in the past.
2. Sometimes there isn’t anything happening in the case and there is nothing to report.  If you prefer that your attorney communicate with you at some regular interval regardless of progress, you should tell your attorney how often you would like to hear from him.  The other option is to just check in with your attorney at those regular intervals to see if anything new has come up in your case.
3. Your retainer may be exhausted.  If you remedy this problem by replenishing your retainer, you should  have very little difficulty getting in contact with your attorney thereafter.  You must be careful following this rule, but in general, the more matters an attorney has to take to make a living, the less time the attorney will have to give you personal attention.  If you feel that your matter will require a lot of the attorney’s attention, you should find an attorney that has the time, and more importantly, you should make sure that attorney always has funds in his account to speak to you when you need him.

There are many plausible reasons why an attorney does not communicate as often as clients like; however, the lack of communication can rise to an unacceptable level.  If you have called your attorney and left 3 or more messages over a week period and you have not received a telephone call (or any communication) back,  (with the exception of a vacation that the attorney gave advanced notice of) it is my opinion that your attorney’s lack of communication has risen to a level that is unacceptable and I would advise you to begin a search for a new attorney.

Juvenile Court- Delinquency and Unruly Cases

Because many attorneys do not work in the juvenile courts, it is something I get asked about often.  Juvenile court is very different from common pleas and municipal court.  I got interested in working in the juvenile court when I was working on my Masters degree at Xavier University.  It was at Xavier that I learned that juvenile courts were developed to deal with the unique issues of juveniles and to help give children a second chance when they mess up.  Unfortunately, juvenile courts have morphed into something very different since their creation.

Many clients contact me regarding their son or daughter’s case.  Often times, the parent is not satisfied with the advice they are getting from the court appointed counsel.  I do my best to explain the following:

1) If your son or daughter is charged with a “crime” in juvenile court it is called either “delinquency” or “unruly.”
2) Your child basically has two choices.  They can admit the allegations in the complaint, or they can deny the allegations in the complaint.
3) If your child admits the allegations, the case automatically goes to disposition and the child is “sentenced.”  Depending on the allegation, sentencing may include probation, writing a letter of apology, time in detention, house arrest, community service, and many other options, all at the discretion of the Magistrate or Judge.
4) If your child denies the allegations, the court sets the case for a trial.  At trial, the court will determine whether the juvenile is responsible for the alleged acts.  Unfortunately, if your child denies the allegations but then is found responsible for the acts, the fact that your child denied the allegations may be used against your child when it comes time for disposition (although not overtly).

Many parents admit to me that their child committed the act alleged; however, they do not feel their child should admit to the allegations because of the repercussions later in life.  I would agree with this approach 99% of the time for adults; however not necessarily with juveniles in juvenile court.

The juvenile should certainly ask for counsel to be appointed.  Once appointed, counsel can solicit plea offers; however, plea bargains are not offered as often in juvenile court as they are in common pleas court and they do not have quite the same effect in juvenile court.  The reason pleas are not offered as often is because the child does not get “charged” unless the prosecutor has a solid case.  The reason pleas do not have the same effect as in common pleas or municipal court is because in those courts, the crime of conviction often dictates the parameters of sentencing that the Judge can order.  In juvenile court, the Judge has a lot of discretion because sentencing guidelines in juvenile court do not exist.  Even if the child admits the allegations, he/she will still be given the opportunity to make a statement and provide mitigating arguments, which is often all the juvenile wants.

While it is never a bad idea to get a second opinion in your case, if your court appointed counsel is asking your child to admit the allegation in a juvenile court case, this is probably not the result of laziness or incompetence.  You should ask the child’s attorney what other options you have, assuming that your child committed the alleged act.  You will likely see that your other options aren’t great.

If your child vehemently denies the allegation, you must decide whether you believe him/her.  Hiring counsel and going to trial is only a good option if your child really didn’t commit the alleged act (and not just that they deny doing it, but that they, in fact, didn’t do it) and that is something that you probably don’t know for sure, unless you were there when the incident occurred.

Divorce vs. Dissolution

One of the most common questions I get from my family law clients is about the difference between a divorce and dissolution.  Although they accomplish the same thing, there are many differences between a divorce and dissolution and most of the differences relate to the total amount of money you will spend to terminate your marriage.

A dissolution is often considered the amicable way to terminate a marriage. With a dissolution, the parties come to an agreement on all terms of separation, including: property division, spousal support, child support and parenting time.  They put their agreement in writing and they present it to the court.  The court will make their agreement an order of the court as long as it finds that both parties voluntarily entered into the agreement, the parties fully disclosed their assets and debts, and it is a fair and equitable division of property.  Both parties must cooperate throughout the process and both parties are required to appear at the final hearing.  Dissolutions often cost less, especially when the parties have their agreement worked out before an attorney gets involved.  Parties can keep their costs low, not only by working out all details of their agreement before meeting with an attorney but also by finding an attorney that will do the work on a flat fee.  Although most family law attorneys will not work on a divorce for a flat fee, many do offer flat fees for dissolutions.  You will also find that the filing fee is less for a dissolution.  In the Cincinnati/Dayton area, you will find that the filing fee is between $250-$350.

Although divorces do not involve an agreement between the parties, not all divorces result in disagreements between the parties.  There are two types of divorces: uncontested and contested.  Once one of the parties files a complaint, it is considered a divorce.  If the responding party files an answer, it is then considered a contested divorce.  If no answer is filed, it is considered an uncontested divorce.  You may be asking yourself why anyone would file for a divorce if they are not having disagreements about the terms of separation.  The answer is that many times people choose to file for divorce because the other party will not cooperate with the dissolution process by signing the necessary forms and going to the final hearing.  In those situations, a divorce is a better option, and if the other party does not file an answer, the process will be similar to a dissolution in terms of time and money.  If you suspect or know that the other party will not respond to the complaint, you may ask your attorney if he/she will do an uncontested divorce for the same price as a dissolution.

The most expensive way to end your marriage is a contested divorce.  The court often sets several pretrial dates in the hopes that the parties will come to an agreement and in the end, most contested divorces do end in an agreement; however it may take a very long time to get to that point.  If you find yourself in a contested divorce, you may feel that there is nothing you can do to save money.  The filing fee is often between $300-$400 and attorneys often refuse to work on a flat fee.  Sometimes the other party is just being disagreeable or has unjustified expectations.  You can, however, save yourself some money by finding an attorney that approaches your case with your best interests in mind.

If you find that you are more upset at the other party when you leave your attorneys office than when you went in, it is possible that your attorney is intentionally winding you up to fight so that you spend more on attorney’s fees.  If you suspect that you may be in this situation (and believe me, I see it all the time), you should evaluate your expectations and determine if they are reasonable.  If your attorney has given you unrealistic expectations, you will be unhappy with the result no matter what happens and you will spend more.  You should find an attorney that gives you realistic expectations about your case.  An attorney that really has your best interests in mind will not be able to prevent the opposing attorney from using the same tactic to rack up attorney fees but will at least provide a starting point for getting your divorce settled with a fair result at a reasonable cost.

No matter how you decide to terminate your marriage, it is likely that your attorney will have you fill out a long questionnaire regarding every aspect of your marriage.  It is important to understand that every question is on that questionnaire for a reason.  Your attorney will have to report that information somewhere in the paperwork.  If you take the time to make sure that you have filled out each and every section of that questionnaire before returning it to your attorney, your attorney will spend less time following up on incomplete information; therefore saving you money.

How to choose an attorney

There are three people in your life that you should never lie to: your doctor, your dentist, and your attorney.  This morning, I heard someone say that these are the people that get lied to the most.  From my experience, this is probably true and it is not a constructive use of a lie.  These people are the three people that immediately know that you are lying and if we don’t know it immediately, we find out eventually.  The most important aspect to a healthy attorney-client relationship is trust.  Not only that the attorney trusts the client, but more importantly, that the client trusts the attorney.

An attorney can sense when a client does not trust him.  Not only by the things the client does, but also by the things the client says.  Don’t get me wrong, I have heard many horror stories about attorneys taking advantage of too-trusting clients, and I have respect for a healthy skepticism; however there is a difference between a healthy skepticism and distrust of the attorney.  There are several ways that you can find an attorney that you trust.  First of all, you should meet with more than one attorney.  The purpose of meeting with several attorneys is to make sure that the one you do pick, is knowledgable in the area of your matter.  Once you get a feeling for the type of discussion you should be having with your attorney, you will be more comfortable asking questions and will get more information based on your questions.  You should be able to find two or three attorneys that offer free consultations to accomplish this.

Meeting with several attorneys is also good advice because you can get a feel for the different personalities of the attorneys and you can pick one that suits your style best.  Another tactic that will help ensure that you find a trust-worthy attorney is to ask your friends and family members who they use for various personal legal problems.  Your friends and family members can likely tell you the strengths and weaknesses of the person they use and you can more easily evaluate whether that attorney is right for you.  A word of caution regarding this tactic however: you should follow your gut feeling.  Just because a friend or family member had good luck with a particular attorney does not mean that the attorney is particularly knowledgeable in the area of law that your matter is in.  You must meet with the attorney to find out what they know and more importantly, what they don’t know.

Do not hire an attorney that you do not trust.  You do not owe anyone an explanation regarding why you chose a particular attorney.  If you hire an attorney that you do not trust, you spend more time following up on matters, calling the attorney to ask questions so that you feel reassured, and generally worrying about whether the attorney is doing his job.  In the long run, this will cost you more time, money, & sleepless nights for the same or similar result.