In the attorney-client relationship, it is important that the client feels empowered. I tell all of my clients that they are in the driver’s seat. I work for them, and I will offer my best and most sound advice, counsel, and recommendations. Ultimately, however, the client calls the shots.
Like many other types of professionals, attorneys bring their own set of biases and beliefs to their practice. The best attorney-client relationships are those in which the attorney sets aside their own personal preferences in order to best represent their client. You should never feel like your attorney “just doesn’t get you” or “just doesn’t understand your unique problem”.
Clients have goals, and the role of attorneys, in part, is to facilitate achievement of the client’s goals. With that in mind, here are four questions to make sure your attorney understands exactly what you hope to achieve:
Do you understand my goals or objectives?
All clients have goals, objectives, and expectations when hiring an attorney, but they may be unsure how to communicate them. Don’t be afraid to discuss with your attorney your ideal outcome. Moreover, expect your attorney to find a way to achieve your ideal outcome.
Consider, for example, a client in a dispute with other business partners. Some clients may want only to find a peaceful resolution and part ways quietly. Other clients believe they have wrongs that must be righted through negotiation or litigation. Others still may want to resolve the current dispute and get the business partnership back on track.
Each objective described above requires a different strategy and set of tactics. Only a lawyer who truly understands your particular goals and objectives will be able to provide the solutions you need.
Do you understand my deal-breakers?
In both dealmaking and dispute resolution, clients are likely to have deal-breakers — those certain conditions or circumstances that would make the client walk away from the deal or resolution. It is crucial for an attorney to understand her client’s deal-breakers and to keep those issues front and center.
An attorney who negotiates a deal or settlement for her client but fails to preserve the client’s deal-breakers is not taking into consideration what is most important to the client. As a client, you can should be asking questions to make sure that your attorney understands what you value most.
Do you understand the issues matter most as well as the ones that don’t?
Along with understanding a client’s deal-breakers, taking into account the issues that the client does not consider as pressing is just as important.
First, the attorney must determine whether the client is failing to prioritize an issue that is actually important (but perhaps misunderstood). In that case, the attorney should be able to communicate to the client why a particular issue is a bigger deal than the client thinks it is.
Then the attorney must put aside his or her own values or expectations to focus on resolving the issues that are most important to the client. Attorneys are trained to think broadly and spot all potential issues. Clients should feel empowered to keep their counsel focused on the most pressing matters.
Do you understand the constraints of my legal budget?
An attorney who conceives a solution to a client’s legal problem, but does not take into account whether the cost of the solution is within a client’s legal budget has again failed to take the client’s unique circumstances into account. Likewise, an attorney who devises a solution that will cost the client more in legal fees than the client would receive in a resolution, settlement, or successful deal is failing to take into account the client’s legal budget.
Working within a tight legal budget might involve encouraging the client to take a participatory role in addressing the legal matter in order to reduce the amount of billable work for the attorney. An attorney who is cognizant of a tight budget can identify the tasks that only a lawyer can perform as well as the tasks that the client can assist with in order to keep legal fees reasonable. It also involves working with the client to prioritize the set of issues or problems to address and addressing the most critical first to ensure there is sufficient money in the client’s legal budget to meet the client’s most pressing goals or objectives.
The bottom line is that attorneys work for and serve at the pleasure of their clients. If you don’t feel that your attorney is pursuing a solution that takes into account your goals, deal-breakers, priorities, and budget it is time for you to speak up.