An alternative title for this post is “Asking Your Attorney to Help with Non-legal Matters is not a Good Use of Your Hard-earned Money.” Over the years, I’ve seen clients involve their attorneys (sometimes me) in situations that required no legal training or expertise and absolutely did not need the involvement of an attorney. Most of the time, when your attorney recommends that you or someone else take on projects instead of him or her, it’s with the goal of saving you time and money, not because he or she doesn’t want to work.
For example, many people find the process of gathering and organizing documents to be burdensome and not much fun. That may be the case, but you’re hiring some incredibly expensive clerical help if you deliver a stack (or boxes – believe me, it happens) of unsorted documents to your attorney for him or her to review and organize for you. I’ve also had clients ask me to contact the document sources, such as banks and investment firms, to request documents. You don’t need your attorney to do this! You will save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in attorney’s fees by gathering and organizing documents required for your case and delivering them in a neat, orderly way to your attorney.
The second big area where I see clients using their attorneys’ time ineffectively is in discussions about their children’s schedules and activities. Do you need two attorneys sending letters back and forth, plus some phone calls and letters to each of their clients, to work out the transportation schedule or decide whether your children are enrolled in baseball or gymnastics? No. You can make all the arguments you want, but you don’t need attorneys to do that. Spending time with a jointly chosen therapist or mediator can address the issue more effectively, more efficiently and more economically. If you rely on your attorney to make these arrangements, you will need your attorney’s involvement for the rest of your life! Even when your children are grown, there will be weddings, graduation parties, grandchildren’s activities – the list goes on and on. Work with a neutral person who can help the two of you make those decisions and teach you how to more effectively make those decisions on your own.
The third area is sometimes tough to address. Some people rely on their lawyers to be mental health therapists, which is a big mistake. Although some lawyers have backgrounds in mental health fields, we’re not therapists. I give legal advice and to do that effectively, I need to understand how my clients are thinking and feeling. But spending two hours talking with me about your spouse’s possible mental health diagnosis is not a cost-effective use of my time. I usually recommend that my family law clients see a mental health professional to help them through the stress of difficult personal situations. I am friends with many psychologists, social workers and therapists and I have great respect for the work they do. That’s why I trust them to counsel my clients. I care about my clients and want them to be happy, healthy and productive, so if I recommend that you see a therapist it’s not because I think you’re crazy. It’s because I recognize how incredibly stressful these situations can be and want someone to handle your mental health needs as professionally and conscientiously as I will handle your legal needs.
Remember that you’re paying your attorney for his or her legal expertise and advice. If you don’t understand why your attorney is recommending a course of action, ask her or him. They’d better be able to explain. And sometimes, the explanation may be that you’re better off having someone besides your attorney handle certain tasks.