Tempering the expectations of clients

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Attorneys have a duty to advocate for their clients’ best interests. Of course, depending on the circumstances, that duty may include tempering expectations clients may have about the outcome of his or her cases. This is true for every type of law an attorney may practice.

As a young attorney who primarily focuses on family law cases, I can only discuss the experience that I have representing clients who go through family difficulties. This may include divorces, child custody (timesharing), child support, terminating parental rights, criminal battery and domestic violence related to civil injunctions. One of the most valuable and critical meetings that I have with my clients is the original consultation. This consultation is a formal meeting at a client’s request for them to seek legal advice.  

The consultation is crucial for any attorney for a number of reasons. First, it’s important to know the client and/or their families on a personal and confidential manner. Second, it serves as a good time to answer any questions the client may have. Third, the consultation enables attorneys to advise clients on the law and how the law applies to the facts of their cases. Lastly, the consultation provides an opportunity to discuss the client’s expectations (what are they seeking when their case concludes?). I would like to focus on my fourth reason.

As an attorney practicing law for only two years, I will be the first to admit that I have an abundance still to learn. But during my short stint as a family law attorney, I have come to realize that the advice given to your clients at the consultation has a drastic effect on their cases. I try to always play “devil’s advocate” in my original consultations because I think it is important for my potential clients to know what they will be up against. When I started practicing family law, I was given the advice that family law clients are “the best clients at their worst moments.”

I am always reminded of this quote when I have consultations and meet clients for the first time. Depending on the facts of a case, this quote reminds me to never finish a consultation without discussing the expectations a client may have about his or her case. This includes playing “devil’s advocate.” I try to be cognizant in my consultations by advising my clients of what they are up against and to never make decisions based on their emotions. This includes advising them of the cost, the reasonableness (or unreasonableness) of their expectations and most importantly when children are involved, the best interest of any child.

The cost in family law cases, to say the least, can get astronomical in a blink of an eye. However, most clients that are advised of the potential costs from the beginning are more likely to understand whether their expectations add up to the cost. One of my top priorities in any consultation is advising my clients of the costs that it would take to meet their expectations, and whether or not their best day in court would likely lead to satisfying those expectations. Of course, there is always a case where money must be spent to successfully represent your clients. Unfortunately, I see more money spent unnecessarily because lawyers do not control their client’s expectations.

This is also true when it comes to timesharing issues between parents. When children are discussed in my consultations, I make it a priority to discuss the detrimental effects contested issues may have on children in a divorce. If there is no evidence of a parent committing harm to their child(ren) and that parent wants to continue to be in their child(ren)’s life, then I will advise my clients that a child(ren)’s best interest is to have two parents in their lives. Unfortunately, I often witness children in the middle of contested timesharing cases when there is no need for it. Far often this is the case because of a client’s high demands and that client’s attorney not providing the necessary advice, which would only benefit the child(ren) in this scenario.

Attorneys have an obligation to advise their client’s on whether or not they are able to meet the expectations their clients may have. Those expectations can be tempered immediately at the original consultation. If those expectations are not discussed, then that attorney is not satisfying the duty they have with their client.

Joseph Alvarez is an associate attorney at Zisser Law, where he specializes in criminal and marital law.

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