In most people’s lifetime, they will use a lawyer. According to the American Bar Association, more than 70% of United States households in a year will hire a lawyer. While meeting an attorney in their office can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Think of a lawyer a skilled professional who is an “ally.” As an “ally,” your lawyer will help you enforce your rights under the law. By definition, an “ally” does not work alone. Any actions you take on your own can either help or hinder your lawyer. Here are some tips on how to help your legal “ally”:
- Keep Good Records. Keep all of your files, contracts, warranties, deeds, insurance policies, tax returns, bank statements and loan papers and all other relevant documents in a safe place. If you pay bills by check or money order, save the receipts or canceled checks as proof of payment in case of dispute. If you must pay by cash, be sure to get a receipt.
- Make No Admissions. When you realize you need legal help, you most likely are not at your lawyer’s office. You may be looking at the damage of your wrecked car or facing a police sergeant across a desk. In these situations, do not make statements to police or others can later be used against you in court. If the police are questioning you as a suspect in a crime, ask to speak to a lawyer. Then, the police must stop questioning you and allow you to contact an attorney. Do not accept responsibility for an accident or a crime even if you feel you are responsible. The decision to pay for damages or plead guilty to a crime should be made only after discussing it thoroughly with an attorney.
- Act Promptly. If you get a notice that you are being sued or charged with a crime, you should contact a lawyer immediately. Moving quickly is important to your case because there are deadlines that must be met. If you miss these deadlines, you may forfeit your legal rights. If you receive a summons to appear in court, do not wait until the day before your court date to contact a lawyer. Your attorney will not have enough time to prepare your case, and there is no guarantee that the judge will postpone the case at your request. Similarly, it is important to act quickly if you believe you have grounds for a lawsuit. Most lawsuits have time limits, called Statutes of Limitations. If you miss the Statute of Limitations for your legal action, you lose your right to sue. As soon as you have been harmed and think you may have grounds for a suit, contact a lawyer.
- Be Open and Honest with Your Attorney. When you consult a lawyer, he or she will rely on you for a full, unbiased, truthful statement of the facts of your case. Do not leave out details because you feel they may make you look bad. Your lawyer can help you only if you disclose all the facts. Complete disclosure is essential to your case and includes providing all the documents or physical evidence relevant to your case.
- Cooperate in Preparing Your Case. The number one way to help your lawyer is to make your appointments and following his or her instructions. Do not talk about your case with anyone, even friends, and neighbors, without your lawyer’s approval. Tell your family to refrain from discussing the case as well. Do not sign any forms, statements, or releases without consulting your lawyer. Quickly forward copies of all correspondence, bills, or legal documents you receive regarding your case to your attorney. Above all, do not try to negotiate a settlement without your lawyer. This could lead to an unwanted result.
- Respect the Court. While many legal issues do not need to go to court for a resolution, you may find yourself before a judge or jury. The impression you make will affect how the judge or jury will determine your credibility. You should dress appropriately. Jeans, t-shirts, revealing clothing and flashy jewelry are likely to leave a poor impression and should be avoided. To show respect for the court, dress as if you were going to an important business meeting or an interview. While you are in front of the judge or jury, do not argue with or interrupt your lawyer. Instead, keep notes of things you wish to bring to your attorney’s attention. Your lawyer will talk with you during the trial or hearing, and you can use your notes at those times. Act politely and with dignity during the proceedings. Exaggerated expressions of disbelief or loud wisecracks will serve only to identify you as a person with poor manners who does not understand the serious nature of court proceedings. A calm, credible and sincere appearance on your behalf will be a great help to your lawyer. Be sure to address the judge as “Your Honor.” The keys to acting as your lawyer’s ally are preparation, discretion, and communication. Although there are no guarantees, you can increase the odds of obtaining a favorable outcome when you work together with your lawyer.
The material on this page is provided for general information purposes only; it is not intended to constitute legal advice.
Information is from ”Public Perceptions of Lawyers: Consumer Research Findings,” Prepared on Behalf of Section of Litigation, American Bar Association, April 2002 in © 2013 Hyatt Legal Plans pamphlet.