There are benefits of doing your own legwork prior to seeing a lawyer. There are things the client can do on their own before the initial meeting that will help their attorney, save them money and speed up the process.
Rustin Smith, an associate attorney with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, join us this morning to talk about some of the things a client can do to help their lawyer and in the long run help themselves.
Question: Rustin, let’s start with what the first thing a client can do before the first meeting with their attorney that would be helpful?
Rustin: A helpful task the client can do is to write out a summary of the facts of the legal issue they have. A simple way of organizing the facts is by listing the parties who were involved, a chronology of the events that happened and the result you wish to achieve.
This makes the first meeting between attorney and client more efficient. And we are not spending a good portion of the meeting on the background of the issue. If the attorney is able to have an understanding of the pertinent facts beforehand, it saves everyone time. No one knows the facts of their legal issue better than the client.
This also serves as an exercise for the client to narrow down the facts to the most important.
Question: Along with a summary of the facts, there are documents involved. What can the client do the help in that area?
Rustin: Documents are the backbone of the case. You can summarize the facts of the issue at hand but there needs to be documents to support them. A client can be a huge help in this area. If they go through the documents and organize them, it saves the attorney and his or her staff time – and it saves the client in legal fees.
We’ve had clients drop off boxes of unorganized documents and we’ve spent hours going through the files with them and it can be costly to them. Document organization is extremely important and has to be done. It’s also good to scan the documents. Having them in a digital format allows for quick searches for key material.
We encourage our clients to send documents digitally. We may use Drop Box, Google Drive, or another cloud service as a way for our clients to send us documents securely. It can be faster and more convenient for the client. Like the summary of the facts, if we have the documents ahead of the initial meeting, it makes for more efficient use of our time and our client’s time.
Question: Are there other things that a client can do?
Rustin: There are a couple of other things that come to mind. First is research. There are levels of somewhat simple research that a client can do that will help with their case. Although most lawyers prefer to do their own legal research, you may be able to help them in certain ways. Ask your lawyer what kind of research is needed and how long it will likely take.
We’re talking about public record searches or gathering court documents from another county. Also, they could check social media websites like Facebook and Twitter where comments or photos may have been posted relevant to the legal issue. You see that a lot in divorce cases.
These type tasks have to be done and, if a client is willing to help, it will save them attorney’s fees. Secondly, familiarize yourself with the process. Research how the court system works and learn legal terms. It will help you communicate better with your attorney.
Question: Some people’s perception is that you hire an attorney, give them the information and then step back and let them do their job but that’s not the case is it?
Rustin: Not at all – we encourage our clients to be invested in the case. You are probably the primary source of information about your case. There may be tasks which the lawyer can delegate to the client. It is really up to the lawyer to decide what can be properly delegated. Communication should flow freely back and forth between you and your lawyer at all times.
You can help their attorney and in the process save yourself money.