Communication and preparation are probably the two most important elements of making your relationship with your lawyer work well. Below are some key tips for working with a lawyer.
Come to meetings with your lawyer with an agenda or a list of questions. Make notes about the abuse in your relationship to give to your lawyer to help them prepare court documents.
Bring an advocate
Bring an advocate who knows you and your story.
Before the appointment, clearly establish with your advocate what role you want her to play. Is she there to take notes? To remind you of questions you want to ask? To advocate on your behalf with the lawyer? To provide emotional support?
As well as preparing with the advocate, you should prepare the lawyer – let them know ahead of time that you are bringing an advocate. Some lawyers may be concerned about having another person present at the appointment and will want to clarify any issues related to confidentiality.
Don’t bring the children
Find child care so you are not distracted by your children during your appointment and so they do not have to listen to you discussing adult issues with your lawyer.
Explain to your lawyer what your key goals are. Is having primary responsibility for your children more important to you than getting half the family property? Do you need a restraining order? Do you want to stay in the family home? In order to represent you effectively, your lawyer needs to know what is most important to you.
Give your lawyer clear, concise instructions, putting them in writing as well as giving them verbally, if at all possible.
Take notes during the appointment and summarize them verbally with the lawyer at the end so both of you have the same understanding of what has been said and what each of you is going to do next.
Ask your lawyer what is expected of you. What documentation does the lawyer require to prepare the case? How often does the lawyer want to meet? Are there tasks you can take on to assist with your own case?
Never hesitate to ask questions if something is unclear or if your lawyer uses too much legal jargon. It is much better to ask what feels like a silly question than to move ahead having misunderstood some really important issue.
It may be difficult for you to stay focused and on topic because you have so much on your mind and because meeting with the lawyer may trigger memories of the abuse, but this is very important. If you are clear and direct with your lawyer, then the lawyer will have a good understanding of the situation and the issues you are facing.
Keep a copy of everything you give to your lawyer and everything your lawyer gives to you. Keep all your paperwork in a binder or a series of binders with an indexing system so you can quickly find any paperwork that you might need. You can use the family law organizer forms in this workbook to help you keep track of your case.
The more you follow through on requests made by your lawyer, the better they will be able to do their job.
Update your lawyer
Keep your lawyer up to date with what is happening in your family. Has your partner been charged criminally? If so, what is the status of his criminal case? This will be important evidence to include in your family court documents. Have there been any safety issues when exchanging the children? Has your partner threatened not to bring the kids back to you? Are child protection authorities involved with your family?
You need to tell your lawyer the negative as well as the positive. Do you have any issues with substance use? Have you been involved with the child protection authorities in the past? Do you have a criminal record? Have you been charged with any kind of abuse of your partner? It is far better for your lawyer to know about these kinds of situations from the beginning than to hear about them when you get to court.
Remember, you are in charge
Perhaps most importantly, remember that you are in charge. It is good to be assertive and stay informed and aware of what is going on in the case. If problems arise, the sooner you raise them with the lawyer, the better.