“I don’t feel like my lawyer is answering my questions. What can I do to change this?”
Communication breakdown is the #1 cause of problems between lawyers and clients. Whether you are trying to make choices about your children’s future, your property, your financial situation, or even your own post-divorce life, smart decisions depend on a good working relationship between lawyer and client.
An important part of your lawyer’s job is not only answering your questions, but providing you with enough information and perspective to ask the right questions to begin with. Clients should take the time to inform themselves about family law; public legal education resources are invaluable in creating an informed client. Certainly, many clients feel intimidated about pressing their lawyers for specific answers. A good, experienced family lawyer makes a client feel comfortable about asking questions, not reluctant. I recommend that clients describe their expectations when they retain their lawyers. It is advisable to make a list of specific questions and ask your lawyer for direct answers within a reasonable time frame. It is also recommended that the client insist upon regular reporting letters that describe the choices available to the client in the situation, the relative advantages and disadvantages of each choice, and the lawyer’s recommendation for proceeding to the next step. Clients should not accept vague answers or unreasonable delays. Be polite, but firm. You have a right to ask the questions, and you have a right to the answers.
Michael Cochrane is a lawyer with Ricketts Harris LLP. He is the author of several books on family law, including Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law and For Better or For Worse: The Canadian Guide to Marriage Contracts and Cohabitation Agreements. He can be reached at (416) 364-6211.