On Monday, we discussed common situations that we see in divorce and custody cases, and when a person’s decisions can have unintended consequences. Most people realize that, when you talk with a lawyer, they’ll give you advice. Most people don’t think beyond that word – advice – to the fact that what the attorney tells them may be something that they don’t really want to do, or something that would impact their personal life in a way that is bigger than they imagined.
Believe it or not, we don’t give advice to our clients for our health. And besides that, it’s really not very fun to have to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear. We’d prefer not to tell you to do things that you don’t want to do or that will make you annoyed and more frustrated with the situation. We give advice for your benefit. We see hundreds of cases like yours a year — maybe more — and over the course of an entire career, thousands. We give advice that is designed to help you, whether to make the case run more smoothly or to help present the facts better.
Attorney advice isn’t all, “File this,” and “don’t say that.” It’s bigger than just what happens in your case, from what we file to what we allege and how we present our evidence in court. In divorce and custody cases, we also have to help our client make choices in their personal lives that will allow us to present their facts in the most advantageous light possible. Sometimes, we give advice that our clients really don’t want to hear. On Monday we talked about some of those situations – when you’ve committed (or are thinking of committing) adultery, when you’ve broken the law, or when you’re facing a case where custody and visitation of your kids is concerned, and today we’re going to talk about what happens when you DON’T follow your attorney’s advice.
When your attorney gives you advice
When your attorney gives you advice, ask questions. Be sure you understand. If you leave your attorney’s office and someone else presents you with a follow up question that makes you doubt what your attorney told you, ask your attorney again. Present the follow up question or different argument that gives you pause.
Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney why, or what might happen in the event that you took this alternate course of action. Your attorney can tell you what she’s scared of happening, and can help show you why this might not be most advantageous for you.
Ultimately, though, your case is your responsibility. You can make your own choices, good or bad, but understand that they have a bearing on your case. There’s not some magical lawyerly voodoo we can do to undo damaging things that you’ve done.
Sometimes, it works out okay anyway. Other times, it can be the absolute death knell for a case. Ask yourself whether you’re willing to take a risk. Ask yourself (or your attorney!) what it might cost you. Are you willing to pay that price?
Sometimes, attorney advice goes against something that you really, really, really want to do. It can be hard to follow. It’s your choice, either way. It’s always frustrating to me, as an attorney, when my clients don’t follow my advice – but, on the other hand, it happens all the time, so I’m used to dealing with bad facts. The choices you make are always up to you. But, don’t you think that, if you’re paying your attorney, you should maybe listen to her? After all, it’s not our first, second, or even third divorce – and chances are, for you, it is.
If you DON’T follow your attorney’s advice
If you’ve heard it all and decided that you’d prefer to take a different course of action, well, that’s your prerogative.
But, if you have, please, please, please don’t lie to your attorney. I know it can be difficult to face up to mistakes (especially if, in retrospect, you’ve already realized that this was likely a mistake) to someone that you’re afraid will be disapproving. It’s hard to say, “Yes, I heard you say that, but I decided to follow my own intuition and I disregarded what you said.”
Like I said, though, I think most attorneys are used to a certain percentage of their clients not following their advice. We’re pretty desensitized to many things, so, in most cases, attorneys won’t be all that disapproving. Of course, we do have to point out the ways you’ve altered the case, and what the new outcome might look like, given the facts are we’re aware of them, but I think for the most part we all recognize that we can’t control our clients once they walk out of our doors. We’ve seen pretty much everything (hey, in family law, you learn that it really does take all types in this world), and nothing you can say would have a ton of shock value. We’ll strategize with you and come up with a next best solution – but, of course, your case can, at that point, be compromised.
What should you never, ever, never do? Lie to your attorney. If you haven’t followed the attorney’s advice, fine. Be open about it. Discuss advantages and disadvantages. Come up with a new strategy. But never, ever lie. If your attorney doesn’t know how the situation has changed, the last thing you want is for your attorney to be unprepared and surprised in court because of something that you could have disclosed but chose not to.
In many cases, especially in family law, we’re only as good as the information we’ve got – and we have to get much of that directly from our clients. Never lie to your attorney.
For more information, or to discuss your situation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.