In bankruptcy court yesterday, I witnessed a judge give a debtor in a Chapter 13 case the opportunity in open court to state why she was upset with her attorney. It was a cringe worthy moment and a reminder to me of how easily an attorney/client relationship can go south if not carefully attended to by both sides. As attorneys we are governed by Rules of Professional Responsibility in the maintenance of our relationship with our clients, the two key words being “Professional” and “Responsibility”. As attorneys we must always be mindful that we are helping clients through some of the worst moments in their lives. When attorneys are professional in their dealings with their clients and take care of their responsibilities, the attorney/client relationship flourishes.
Speak With Your Attorney Face to Face
Clients also have responsibilities in their relationship with their attorneys. Chief among the debtor’s complaints in court yesterday was being unable to speak with her lawyer. It was apparent that she never got beyond speaking with the support staff in the office. First, as a client, you have a right to speak directly with your attorney regarding all matters concerning that representation. The best way to accomplish this is to contact your attorney’s office and specifically request an appointment time to meet face to face with your lawyer on the matter at hand. Support staff in a law office is critical to the day to day operations of the office, but please remember that paralegals, secretaries and receptionists are not authorized to give you legal advice. Only your attorney can do this. If you contact your attorney’s office for the purpose of seeking advice on how to handle a matter, go ahead and ask the staff to schedule an appointment for this purpose. And remember, if discussing the matter by telephone is going to be more convenient for you, as opposed to leaving a message to return your call if your attorney is unavailable, ask instead to be set on the attorney’s calendar for a telephone appointment. When you do so, you have secured your place on your attorney’s calendar and are not simply waiting for a call back.
Keep Your Attorney Informed
The next important client responsibility is to keep your attorney advised of your current mailing address and telephone number. There will be notifications by mail of case updates or hearing notices that may not reach you if your attorney has not been updated on a new address. And in this day and age of cellular telephones, phone numbers can change much more rapidly than the time where a client only had a home telephone. In this sense, think of your attorney like a member of your family, i.e. when you advise your family members of new mailing address or telephone numbers, you should always think to include your attorney in this update. Please also open and read all letters or correspondence you receive from your attorney. Whenever someone is involved in a legal proceeding, the simple act of opening one’s mail can be an anxiety producing experience. However, the consequence of not doing so can be devastating, for instance the dismissal of your case.
These are just a few basic tips that can substantially improve your relationship with your attorney. If you find that you are in possible need of bankruptcy relief and wish to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney about your options, please contact one of our locations nearest you in Alabama, Mississippi or Tennessee for a free, confidential consultation.