Every relationship has a set of rules or behaviors put in place by the people involved and honed over time. Whether parent/child, husband/wife, employer/employee or friends, these rules define the relationship and determine if it is healthy and positive for the participants or if it is destructive. Often these rules are openly discussed. However, some relationships are governed by rules born of tradition and allegory as opposed to an open discussion of what is expected and offered.
The attorney-client relationship is an example of one such relationship where the people involved often fail to have frank conversations about the other’s roles, duties, expectations and responsibilities. Everyone knows the role of an attorney and his client, right? We hear about it from our parents, our history books, and numerous scintillating television shows. Pay the lawyer and they tell you what to do, what to say, and they “fix it.” Or (if you lose) it is because the lawyer on the other side bribed the judge or lied to the judge or otherwise performed some act demanding the telling of yet another “lawyer at the bottom of the ocean” joke.
But the truth of the matter is that the client has just as much to do with the success of his case as the lawyer—perhaps more. The lawyer often has the client sign an “engagement letter” or other type of fee contract describing the service offered and the charges associated with that service. But, rarely does the client have a true understanding of his or her role in the relationship. Rarely does the client fully appreciate that he or she occupies the “driver’s seat” and that active participation is not only encouraged, but is required for a healthy relationship and a positive outcome.
The lawyer works for the client, not the other way around. Therefore, as the employer, the client needs to actively participate and thoroughly understand the objectives of his or her case. The client needs to know what the goals are for the representation and be invested in the process—not just the outcome. He or she needs to be immersed enough in the case to conduct a cost/benefit analysis regarding whether the pursuit of certain legal strategies are worth the emotional or financial cost.
It is the lawyer’s role to provide advice based upon the likely legal outcome when the facts of the case are applied to the law. But the client must be able to make the decision as to what course of action, what specific advice, he or she wants to take. The client can (should) only do that if he or she has been active in the process and understands the goals.
It is human tendency to turn away or ignore that which we do not understand. Because litigation is often a scary time, there is a natural and historical propensity for individuals to follow the tradition of retaining a lawyer to “fix it” and then divesting oneself from the process. However, the rules have changed. The client needs to claim their role within the attorney-client relationship. Not just as the person paying the bill. . . but the person behind the wheel.
We at Jacobs & King welcome the involved client. We are grateful and pleased that our clients understand their importance and hope that this new trend becomes tradition!