What to Tell Your Lawyer

So you decided you need a lawyer, and you hired one.  Now–what should you tell him?  The short answer:  Everything.  Or at least everything that’s relevant.  What is relevant depends on the type of case you’re involved in, of course.  Regardless of the type of case, however, any bad action on your part is just as relevant to the case as all of the rotten things the opposing party has done.

One lawyer should NEVER “represent” both parties in a divorce action. Just sayin”.

We all want people to like us.  When we tell a story to someone about something that happened in our lives, we always spin it to make ourselves look flawless.  “He’s a terrible husband, he did X, Y, and Z.”  We neglect to tell any of the other side– “After I did A, B, and C, my husband retaliated by doing X, Y, and Z,” rarely passes the lips of any person recounting the events that so upset her or him.  It could be that A, B, and C were really minor things that did not merit the retaliation, and so that part is left out.  Or that the party telling the story feels guilty about those things, and is trying to avoid facing his or her own guilty feelings.

When it comes to representing your version of events in court, however, the things you did wrong are just as important as the things the other side did wrong to your attorney.  She needs to know all of the facts, even if some of those facts don’t make you look so good, because the other side is going to make sure you look as bad as possible.  Lawyers are great at spinning a story themselves, when they have all the facts.  They do need to know what they have to defend against.  Without having that information up front, from you, your attorney gets blindsided.  If that happens through motion filing, or the answer to a petition, damage control is less difficult, though still necessary.  If it happens in court, however, your attorney can only try and stop the bleeding in your case.

Some examples (and how it MAY effect a hypothetical case):

Contract case:  You go to your attorney and tell her that your contractor failed to complete work in breach of your contract.  You fail to tell the attorney that you didn’t pay the contractor the first 3 months he did work for you, but then caught up on the payments, prior to the contractor ceasing work.  You go to court and all of this comes out.  You technically breached the contract yourself before the contractor did.  Your case is tossed, and you get to pay the contractor’s attorney’s fees.

OR

You go to your attorney, tell the same story, but add that you had paid up what you owed, the contractor worked another month, and then quit.  Your attorney can put in the original complaint that the contractor continued working after being caught up, thereby waiving right to complain about your breach of contract.  You get a settlement.

Family case:  You hire a lawyer for a divorce, citing domestic abuse as a reason.  You tell your lawyer that the police were called to your home 6 times in the past 2 years for domestic disturbances.  You ask for a protective order in the interim while the divorce is being litigated, barring your spouse from seeing your children while the protective order is in place.  You state on the P.O. request that your husband is a violent person, and refer to the police coming to the house.  At the protective order hearing, your husband’s attorney brings in the police reports, and the responding officers to testify in your spouse’s behalf.  Turns out there was nothing to the calls to the police–their reports indicate as much.  The judge is Not Amused.  Your spouse is awarded custody of the kids on a temporary basis, pending completion of the divorce, and you get to pay child support.

OR

(There is no Other Side to the above example–lying to your lawyer to get actions filed in your case that are without merit is simply sabotaging your own case.  You may be ordered to pay your spouse’s attorney’s fees for having to defend against this meritless motion.  You also just threw your lawyer under the bus in front of the judge.  She’s not going to be happy about that.  She may even choose to withdraw from your case.)

The real point of telling your lawyer everything– the good, the bad, and the ugly– is so that your lawyer can represent you in the best light possible.  Attorneys are trained to spin the story to their client’s advantage, or at the very least do damage control.  Failing to be honest with your attorney will only hurt you in the long run.

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