The following section discusses the relationship and interworkings between you and your divorce attorney and his or her staff.
Attorney and Staff
The attorney and staff work as a team, each doing tasks which they can do most efficiently. The legal assistant is billed out at a lower rate than the attorney; therefore, the legal assistant handles much of the time-consuming tasks involved in gathering information and day-to-day contact with the client. You will be dealing with both the attorney and the legal assistant, together and individually, throughout the relationship.
Your Role as the Client
This is your case, not your attorney’s. There are a number of things that you must do during your case.
You should be as informed and as involved in your case as possible. It is important that you read this document and understand all of its provisions and ask any questions that you might have at any time. You should read and understand any and all documents that are produced in your case.
Keep a File
All correspondence and documents produced in your case will be forwarded to you. Please establish one file in which to keep all your divorce-related documents. Please remember to bring that file with you each time that you visit your attorney’s office.
Tell Your Attorney the Truth
You should be completely honest with your attorney on every aspect of your case and give all information about anything of importance to your case. This includes not only information helpful to your case but, equally important, all facts which might be harmful to your case. Chances are your spouse’s attorney is going to find out about them anyway, so please do not let your attorney be the last to know.
These “bad facts” are usually not as harmful as you may think. In this respect, you do need to be made aware that, at any time you are placed under oath at a deposition or a trial, you will be required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you do not, you subject yourself to criminal perjury charges. Likewise, Texas law requires your attorney to see to it that you tell the truth; therefore, when you are under oath, your attorney cannot and will not condone any testimony by you which is less than the whole truth.
Gather Helpful Information
Facts are the heart of your lawsuit. You will be given information sheets to fill out and requested to gather information and documents. This will be time-consuming and tedious work, but it is extremely important. It must be done. You, the client, have a much greater knowledge of and access to this factual information than your attorney.
Further, as you research and piece together this information, you begin to develop the necessary understanding of your case. You can do this work at no charge to yourself, whereas if the lawyer or staff are required to do it, he/she will be billing you for his/her time and labor. For all of these reasons, you should do as much of the information gathering, under the direction of your attorney and staff, as possible.
Review Spouse’s Documents
Your attorney will provide you with copies of all documents supplied by your spouse’s attorney. It is very important that you review these documents immediately, familiarize yourself with them completely, and ask any questions or detect anything important or unusual in the documents (e.g., checks written for unusually high amounts or to unfamiliar persons or sources).
Allow Your Attorney to Make Decisions
No final settlement of your case will be made without your approval and consent. Other major decisions will also be made with your approval and consent (e.g., to demand a jury or not, to seek child custody or not, etc.). However, you will need to allow your attorney the authority to make other decisions that bear on your case, but which involve professional judgment or courtesy. For example, your attorney should decide how to phrase allegations contained in your pleadings and when to file the pleading.
On occasion, your spouse’s attorney may ask for a continuance or postponement of a hearing on a motion, deposition, etc. Resistance to a legitimate request of this nature is often not in your best interest. Your attorney may know that your side will need to make a similar request in the future. Your attorney should be the decision-maker for these and similar matters.
You and your attorney and her staff are in an attorney-client relationship, which is recognized by the law to be a very special relationship. Your attorney and staff owe one hundred percent of the allegiance to you and your case and owe no allegiance to your spouse whatsoever. Your attorney is required to represent you zealously but within the bounds of the law.
Do not be misled if you find your attorney dealing with your spouse’s attorney on a friendly basis. Professional and common courtesy dictate this. Good lawyers are perfectly capable of zealously defending and promoting their clients’ best interests, without becoming personal enemies. Attorneys are in fact trained to be advocates for the children without becoming emotionally involved.
One of the very reasons you hire a lawyer is to have someone on your behalf who not only has legal expertise but who will not become emotionally involved. You want your lawyer to use her head, not her heart. Indeed, you should expect your lawyer to be objective and to remain unemotional on your behalf because it will often be hard for you to do so.
By virtue of the attorney-client relationship, a special privilege is created which is known as the “attorney-client privilege.” The privilege prohibits from disclosure of any information, whether communication orally or in writing, between the attorney and the client, so long as the communication was intended to be confidential.
For example, this very information sheet you are reading is protected from disclosure to your spouse’s attorney under the attorney-client privilege. Such communications also include all correspondence or documents from your attorney/staff to you, and vice versa (e.g., information sheets you prepare for us), as well as all telephone conversations and in-person conferences between you and your attorney and staff.
CAUTION: The attorney-client privilege exists only between you and your attorney and her immediate, in-house staff.
The attorney-client privilege can be waived if the otherwise confidential information is disclosed to persons other than your attorney and her immediate staff. For example, if you tell your spouse something that your attorney has told you, then the information will lose its privilege from disclosure and will have to be disclosed by you in court.
Also, the privilege does not exist between you and other persons who may be involved in your case to assist you (e.g., CPAs, appraisers, etc.). Therefore, be very careful what you say to these persons, even if they are “on your side”, for anything you do or say may be required to be disclosed to your spouse’s attorney.
You should read and understand your fee contract. If you do not understand the financial obligations required of you under the contract, you should immediately discuss those questions with your attorney. You should not sign the contract unless you understand it.
Besides your attorney and her immediate, in-house staff, other outside professionals are sometimes hired to assist in the divorce case. It may be necessary to engage an appraiser, a tax expert, CPA and other such professionals. Your attorney will discuss the necessity of these experts with you and hire only those that are in your case and only with your consent.