Ooh, that Edwin Standys and his page-turner, Europae Speculum! What? You haven’t read it? It was just the hottest thing in 1599, so surely you know he’s the guy who first wrote, “Honesty is the best policy.” Well, sorta: he wrote, “Our grosse conceipts, who think honestie the best policie.” Maybe that weird wording is why everyone forgets Sir Standys, a founder of the Virginia Company. Yes, that Virginia Company. If your family law attorney is lacking, honesty is one of three best policies you can follow.
Cut the Mustard
Speaking of odd ways with words, fellow southerner William Henry Porter (aka O. Henry) first used the term, “cut the mustard,” in a 1907 short story. It is a phrase that makes no sense, but if your family law attorney is not doing the job you expect, start with Standys’s advice: have an honest talk with your lawyer. Let your attorney know he or she is not cutting the mustard.
You may disagree with your lawyer without being disagreeable. Avoid whining. Avoid accusations. Use facts, the same as you expect your attorney to use facts in arguing your family law case. Cite specific examples where your lawyer did not do what you expected, what was promised, or what was necessary.
Keep in mind some counterarguments your attorney could make:
- You may actually only see part of the picture, and be unaware of the complete scope of work being done on your behalf
- Your attorney has significantly more experience (in most cases) than you and may be viewing a longer horizon, when you are expecting instantaneous results
- Events may be unfolding beyond your attorney’s or your control
Give your lawyer a little bit of time to address your concerns. You cannot speak on a Monday and expect everything to be wrapped up Tuesday. But, if, after a reasonable time, you still see a distinct lack of communication, activity, filings, or effort from your attorney, you still have two other options.
What constitutes a reasonable time? You and your attorney should end the productive discussion with some agreed-upon goals: within 3 business days, X-Y-Z will be done; by next Friday, this-and-that will be filed. Whatever you decide, make sure you both are working to the same calendar.
Then, if you are still an unhappy client, try Your Next Move. We have cleverly titled it, “Next!”
Often within law firms, several lawyers work under the same roof, and many times one firm could have tiers of attorneys, from managing partners down through partners to associates. You may even stumble upon “of counsel” outside contractors hiding in broom closets and law clerks stuffed into filing cabinets under “L.”
Our point is that, if your initial attorney is not cutting O. Henry’s mustard, you have every right as a paying client to ask for a new attorney within the same law firm. That is a very easy process since all your paperwork and electronic records are in-house. Of course, you may have a few tense moments when you are handed off from one lawyer to the other, but business is business.
If the option to move within a firm to a new lawyer does not work, you have A Third Option, which happens to be our next title.
A Third Option
You can always find new counsel. Whether you were with a solo practitioner or buried in the bowels of a 50-lawyer firm, you simply fire your current lawyer. This is a dictum not enough attorneys remember, so we’ll punch it up:
- You are always wise to have counsel, but you are never obligated to retain counsel
With that firing, you sever the relationship without losing attorney-client privilege. Your fired attorney cannot reveal anything about your case to your new attorney, to your opposition’s attorney, or to a judge without your permission.
Whatever your concerns are with the deficient attorney, make certain to bring those up in interviews of prospective lawyers.
The legal documents prepared by your first attorney are yours. Assuming you have paid your legal fees in full, remember to ask for all your paperwork so that your new attorney can come up to speed on your case as quickly as possible. The files, motions, and most paperwork belongs to you. Your attorney can retain notes prepared for in-house use.
No matter your legal issue, you always have the right to an attorney you can believe in and trust. You just may have to try more than once to find the right lawyer. Take a tip from Sir Edwin: he was a vociferous critic of the king of England. He also did something about it. He helped draw up Virginia’s Great Charter, the document that led to the creation of Jamestown. He certainly knew how to complain productively.
The Firm For Men has a team of experienced family law attorneys ready to serve the needs of Virginia’s men. Contact us today or telephone our offices in Virginia Beach at (757) 383-9184 to learn how hard we work to protect and defend the rights of Virginia’s men in separation, divorce, child custody, and more.