When you are your own attorney

Posted Tuesday, March 13th, 2012 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

A quote I often hear ascribed to the incomparable Gedney M. Howe, III (though I have never actually heard him say it) is:

When you tell me something, I am your attorney; when you don’t tell me something, you are your own attorney.

That bit of wisdom demonstrates the insights of an experienced attorney.  Clients–for reasons I have never truly understood and can only comprehend as their method of avoiding expense or embarrassment–often fail to reveal important information about their situation.  Frequently “the facts” of a client’s case can change significantly with the attorney being the last to know.  An attorney in possession of the facts of the case can truly act as the client’s attorney–advising and counseling the client on viable options; advocating the client’s position.  However when the client fails to divulge these facts to his or her attorney, that client is acting as his or her own lawyer.

Just the past week I’ve had more than one client not inform me about significant issues–in one case being served with a rule to show cause–impacting their cases.  When these clients no longer felt equipped to act as their own attorney, they contacted me for help.  At that point it was too late for me to help one client and much more complicated than it needed to be for the other client.

Clients often balk about sharing information with their attorney because family court attorneys bill by the hour and such attorneys will bill for their time considering the client’s new “facts.”  Often the new “facts” don’t merit any action by the attorney and the client feels like he or she has wasted money by informing the attorney.  Actually, it’s not a waste of resources for an attorney to quickly confirm that something small but worrisome isn’t significant.  And admittedly the situations that escape my clients’ control are the one’s I hear about, so there may be myriad situations in which I remain blissfully ignorant of “the facts.”  But those situations in which my client provides me information only after the situation has snowballed are always memorable (in a bad way) and frustrating.

Clients cannot be reminded often enough that when their attorneys don’t know “the facts,” they are acting as their own counsel.

2 thoughts on When you are your own attorney

  1. MJ Goodwin says:

    This reminds me of a client years ago, who had an alcohol problem. On the very morning of the trial of our case (I guess he was drunk and wanted a trial), he asked me if it mattered that he had gotten arrested for DUI a week or so earlier and “forgot” to tell me.

  2. Paul D. Schwartz says:

    I was trying a custody case where I represented a Mother many years ago. The Father was on the witness stand. My client had told me he would not give her any money and I crossed him on that. He asked me do I want to know why (I did not but Judge Jolly did) and he explained he would buy my client supplies because she would use the money to go dancing in clubs. He went further and explained how he had bought diapers and my client returned them to the store, got a refund and went dancing in the club. I asked her if this was true and she slipped me a note and said yes, but I can explain. I wrote on the note back to her, no you cannot. Would have liked to have known that one ahead of time. At end of trial, Judge Jolly had one question, did she really do that, she said yes but told him she could explain, to which he responded to her, no you cannot.

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