There’s good reasons clients should do things my way

Posted Thursday, April 14th, 2022 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 pretty sizable portion of my clients fight me on the process of doing the work I want done. I would not claim I have developed perfect methods of gathering evidence, drafting financial declarations, answering discovery, or preparing for trial–all of which require client involvement. What I will claim is that my methods ensure these matters are addressed in a manner in which I can utilize the information so that it furthers the client’s goals and does not cause the client harm.

Yet some clients still fight me on process issues. There are reasons I want filed copies of certain documents, such as court orders or financial declarations. First, there are consequences from filing documents with the court and, until I have filed copies, I can’t assume they have been filed. Knowing a proposed order has actually been filed with the court lets me know both that it is valid and when it became valid. Providing me an unfiled copy does not convey this information. Further, documents are sometimes altered between their drafting, their execution, and their being filed. It is the filed document the court relies upon so it is the filed copy I need to review. Despite my reasons for wanting filed copies, some clients fight me on this.

I have a set process for gathering affidavits for temporary hearings. I even provide clients a memo explaining what I need and I ask them to provide that memo to their potential witnesses. The purpose of this process is to insure I obtain affidavits with relevant, material, and admissible information and that these affidavits won’t be filled with inaccuracies and half-truths that can be exposed at trial. Still clients (or their witnesses) often simply send me executed affidavits rife with hearsay, based upon second-hand or irrelevant information, and so one-sided as to make them unusable. Again, my process isn’t the only method of gathering these affidavits; it’s merely a method I’ve found useful in making sure I obtain useful ones.

I have a set process for filling out financial declarations. This process is designed to insure the filed financial declaration can withstand cross examination at trial and that I have documentation to justify/verify the figures if challenged by the other side. Many trials are lost because financial declarations were inaccurate. Fighting me on this process by providing spreadsheets in lieu of a filled out declaration and corroborating documentation will simply frustrate me. The family court may find your spreadsheet helpful. It will demand your filed financial declaration. At trial, having your corroborating documentation may be the difference between your financial disclosure being found credible or being found dishonest.

As for discovery, I have set procedures, and again even a memo, explaining how to respond. While one can strengthen one’s case by gathering the evidence sought in discovery, providing that evidence to the other side prior to trial never makes one’s case stronger. Nothing good can come from answering discovery but disaster can occur when discovery isn’t answered or answered incompletely or inaccurately. Thus, the goal of answering discovery is to minimize damage to one’s case that occurs by providing inaccurate information that allows for impeachment or by providing incomplete information and thereby limiting what can be provided at trial. Other attorneys may have other procedures for answering discovery that work perfectly well for them. Mine work for me. Clients who fight me on following them simply harm their case.

Finally, I have a set process for trial preparation. Attorneys should have some process for insuring documents are prepared and ready to be introduced, friendly witnesses are subpoenaed and prepared to testify, and cross examinations have been developed for adverse witnesses Again, other attorneys may have different methods of preparing for trial but every attorney should have a process. By following my process, clients assist in my preparation.

As indicated above, my methods many not be perfect (they continue to evolve with time and experience) but they work for me and help insure my work is done properly. I’ve spent over twenty-five years thinking about how to do each aspect of a South Carolina family court proceeding properly and have the experience of thousands of cases. My clients have been involved in few South Carolina family law cases (for many, this is their first) and haven’t spent much (any) time thinking about how to handle them properly.

Thus, I simply don’t understand a client who wants to argue with me about how to do the work of preparing a family court case. I assume that client hired me for my experience. I assume they don’t argue with their auto mechanic over how to fix their engine or with their surgeon on how to repair their kidney (admittedly they don’t have to collaborate with their auto mechanic or surgeon). One of the underheralded benefits of experience is that, by developing processes to handle routine situations, one can better focus on the unique aspects of each case. Redeveloping these processes on the fly because the client won’t follow them will create disorder.

Even relatively inexperienced attorneys should (hopefully) have a set process for addressing common family court tasks. Clients should follow their attorney’s requests on these process matters. Unless the client is budget conscious and wants to hold down costs, asking the attorney questions about process isn’t problematic, but the attorney’s process needs to be followed for the attorney to get good results. A client who simply won’t follow the attorney’s direction on process issues should find an attorney he or she is willing to listen to.

One thought on There’s good reasons clients should do things my way

  1. Teresa duPont Fredricks says:

    As a past client of Mr. Forman, I too at first thought he should be doing this and not me! Had he done this himself, my bill would have been tremendously higher and the depth of knowledge he gained would not have been the same. I’m forever grateful of Greg’s help and how he handled our case. Most definitely recommend him.

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