Going through the divorce process when a marriage ends is typically stressful for everyone involved. Emotions tend to run high and can change from one day to the next. If the divorce is contested, that likely means that the outcome of issues relating to minor children and/or the division of valuable assets are at stake. If you find yourself in this position, you are probably depending on your divorce attorney to resolve those contested issues in your favor. What should you do, however, if you find yourself in a position where you do not agree with how your divorce lawyer is handling the case? This is a common concern and, therefore, a frequently asked question. Every situation is unique; however, there are some factors to consider and avenues to take if you find yourself asking this common question.
Determine the Underlying Issue
Although it is understandably difficult to be objective about anything relating to a divorce given the inherently emotionally charged nature of a divorce, try and take a step back and analyze the situation. Ask yourself exactly why you are unhappy with your lawyer’s representation. Is your issue related to the practical, day to day handling of your case or is it a fundamental difference of opinion related to strategy and/or objectives. For instance, are you feeling as though your lawyer is not communicating with you often enough or that your lawyer is not moving the case along fast enough? Or, have you had a disagreement about the use of damaging evidence against your spouse at trial or do you not see eye to eye on the possibility of negotiating an agreed settlement? Typically, it is much easier to resolve issues relating to the day to day handling of a case that to resolve a fundamental difference in strategy and/or objectives.
Understanding Your Lawyer’s Job
It is also important to have a firm understanding of what your lawyer’s duties and responsibilities are to you, and to the court, during his/her representation of you. Lawyers are governed by the state (in this case Tennessee) Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules provide a wealth of guidance with regard to your lawyer’s relationship with you and representation of you during your divorce. The Rules tell us that, in general, a lawyer “should be competent, prompt, and diligent. A lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning the representation. A lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.”
The Rules also provide guidance with regard to the level of competence expected of your lawyer during the handling of your case, as follows “Competent handling of a particular matter includes inquiry into and analysis of the factual and legal elements of the problem, and the use of methods and procedures meeting the standards of competent practitioners. It also includes adequate preparation. The required attention and preparation are determined in part by what is at stake; major litigation and complex transactions ordinarily require more extensive treatment than matters of lesser complexity and consequence.”
This is a common area of confusion and disagreement between an attorney and client. Who decides what? Again, the Rules shed some light by telling us that “a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation and, as required by RPC 1.4, shall consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished. A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation. A lawyer shall abide by a client’s decision whether to settle a matter.”
The Rules go on to explain that “On occasion, however, a lawyer and a client may disagree about the means to be used to accomplish the client’s objectives. Clients normally defer to the special knowledge and skill of their lawyer with respect to the means to be used to accomplish their objectives, particularly with respect to technical, legal, and tactical matters. Conversely, lawyers usually defer to the client regarding such questions as the expense to be incurred and concern for third persons who might be adversely affected.”
Resolving a Conflict with Your Divorce Lawyer
Once you have tried to step back and objectively determine where the problem lies, there are several different options for resolving the problem. If the problem is not a fundamental difference of opinion on strategy or objectives, schedule a consultation with your attorney and discuss your complaints. There is often an easy solution, such as providing you with a direct contact number for a paralegal who can provide you with roe frequent updates or your attorney may be able to walk you through the steps in your divorce so you can see why it is taking longer than you anticipated.
If your problem is a fundamental difference in strategy or objectives, it may be more difficult to resolve. You should still sit down with your lawyer and discuss the problem though. Your lawyer may be able to explain why a specific strategy he/she is using is likely to be successful or why one of your objectives is not realistic. Ultimately, however, you are the client and you always have the option to sever your relationship with your lawyer and retain another one. Before you take such a drastic step, however, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of doing so as it will likely result in a delay in the litigation and an increase in the overall cost of the litigation.
Contact a Divorce Lawyer
If you have additional questions or concerns about a divorce in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee divorce attorney as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.
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