Client, Help Thyself

Attorney Scott Greenfield writes on his blog today about something most lawyers have experienced: clients who are their own worst enemies. He shares, via another blog post, the common problems of clients who don't produce important information on time (or ever) and consequently make their lawyer's job much, much more difficult than it already is.

This goes to one of my basic life rules, that nothing is a problem. Until it is.  Lawyers are janitors, cleaning up the mess people leave behind when things go bad.  When things are peachy, who needs a lawyer?  Break a law and don’t get caught? This law stuff is easy. But get caught and suddenly it turns really, really hard. Go figure.
Given the pervasiveness of law in people’s lives, and the rarity with which people are actually forced to confront legal problems, mostly because things somehow manage to work out or they just don’t get caught, is it any wonder that people don’t take the law seriously?  And if the law isn’t serious, then neither are lawyers. N’est pas?

It is my practice to remind clients - sternly - that it is THEIR case we're embarking on, not mine, so their direct and prompt participation is required. That mandate doesn't always compel them at crunch time, though. I have experienced my own fair share of clients who don't respond to emails, or phone calls, or letters, or requests of any sort whatsoever.

In my line of work, which is mostly representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against other people, companies, or the government, the case cannot proceed without my client's full participation. They're on the offense. It's their fight. Defense attorneys can attack the pleadings alone, cutting away at the allegations and factual claims  of plaintiffs without producing a single document. Plaintiffs need to have all their ducks in a row from the outset.

If a plaintiff survives the initial stages of filing a suit, they then have to start producing names, documents, and any other background info they have. Without that, the case can't proceed at all. Then they have to prepare for their deposition, and suffer through it. And then, assuming their case survives summary judgment, they have to get ready for trial, which requires more than a few minutes of discussion.

Filing a lawsuit is a big deal. It's a major life event. Clients can't just blow it off and assume their lawyer has everything taken care of. They don't have to micromanage the lawyer's every move in litigation, but clients do have to be engaged and responsive to lawyer requests. Every case depends on it!