Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Importance of Reading Your Legal Papers

Many times over the years, I have had clients not read documents I sent or gave to them. The documents included letters, our employment agreement, motions, court orders and even final decrees of divorce. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but often it can lead to problems. Sometimes lawyers send the papers for CYA purposes, but many times the attorney really needs to hear back from a client with feedback. Many documents would just take a few minutes to read, while others could be 40 to 50 pages long and might require quite a bit more time. Either way, it would be helpful if clients would make the effort to read whatever they get from their attorney.

Here are 7 common excuses given for a client not reading over documents sent to him or her:

1. "But I’m not a lawyer – I don’t understand it." That may be true, although I’ve had lawyer clients not read things as well. The problem is that you can be bound by a court order, or get started in a process, regardless of whether you understand something. You should read and understand as much as possible and you can ask a friend or your attorney to help explain things. While you may not understand some words, not everything is done in legalese. Your confusion or lack of understanding may help your attorney uncover some problems with the document, so don’t be shy about speaking up and saying that you don’t understand. It may save you a lot of trouble down the line.

2. "That’s what my lawyer’s for. I trust him/her." Unfortunately, lawyers make mistakes or they may misunderstand something you have told them. Also, sometimes circumstances change and what once was appropriate may not work anymore. Attorneys depend on their clients for information and it often helps to get a client’s perspective on things.

3. "There’s nothing I can do about it, so why should I waste my time reading it?" Actually, there often is something that can be done if problems are discovered early. Remember the old saying, "A stitch in time saves nine." Pointing out a problem early usually makes it easier to correct.

4. "If it’s a problem, I’ll just appeal it later." An appeal can be extremely expensive and slow. Even worse, your chances for success on appeal are usually not good. Appellate courts don’t often reverse the original courts. That’s not a smart gamble to take.

5. "It costs too much – I can’t afford to be charged for talking with my lawyer about it." Remember the old TV commercial that used to say, "Pay me now or pay me later"? It will cost more later to correct the problem. If the cost of legal services is a barrier, maybe you should change attorneys. That’s one reason why you should select an attorney carefully at the outset. One of the important considerations is financial compatibility.

6. "I don’t have time to deal with it now." You get to make your decisions on priorities, but you should be aware of how delays can cause problems which require costly repairs later. Usually, family law issues are among the most important events in someone’s life, so it makes sense to face up to the situation now, rather procrastinating.

7. "My ex and I can work it out." That’s often true when you and your ex are getting along well. When the relationship sours, as sometimes happens, you are left to deal with a problem that probably could have been avoided or corrected if addressed right away.

Please help your attorney help you. Read over any documents he/she sends you. Ask questions and explain your concerns and problems. It will help you get better results and avoid problems in your family law matters.

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