1. Call me and ask me what is happening in your case. We spend time and effort in keeping you advised of the status of your case. When a document comes to my office, we scan it and send it to the client, usually by email. When we prepare a document, we send the client a copy. Our bills are itemized with enough detail for you to understand what is done. I frequently send my client a copy of my email instructions to my staff. If anything of consequence occurs, we call the client or send an email. Before sending settlement offers, responding to settlement offers, or sending an important letter, we frequently review it with the client before sending it. Calling to ask about the status of your case is a waste of our time and your money.
2. Negotiate with your spouse. One person should be responsible for negotiations and in a domestic relations case that person should be the lawyer and not the client. I have had cases where a client negotiated successfully but those cases are few. Far more frequently, client negotiations cause anger and hostility, unnecessary concessions, or agreements that are unacceptable. Some lawyers encourage their clients to negotiate with their spouses. If you want to negotiate with your spouse, hire another lawyer instead of me.
3. Be dishonest with me. I can handle most situations if I know the truth, I can prepare for the truth. Usually there is a way to minimize or explain an unpleasant truth but I cannot do that if I do not know the truth.
4. Do not pay your bill for fees and costs. We work hard and try to hold fees and costs to a minimum but we expect those fees and costs to be paid when they are due, usually ten days after the bill. If you have a problem paying on time, contact my office and make payment arrangements before the bill is past due, not afterwards.
5. Do legal research on the internet. Clients who do legal research on the internet believe that the law is black and white. It is not. I cannot think of a time that a client has advised me of a relevant principle with which I was not familiar. However, I have spent a lot of time, for which I have charged a lot of money, explaining why some point of law from the internet is not relevant or not applicable. Clients make the substantive decisions but I make the procedural decisions and legal research falls within the realm of procedure. Despite this admonition, you may go http://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/statmast.php to find the South Carolina Code of Laws including the South Carolina Equitable Apportionment of Property Act, the alimony statutes, and the guardian ad litem statutes. At http://www.sccourts.org/courtReg/ you can find the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and the South Carolina Rules of Family Court.
6. Bring a child to my office. Your goal should be to protect your child from the effects of separation and divorce to the greatest extent possible. You cannot do that by taking the child to a lawyer’s office.
7. Call the police or the Department of Social Services. Calling the police or the Department of Social Services only makes a bad situation worse. Often the excuse is that “I just wanted proof of what happened.” Your testimony is proof but what a police officer or Department of Social Services worker would say is most probably hearsay that is not admissible in court.
8. Get legal advice from a police officer, an employee of the clerk of court’s office, or from a magistrate or municipal judge. These people are usually dedicated public servants but they are also traditionally the three worst sources of legal advice and result in many bad recommendations.
9. Call or write a family court judge for any purpose. The judge cannot ethically talk with you or consider anything that is not shared with the other side. You have no legitimate reason to contact a judge.
10. Fail to treat your spouse with dignity and respect. Separation and divorce cases are difficult enough when people treat each other decently and they only become more difficult and complicated when one party is a jerk. You cannot control how your spouse treats you but you can control how you treat your spouse. Mark Twain said, “Always do what is right. It will gratify some folks and astound others.” If you can avoid most of these ten deadly sins, then you will most probably have a good relationship with my staff and with me.