The client is, in a very real sense, the boss in the law office. It is the client who must make the major decisions in his or her case. This is for two reasons.
First, the Rules of Professional Conduct require the lawyer to leave these to the client. The ethical duty of a lawyer is to inform a client of the important issues and consequences and then let the client make the major choices in his or her case. The canons of ethics under which lawyers operate impose this duty on us.
The second reason is that, in reality, it is your case and not the attorney's. It is your obligation to decide these matters which so vitally involve you. The lawyer has no business in telling you, for instance, what is "enough child support" for you to receive or whether you should pay alimony or not. It is you (in these examples) who would be receiving the child support or paying the alimony, not the lawyer. While the lawyer's guidance is important, it is you that must make such major decisions as these.
At the same time, there are other matters which must be decided by the lawyer in your case. These are not major policy decisions, but rather tactical decisions that our training in the law helps us make. Issues such as how to question a witness, what approach to use in the argument to the judge or jury, or what motions to present to the court ought to be made by your lawyer. You are free, of course, to ask us about these matters or to give suggestions or offer criticism. In the final analysis, these tactical decisions should be made by the lawyer using his best judgment, just as the major policy decisions ought to be made by you, with the guidance and information provided by us.
OPENNESS AND HONESTY
One of the most important duties of your lawyer is a frank and honest discussion of the facts and issues involving your case. This duty of openness and honesty to you involves the following items:
1. Your attorney will advise you about the positive and negative aspects of your case. You need frank and honest information on the difficulties that may be present in your case as well as the advantages that you have. No purpose is served in your lawyer telling you only the "bright side" of things. This will only lead to unmet expectations and dissatisfaction by the client if the outcome is not exactly as he or she wishes. It is our obligation to be candid and honest with you in evaluating all sides of your case.
Although we can provide the client with some comfort through an understanding of the laws pertaining to divorce, support and custody, it is important to remember that the lawyer is a legal counselor. If a client feels the need for nonlegal guidance, counseling, therapy or just a shoulder to lean on, he or she should seek that type of help separately. There are many psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals in this field.
2. Money and time are important facts for a client to consider. Lawsuits can be complex, time-consuming and quite often very frustrating for all parties, the lawyers or the judge. We believe in discussing with our clients at the initial interview such matters as the hourly rate of firm charges, the amount of the initial fee that you pay to our firm for services to be rendered, the approximate time we expect your case will take, and the possibility of requesting an award of attorney's fees as reimbursement to you. It is our belief that our client will be better informed and more satisfied with our services if we discuss these early and openly.
You will find in this web site further information about office procedures, specific fees for services, and costs for typical cases. You should realize, of course, that no case is exactly like another. Cases which appear to be simple often turn out to be very complex. No good lawyer in most cases will tell you that your case is "easy" or "no problem." Many cases which will appear to be routine at first glance can later be found to involve problems in areas such as jurisdiction, default, Fifth Amendment privilege, merger and tax liability, as examples.
Absent a specific agreement otherwise, our clients are entirely responsible for the fee for professional services charged by our firm. After the deposit of funds to the firm's trust account, it is customary to bill the client at regular intervals to inform him or her of work done in the case and to request, if necessary, additional funds to continue work on the case.
We maintain records of the time we have spent on your case. Our files, including these records, are open to you at any time with reasonable advance notice. A good lawyer should have nothing to hide from a client, and we want our clients to know the time and nature of the work we are doing for them.
YOUR CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
Whatever you wish to reveal with your lawyer is forbidden to be repeated or discussed by your lawyer without your permission. What you say in our office to us remains here unless you allow us to discuss these matters with someone. No judge or court can order a lawyer to disclose the confidential matters you bring to your attorney's office (outside of unusual cases such as the intention to commit a crime in the future or to commit perjury on the witness stand).
The purpose for this rule is to ensure that you will be frank and candid in your discussion of facts with us. We need to get the full facts directly from you. A lawyer should not have to wonder if his client is telling the whole truth.
Even if you believe that there is some fact which may be harmful to you, it is better to discuss this openly with the attorney in the first place. It is far better that the attorney be confronted with this fact at an early stage, rather than learn about it for the first time in the courtroom when the other attorney and that lawyer's client have known about it all along. Surprises of this kind can only harm your case.
With advance knowledge of problems or difficulties, the lawyer can often suggest courses of action which can avoid exploitation of the problem by the other side. You can trust us to keep your confidential information to ourselves and not reveal it, without your permission, to people outside our firm.
Our Attorney's Loyalty
An attorney has an obligation of loyalty to the client. Especially in domestic cases this is very important for the client to remember.
Some clients believe that the lawyer's friendship or contacts with the attorney on the other side of the case is a sign of disloyalty or inability to represent aggressively the client's position. This is not so. It is the sworn duty of the attorney to represent fully, zealously and competently the lawful needs and legitimate goals of the client.
A good attorney can have no divided loyalty. We cannot and will not settle your case without your permission. When you hire our law firm to represent you, your case demands undivided loyalty.
Your Attorney's Duties
One of the best summaries of your attorney's duties to you is contained in a "Declaration of Commitment" published by the American Bar Association, which asks that all lawyers live by these principles and provide copies of them to their clients.
Our Declaration Of Commitment To Our Clients
To treat you with respect and courtesy.
To handle your legal matter competently and diligently in accordance with the highest standards of the profession.
To exercise independent professional judgment on your behalf.
To charge a reasonable fee and to explain in advance how that fee will be computed and billed.
To return telephone calls promptly.
To keep you informed and provide you with copies of important papers.
To respect your decisions on the objectives to be pursued in your case, as permitted by law and the rules of professional conduct, including whether or not to settle your case.
To work with other participants in the legal system to make our legal system more accessible and responsive.
To preserve the client confidences learned during our lawyer-client relationship.
To exhibit the highest degree of ethical conduct in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
How Our Law Firm Operates
We find that we can better serve our clients if we tell them what they can expect from their law firm. In return, we like to inform them of our office operating procedures. In this way a client can save money and time, as well as obtain maximum results from our office.
Your file is always open to you. The documents and folders which we keep are the property of our clients, held by us in trust for them. With reasonable advance notice, we can make available to you copies of any document in your file. We do ask that you let us know in advance if you wish to stop by and pick up copies of papers. If you will give us a telephone call, we will do the copying and mail the papers to you.
It is important to keep our files current. Accurate information is essential if we need to contact you at home or at work. Please be sure to let us know if there is a change in your telephone number, place of work or home address.
Unless a flat fee is arranged, our firm bills on an hourly basis for the time spent on your case. Records are kept by each attorney for each tenth of an hour. Thus, a one-half hour interview will be listed as: "Office visit with client - .5". We usually send our clients an itemized billing at least once a month.
It is customary to arrange payment for the services of an attorney when the case is started. This is done by paying an initial deposit to our firm's trust account. When we receive your deposit to the trust account, we start working on your case.
Sometimes our attorneys will be very busy and unable to answer your telephone call immediately. If an attorney is not available, we specifically ask that you talk with one of our support staff and leave a message for the attorney as to what information you are requesting or what your question is.
Our office support personnel are listed elsewhere in this web site. We ask that you talk with one of them to see if they can help you. While they cannot provide the legal advice that an attorney would, they can be very helpful in resolving routine inquiries that you may have.
We try to provide our clients with copies of all letters and pleadings which we prepare or receive. Feel free to ask for any document which may be involved in your case.
If we take your case, we will require certain things of you. First and foremost is a list of your goals and priorities. This will help us to organize our work to attain those goals for you.
Next we may require a "diary" or notebook from you telling us what facts we need to know. This will, of course, vary with the type of case. In a custody case, for example, you should tell us at least the following:
- Who has had primary responsibility for the child before the separation;
- Who has had primary responsibility for the child since the separation;
- Information that might be used against you or the other parent at trial;
- Employment and income of the mother and father;
- Reasons why you should have custody;
- Reasons why the other party shouldn't have custody; and
- Witnesses you wish to call, including names, addresses, work and home telephone numbers, and a summary of what each should say.
We would request other kinds of information, for example, in a child support or alimony case. It is a more effective use of attorney time if you write these matters down at the earliest possible stage and go over them with us. We want to work together with our clients as a team.
No attorney can guarantee success in a particular case. It is our word and our promise to each individual client that we will work hard to attain the goals that the client has set for us. We will do no less for each client.
We believe in discussing fees early and openly with our clients. A client who knows about our fee structure will be better informed and more satisfied with the services we render. Such a client will also have a clear understanding of what our charges are and what we have done for the fee paid by a client.
Our attorneys keep time records in each case. Times are shown in tenths of an hour. We try hard to keep an accurate record of time spent drafting documents, preparing pleadings or consulting in person or over the phone.
You should remember the following specific rules:
1. A telephone call by or to your attorney will be marked down on your files as at least one-tenth of an hour. This will be shown. for example, as follows: "Telephone conference with client - .1" ledger. You should realize that this is the minimum charge for a telephone call. Of course, if the telephone call lasts longer than one-tenth of an hour, we will enter the appropriate time notation in the file, rounded upwards to the nearest tenth of an hour.
2. A telephone call to an attorney at home during non-work hours will incur a surcharge of $50.00 in addition to the regular charge for the attorney's time. We understand that, in an emergency, it may be necessary for you to contact an attorney directly at his or her home. We want to be of assistance whether at the office or at home. At the same time, we believe that it is important for an attorney to have quality time to spend with his or her family. Therefore, we add an additional surcharge for a telephone call that reaches us when we are in our homes during the evening or on a weekend, rather than at the office during ordinary business hours.
Court costs in a domestic case are $150 to file a new case (if that is necessary), $225 to file the divorce complaint, and $30 for serving papers by a North Carolina Sheriff.
Most cases require a deposit to our trust account. This deposit is applied toward the services provided. It is to be paid after the contract is signed and as soon as you wish for us to start the work on your case. The attorney's time is charged against the deposit at the rates indicated above. Of the amount deposited to the firm trust account, the sum of $1,500 (or other figure in written contract) for Mr. Sullivan is a RESERVATION FEE for the reservation of that attorney's (and the firm's) services. It is immediately earned upon acceptance of the case and services are not billed against this general retainer fee.
We will discuss with you the specific fee for your case once we have an opportunity to interview you and determine the facts and objectives in your case. Please feel free to ask any questions you wish about fees. Our goal, above all, is to counsel and maintain clients who are well informed and satisfied with the work we do for them.