Monday 24 July 2017
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Full disclosure: how do lawyers ensure they know everything they need to know about clients?

Full disclosure: how do lawyers ensure they know everything they need to know about clients?

Any client who seeks advice from a lawyer will need to be sure they can trust them completely. A lot can be at stake in a legal case: guilt or innocence, reputation, a fair share of family property, freedom from prison or large amounts of money. It is essential for a lawyer to inspire confidence and to show a client that whatever can be done in the best interests of their case will be done.

However, one aspect of this partnership is not often talked about. The client also has a responsibility: to give their lawyer every last piece of information that may offer their case the best chance of success. This issue might seem so obvious that it’s not worth discussing, but it’s strange how often even the most important piece of information can slip out of our minds just when we need to raise it most urgently. If you are consulting a lawyer, you may well be under pressure. A legal case of any kind is a very serious matter and the stress may prevent you from thinking or expressing yourself as clearly as usual. It’s your lawyer’s job, though, to remain calm, explain your options and create a strategy. So: what can a lawyer do to ensure that a client does give them all the information they need to keep a case on track?

advice from a lawyer

We put this question to two legal experts who are respected for the focus they bring to understanding their clients’ personal situations. What information do they look for and how do they ensure they receive all of it?

Diligence is a quality that Penrith solicitors Peter Winters & Co stress very strongly, as their website makes clear: No legal matter will be the same as any other, so seeking every last detail, no matter how insignificant it might seem to the client, is essential to offering a coherent and carefully argued case. But what techniques and methods do legal practitioners use to make this possible?

Dino Di Rosa, Principal of Di Rosa Lawyers in Adelaide, practises across a range of legal fields, from family law to business law, but places trust and commitment to personal understanding at the forefront of every case, as the Di Rosa website makes clear:

legal experts

Dino’s thoughts on obtaining key information from clients are as follows.

It is important for a lawyer, when advising the client, that they get complete “instructions” from that client, which will include personal and financial details in relation to that client and any other parties in the matter; a detailed background of the dispute in the matter, starting with a chronology of events; any relevant documents that may assist in advising the client or that need to be disclosed to the court;and ascertaining the motivation and desired outcome of the client and assessing the financial means and needs of the client.

important for a lawyer

Dino Di Rosa

Principal and Lawyer, Di Rosa Lawyers

So, it is essential for a lawyer to get right inside a client’s situation and to know it in as much detail as the client does. In effect, from Dino’s point of view, a lawyer has to do “detective work” on their client’s situation. Even the smallest detail, which to the client might not seem important, could make that crucial difference to the outcome of a case.

Shanna Mahony, now a barrister in NSW and until recently head of Mahony Family Lawyers, agrees, while also placing special emphasis on the client’s own comfort, as the Mahony Family Lawyers website explains: Asking the right questions as a lawyer is still essential, but for Shanna Mahony, so is creating the right opportunities for the client to come up with the most detailed answers.

Obtaining instructions from a client is often one of the most difficult aspects of practice as a legal practitioner. The case presented is only as good as the instructions received and accordingly taking the time to obtain proper instructions is essential. In practice, I have found that the following schedule of obtaining instructions is most effective, should time permit:

Principal and Lawyer

  • Take a comprehensive list of personal particulars during the initial conferences, including full names, dates of birth and property titles etc.
  • Provide the client with a detailed letter of advice after conference, setting out the matters a Court would consider in determining the dispute and the evidence needed to support such consideration.
  • Use a written table of questions to your client that they can fill in, in their own time and the comfort of their home. I find this is more successful in allowing the client to fully consider their answers without the pressure of your office and questions from you.
  • Peruse the written answers prior to the next conference and prepare notes of any missing pieces.
  • Conduct a further conference to finalise instructions and discuss the next steps in preparation.
  • Always allow your client the time to consider a draft Court document sufficiently before signing.

Signing testament

Shanna Mahony, Director

Mahony Family Lawyers

Between them, our experts show both sides of what a lawyer has to do to ensure that every case is well prepared. Asking all about a case in detail might seem the most obvious and important thing, but equally important is being ready to listen and open to details that a client might not consider important, but which could tip the balance for the success of their case.

Family Lawyer

If you are embarking on a legal case, it will be essential that your lawyer demonstrates these qualities and abilities. If it seems that they don’t, you could be right to feel uneasy – and perhaps to look elsewhere.

Please note that the information reported in this article is correct at the time of publication and that the legal opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.