It has been estimated that nearly one-third of all adult Americans will hire a lawyer at some point in their life to pursue civil litigation.   The most common non-criminal litigation matters are personal injury, business disputes, bankruptcy, and foreclosure.  Whatever your case may be, hiring an attorney means hiring someone to fight on your behalf.  Unfortunately, many people walk away from the experience dissatisfied.  The reason is usually not one of money, but in problems arising from communication and misunderstanding.

Attorneys are told in many ways and at many times that they need to communicate better with their clients.  Some lawyers are better at taking this advice than others.  That being said, on the client side there are any number of misconceptions that may lead to friction.  An attorney's work is often misunderstood on the client side.  Having a good team means team players on both side.  With that consideration in mind, here an assessment of some common client misunderstandings that you can bear in mind when retaining your own lawyer.

I want a bulldog.  Many clients think they want an unstoppably aggressive lawyer -- a bulldog. There are some lessons to be learned from real bulldogs.  A bulldog is an fearsome creature when asked to subdue and hold an opponent.  They have relatively few other talents, however.  A real bulldog, as with many purebreds, does not live a long life, handicapped by years of inbreeding.  As to attorneys - those who inflexibly say "no" to everything are rarely effective adovocates.  Usually, their practice result in greater expense to both sides, as the court is asked to intervene.  These attorneys may not always enjoy a terrific reputation with judges.  You do not want a pointlessly aggessive attorney. What you want is a relentless advocate.

My case isn't moving fast enough.  Cases never move fast enough.  The trick here is to determine whether the case could move faster if your attorney placed it higher on his or her priority list.  You must learn to differentiate that very real concern from the situation where the attorney cannot do anything to move the case forward.  If your attorney is doing everything he or she can, the problem may be with the judge allowing the other attorney too much time to do its job. The best way to sort one from the other is to call your attorney every two to four weeks, just to get an update.  Depending on your preferences, you can email instead of calling.  You should be getting a consistent story from one contact to the other. If not, ask questions.

My lawyer doesn't keep me informed.  This is a legitimate criticism of attorneys in general. The easiest way to stay informed is, as stated above, to make it your business to contact your attorney on a regular basis.  Every two weeks is the smallest increment of time that makes sense. Very little happens in the law in any less time.  The regular call is always an opportunity to ask the attorney to email or call you to report on anything that is coming up on the radar.  You would be justified in criticizing an attorney who does not keep you up to date in the face of consistent contacts.

My lawyer doesn't follow up on my ideas.  Clients are an essential part of the team, and usually the most important source of information for the attorney.  Some clients feel put out if the attorney fails to take every bit of information from the client and put it to use.  There are two somewhat contradictory lessons to be learned.  First, give your attorney all the information he asks for.  Do not hold back something because you think it will hurt the case or for any other reason. Second, trust you lawyer to know what to do with the evidence.  There is nothing wrong with making suggestions.  There is everything wrong with sending lengthy emails going on about how you see the case, who is lying, and what the strongest evidence will be.  If your lawyer cannot figure these things out, you need another lawyer.  Asking your attorney to deal with frequent, long winded phone calls or emails will only cost you money, if your are paying by the hour, or potentially alienate your attorney if you are on a contingency or fixed fee.  Avoid playing lawyer.

My lawyer pressures me to settle.  Here again are two separate concerns.  If your lawyer is pressuring you to settle because he or she is afraid to try a case, then you may need to look into finding another lawyer.  On the other hand, if your attorney is not presenting you with settlement opportunities, he or she is doing you a disservice.  Virtually 98% of all civil cases settle.  Many settle through mediation, a nonbinding process by which a neutral third party finds a way to get the parties to come to terms.  Your attorney should be promoting the idea of mediation, and settlement in general, or explain to you in clear terms why settlement is not an option.  Ask questions if your attorney insists that a trial is the only way to go.

You may have noted a continuing theme: that you should be the one to initiate communication with your attorney.  Without stepping over the line by bombarding your attorney with endless and unnecessary inquiries, that is exactly what you should do.  Attorneys handle multiple cases, and can be notoriously poor at proactive communication.  Well timed and regular outrach on your part will keep the relationship on track, establish mutual trust, and alert you to any problems that might impact your case.