Best Practices for Working Successfully with a Lawyer
July 14, 2022 Leslie Smith
Having practiced law in Ontario for 34 years, I have worked with thousands of clients of all stripes and persuasions and from all economic and social strata. Most of my clients have been good to work with. They’ve been reasonable, and co-operative. Only a few have not.
With decades of experience working with clients, I present a few best practices to ensure that you, as a client, have a successful professional relationship with your lawyer.
Firstly, finding a lawyer requires research and hopefully, a personal reference from someone who has worked with that lawyer. You want to find a lawyer who you can trust – one who is an expert in the field of law that concerns you.
It’s important to understand that your legal case is like a team sport. You and your lawyer are on the same team and need to work as well together as any sports team, with your lawyer as head coach. Teams made up of members who argue with each other usually don’t win the game. Team unity (as we see from sports teams) is critical to success.
You are hiring a lawyer who has expertise with your area of concern. If your instinct is to challenge your lawyer on the way he or she is handling your file, you need to find another lawyer you are prepared to listen to. No lawyer can work with a client who will not take direction or advice.
Understand that many factors are at play in every legal situation, regardless of the subject matter. Lawyers must understand the law related to the subject matter, and the procedural rules as well as any legislation that may apply or rules of the Court, if applicable. The law in every area is complex and multi-layered and brings into play a variety of bodies of knowledge. Your lawyer will not describe every little detail with you, but just know that there are details – and lots of them.
If you are a client that needs constant updates, it’s best to set expectations early on as to how often your lawyer will communicate with you. Understand that lawyers with a good reputation for subject matter expertise are very busy and can’t always respond quickly. You can reach out to the lawyer’s assistant or support staff, but it’s best to have a firm understanding of your lawyer’s communication policy before you start working together.
If your matter involves litigation, at some point you may want to consider settlement. Settlement is a process that involves intellectual agility, compromise, and reason. Be reasonable and prepared to compromise if your lawyer recommends it. Being intransigent in your beliefs about your case is never a good idea.
If you disagree with what your lawyer is doing or saying, initiate dialogue to gain understanding of your lawyer’s actions. Rather than accuse your lawyer of not acting in your best interests, ask your lawyer to help you understand his or her theory of the case and the method of resolving it. Through respectful dialogue, you will gain understanding while not detonating or poisoning the relationship with your lawyer. Remember, you and your lawyer are a team, and you want to win or have the best outcome. Work together in unity towards that goal.
I hope these few tips help you have a productive and respectful professional relationship with your lawyer.
Technology in the Courtroom
April 22, 2022 Leslie Smith
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, our Courts in Canada have had to reinvent themselves.
Before 2020, most Court cases including bail hearings, were conducted in person. Lawyers and clients were having to drive to Court houses, wait for their turn and then drive back. Of course, there has always been remote hearings for certain matters such as bail hearings and sex-assault hearings. But generally, things were done in person.
Between March and approximately September 2020 in Ontario (and quite possibly elsewhere in Canada), Courts shut down for lack of technological capabilities to deal with cases online. At the time I was sitting as a Small Claims Court judge and there were no hearings until approximately October 2020. This created an enormous backlog that the Courts are still trying to clear off.
Starting in the fall of 2020, Judges and lawyers were feverishly learning how to use ZOOM. Courts were attempting to digitize their processes – a monumental task. They have made great strides, since then.
Now, in 2022, after much adaptation and practice, most hearings are online except hearings that require live testimony. Even then, however, the parties or their lawyers can request remote trials. Procedures that work especially well online are set date hearings, motions, appeals, pre-trial conferences, and case management meetings.
Here are some best practices for a successful remote Court hearing.
- Think ahead about the documents you will need during your hearing and have a stand copy on your computer ready to email to the Judge hearing your matter. Judges often do not have access to the whole file including the pleadings. Having a stand copy ready, will greatly assist and speed up the hearing.
- Litigants are expected to display proper decorum and solemnity during a remote hearing as was required during in-person hearings. Ensure that parties are properly dressed and located in a quiet, secure place, sitting quietly, and listening and participating. Walking around your house in your underwear with a coffee spilling out of your cup, is not appropriate decorum for participating in a Court hearing.
- Check your technical connections and functionality before the hearing starts.
- Before the hearing, the parties and their lawyers should decide what technology is best suited for any hearings or meetings. It may be that the hearing is better done in person. Or it may be better suited for a remote hearing such as, for example, a matter that involves multiple parties living in various locations in the province.
- Lawyers and client must use a professional ZOOM background. Save the cat filter for zoom calls with your grandchildren.
- If a client’s bandwidth is not broad enough and he or she must go to their local Tim Horton’s to participate in a ZOOM hearing for the time-period required, have the client attend his or her lawyer’s office if possible or go to a professional office with adequate bandwidth.
I have participated in several remote hearings both as a Small Claims Court judge and lawyer advocating on behalf of clients. For the most part, I see great benefit in it, especially in terms of access to justice. Please call me if you have any questions – 905-257-7714.
July 14, 2022 | Leslie Smith
April 22, 2022 | Leslie Smith