What to Expect from Your Lawyer – Top Five Things to Know About Phone Calls

shutterstock_155858537-thumb-500x334-65280Lawyers can seem like they’re from a foreign land with their own strange customs and language. And, let’s face it, sometimes (okay, a lot of times) some lawyers seem unapproachable, which can make the client experience less than a good one.

At Hightower Reff, we do our best to be approachable, talk like real people and have a productive relationship with our clients. However, like many lawyers, despite our best efforts to do this, we sometimes fall short of our clients’ expectations.

In this series, What to Expect from Your Lawyer, Hightower Reff Partner Attorney Susan Reff will give you some useful information to help you understand why your lawyer handles things the way they do and to maintain reasonable expectations regarding your attorney.

This week: Top five things to know about phone calls.

1. Call Me, Maybe? – Or Maybe Your Lawyer is a Jerk

One of the most common complaints about lawyers is that it may seem they take forever to return calls or don’t return them at all.

Despite the appearance, most of us really do get that timely return calls are important to the client. I say most of us, because – as with any profession – there are a few bad lawyers out there. Either they are bad at managing their case load, have personal problems or they are just jerks. However, other than those exceptions, we attorneys do our very best to make our clients happy with all aspects of our communications with them – including phone calls.

But there are several reasons you may not get a timely return call or talk directly with your attorney at all. Understanding why and keeping reasonable expectations can be helpful to a good client experience.

2. It’s Usually About Time

Good lawyers attract a lot of clients. Lawyers with a lot of clients are always pressed for time. That’s why they typically rely on trusted staff to help manage their cases and communicate with clients. Support staff can answer routine questions, field calls and follow up with the lawyer on any questions the lawyer needs to answer. This frees your lawyer up to do things that only they can do like planning your legal strategy, attending hearings, solving emergencies and negotiating with opposing counsel.

In other words, your lawyer has to prioritize his or her time to do their job well. That doesn’t mean you aren’t important. In fact, it means you’re so important, they want to be sure they can devote the necessary time to your case when your case demands it. They need to do the same for their other clients as well.

As a result — unless you’re in the middle of a complex issue, crisis or negotiation in your case, preparing for a hearing or trial that is happening soon or in the throes of another legally dire aspect of your case — it’s reasonable that your attorney may enlist the support of another lawyer in the firm, a paralegal or assistant to take care of your call.

3. It’s Privileged  

In some circumstances, a lawyer actually can’t call a person back because of attorney client privilege, such as when the caller isn’t the client. This commonly happens when someone other than the client is paying the lawyer’s bill.

For example, if you hire a lawyer to represent your son in his divorce, the lawyer can’t talk to you about the case unless your son signs a release.

In some circumstances – like criminal cases – the lawyer may not talk to you even if a release has been signed. This is because sharing details of the case with anyone but the client may mean that information is no longer privileged and could be used against the client. You could be called by the other side to testify about what the attorney told you.

4. The World’s Most Expensive Pay Phone

Before you pick up the phone to call your lawyer – remember that each time you call, you are going to incur a charge on your bill. Sometimes calling your attorney can seem like the world’s most expensive pay phone.

Unless it’s something urgent or time sensitive, ask yourself if the question can wait until the next time they call you, or until you have more than one question. We recommend our clients make a list of these “little” questions that are bound pop up and ask them all at once.

If you are a person who needs regular reassuring from your attorney personally, if your attorney is willing and able, you may want to schedule a weekly phone call with them when you are in the active phases of your case. That way, you can have peace of mind by touching base at least once a week, and have your “little question list” ready to go for the weekly call.

5. Sometimes It’s Not a Good Fit 

There are many legitimate reasons a lawyer may take a long time to return your call or not call back at all. But like with any personal service, sometimes what the lawyer is willing or able to do and what you want does not mesh. It may just not be a good fit. If that is the case, it’s best to figure it out early and find a better fit.

A good attorney who is the right fit for you is crucial, and Hightower Reff can help. Call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

Next Time…

Watch for Part II of our series: Why You Need to Pick Your Battles. 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

Must Have Information on Child Custody 
Part I: What Are the Best Interests of the Child?

shutterstock_218576749-thumb-500x367-65272Going through a child custody case can be tough for parents, especially if you’re in the dark about Nebraska child custody law.

In this series,Must Have Information on Child Custody, we’ll take some of the mystery out of the law and give you information you need about child custody in Nebraska. 

This week, we discuss the legal concept of best interests of the child, known in lawyer speak as BIOC. 

Splitting the Time, Not the Baby

In the well-known tale of the judgement of Solomon, King Solomon has to decide which of two women is the true mother of an infant boy. Solomon told the women that there was only one fair solution: the infant must be split in two so each woman could have half of the child. 

The boy’s true mother immediately cried:  “Oh, Lord, give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!” Of course the King never intended to split the baby in two. He knew that only a true, loving mother would give up her baby rather than hurt him. 

This story is a popular example of wisdom in judgment among lawyers and judges. It also provides a compelling example of a parent guided by the best interests of her child during a custody battle. 

The judge in your custody case also has no intent of splitting your child in two, of course. But time with your child is another matter. Even if you don’t like the other parent, or he or she has flaws, unless they are a danger to the child, the law favors giving your child the opportunity to have a full relationship with them, which means splitting time. Parenting time is always guided by the individual best interests of your child.

The Recipe for a BIOC Decision

You and the other parent can decide on your parenting plan together through mediation or by working with your lawyers to draft your own parenting plan. If you can’t decide together, the judge will decide for you based on the best interests of your child.

 But what does best interest of the child mean here in Nebraska? Deciphering that can be confusing and frustrating for parents in child custody cases. 

According to the Nebraska Parenting Act

  1. The court’s decision must provide for the child’s safety, health, stability, emotional growth, physical care and “regular and continuous school attendance and progress” for kids who are school-age.
  2. If the court decides there is domestic partner abuse, the parenting arrangement must provide for the safety of the parent being abused. 
  3. Those serving in the roles of parents must be appropriate in their involvement with the child. They also have to help continue relationships between the child and family members who have shown the ability to have a healthy relationship with the child. 
  4. Even if the parents have agreed on a plan to parent the child or children, the court has to find that plan is in the best interests of the child or it will not accept the plan.

If the court rejects a parenting plan, the court has to say, in writing, why the parenting plan is not in the best interests of the child. 

Nebraska law also says, to provide for the best interest of the child, the goal of the entire court process, including mediation, should:

  • minimize the damage parental conflict can do to children 
  • provide parents the tools they need make decisions that are best for the child 
  • provide alternative dispute resolution options that are less combative than traditional court cases tend to be 
  • ensure that the child’s voice is heard and considered in parenting decisions 
  • maximize the safety of family members through the justice process
  • in cases of domestic intimate partner abuse or child abuse or neglect, to put into the parenting plan, the principles of victim safety and sensitivity, offender accountability, and community safety.

But Wait…There’s More

In addition to everything already mentioned, when the court orders custody and parenting arrangements, in considering the best interest of the child, it also has to consider:

  • The relationship the child had with each parent before the court case started or before any hearing in the case
  • What the child wants, so long as the child’s reasoning is sound
  • The general health, welfare, and social behavior of the minor child
  • Credible evidence of abuse inflicted on any family or household member
  • Credible evidence of child abuse or neglect or domestic intimate partner abuse

The best thing you can do as a parent to make sure the parenting arrangement that results from your court case is in the best interests of your child is to remember one thing above all else: no matter how contentious things might be between you and the other parent or how hard the feelings, this process is about doing what’s best for your child, not you. Far too many parents lose sight of that and the child suffers even more because of it.

Don’t Go It Alone

It’s important to have the right support during a child custody case to help you help your child. While friends mean well, most of them probably aren’t legal experts or mental health professionals. A good attorney is crucial, and Hightower Reff can help. Call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

 You may also consider a counselor to help you work through your feelings surrounding the custody case so you can clear your head, so to speak, and truly focus on your child. 

Next Time…

Watch for Part II of our child custody series: Pointers for Prosperity in your Parenting Plan. 

 This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

So You Got Yourself Named in a Felony Warrant, Now What? 
Part IV – Criminal Sentencing – It’s About More Than Just Time

shutterstock_218715781-thumb-400x267-65269-thumb-500x333-65270A felony warrant turns your world upside down. Not only are your freedom and your future on the line, if it’s your first arrest, you’ll have no idea what to expect. This series will give you the basic information you’ll want to know if you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge in Nebraska.

In part one of this criminal law series on felonies, we laid out your options once you learn of the warrant and what happens once you’re arrested. Part two covered the nitty gritty of plea bargains. In the third installment, we discussed the trial.

Now, in Part four, we cover the sentencing process.

The Sentence: No Rabbit Out of a Hat

On TV legal dramas it seems like the judge just pulls a sentence out of a hat. In the real world, that’s not how it works.

The court does have some discretion when sentencing for felonies, but the parameters are governed by Nebraska Sentencing Guidelines. The guidelines govern things like the minimum and maximum sentences for certain felonies and where the sentence is to be served.

Sentencing Guidelines Don’t Stop a Bitch

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Nebraska Sentencing Guidelines are going to save you from a bitch (slang for habitual criminal sentence). The Guidelines make it clear that they do not impact the habitual criminal sentencing laws.

PSI: Nebraska

Along with the Nebraska Sentencing Guidelines, the judge relies on a pre-sentence investigation (PSI) report when deciding a felon’s sentence. The PSI contains:

  • an analysis of the circumstances surrounding the crime
  • the offender’s history of delinquency or criminality
  • the offender’s physical and mental condition, family situation and background, economic status, education, occupation, personal habits and any other matters that the probation officer deems relevant or the court directs to be included

The PSI can also include any written statements a victim submits to the county attorney or probation officer.

The court can order you to undergo psychiatric observation and evaluation as part of the PSI procedure. Your attorney can add to the PSI with character letters from your friends, family or co-workers as well as other positive things like good employment records and information about your community involvement.

The Hearing

The court will sentence you at a sentencing hearing. You’ll have the opportunity to address the court — and victims may as well. Depending on the circumstances, it may or may not be helpful for you to address the court, so you’ll need to make that decision with your attorney, just one of the many reasons having a good attorney to guide you throughout the PSI process is important.

Get Help Early

The best thing you can do if you are accused of a felony (or any crime) is to get experienced legal help from the beginning. My power to help you as a lawyer can be lessened if my client has done something to damage his or her case before I get involved.

If you need help with a felony or other criminal matter, contact Hightower Reff online, or call us at 402-932-9550.

Next Time…

Watch for Part V of our felony arrest series: To Appeal or Not to Appeal, That is the Question.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.