If you’ve decided you need a lawyer, then found and hired a good one, it’s time to learn what working with a lawyer is really like. Keep in mind that every lawyer and every case is different, so particulars like how much your lawyer will cost, how often and by what what means they will contact you, and how long your case will take will be vastly different.

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But there are certain things you should expect from a professional attorney. For one, you should know that almost everything you say to your lawyer is protected by the attorney-client privilege. In addition to that, your lawyer should communicate effectively, bill fairly, have core competency, and adhere to ethical guidelines.


In general, your lawyer should be responsive and frank in their exchanges with you. Ask your lawyer up front how best to communicate with them. Some prefer phone calls, other email, and still others face-to-face meetings.

Keep in mind that, at times, your lawyer may not be able to respond immediately. If they are in court, for example, or in a deposition, you likely won’t receive an instant response. This is in fact a good sign, as you know your lawyer is invested in the case he’s currently working on.

Your lawyer should be able to give you a general overview of your case or answer certain specific issues when you ask. Don’t be afraid to do so.

The basics of what your lawyer should be able to tell you can be found here, as well.


When you sign your engagement letter, you and your lawyer will work out a payment scheme. This will involve the way in which you will be billed (hourly, flat fee, etc.) as well as when payment is expected. Make sure you know if you’ll be billed for the paralegal or secretary’s time and at what rate you’ll be charged.

Core Competency

Like a doctor, car mechanic or any other professional, lawyers do make mistakes from time to time. You should expect your lawyer to be professional, knowledgeable and responsive but know that, occasionally, missteps do occur.

That said, if your lawyer is incompetent—meaning they behaved in a way a reasonable, competent lawyer would not—you may be able to make a malpractice claim. Examples of such behavior could be ethical (such as representing both sides in a child custody battle) or procedural (such as filing your paperwork later).

You can reduce the likelihood of mistakes by finding a lawyer who specializes in your matter. Which is to say, if you’re going through a divorce, don’t hire a medical malpractice attorney; hire a divorce lawyer.


Lawyers are bound by a strict code of ethics. You should expect your lawyer to maintain the attorney-client privilege, represent your interests above theirs, and work legally (not break the law to try your case). If you’re worried that your attorney is behaving unethically, there are agencies in each state that can help you out. Contact your state’s bar association and they can help you get started.

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Get started Ask a Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day.