Five essential qualities of a good attorney

By Marie Matyjaszek While I'm not perfect, I try hard not to fall prey to the things that drive me crazy, especially when it comes to my fellow attorneys. I have a Top Five list of all time things I wish attorneys did or didn't do on a regular basis, and thought I'd share. 1: The first is responding in a timely fashion. I wish this were something that everyone exercised on a regular basis. There is nothing more infuriating than having worked your butt off on documents or settlement negotiations, cleared it all with your client and sent it off to opposing counsel, waiting for a reply. And you keep waiting. Wait for it ... Nope, still nothing. You can call, email, or write a letter, yet never get anywhere. Meanwhile, your client is breathing down your neck. You can honestly say none of it is your fault, but that doesn't ease your client's already tense demeanor. I try to reply to all messages, written or otherwise, within no more than 48 hours. If you haven't heard from me in that time frame, I'm probably sick or I've won the lottery and decided to bail on my job. (Unfortunately, only the former has ever occurred. But I'm still hopeful.) We're all busy people, but the faster you reply, the better chance we can close the case and everyone can move on. 2: Don't personally attack my client or me. Family law is stressful enough, and the emotions of the clients are at an all time high--it benefits everyone to stick to the facts and not sink low enough to take personal jabs. All this does is make a tumultuous situation worse and stall negotiations. There is no need to make fun of a person's weight in pleadings (this happens more than you think) or call someone names in a letter. Don't forget that I have to pass these documents on to the client, which means they will see the nasty junk that was written about him or her. Sometimes you do have people who do things which are really reprehensible, but most of the time the inappropriate comments are nothing more than below the belt and unnecessary. 3: Be prepared. I've done my homework, read the law and know the facts of the case (other than those that some clients feel the need not to share with me, which is always fun). You should be prepared too--if not for your own good, then for the person who is paying you. People, including the judge, notice when one side has got his ducks in a row and the other doesn't. 4: Tell the truth. There's an old saying that an attorney only lies when he opens his mouth, but I'd like to believe that this isn't true. Whether they want to or not, everyone has a reputation, good, bad or mixed. The last thing anyone wants to be labeled as is a liar. We all know that some clients pick and choose what they tell us and we can only report what we're told. However, there are times where we know the other side is being shady and maybe it's not just the client. Having opposing counsel know that she can trust you is key to resolving the matter timely and successfully. 5: Not being courteous is another pet peeve of mine--both in my personal and work life. It's not always possible, because at times you are under the gun with a time constraint or an emergency situation. But if an attorney asks me to postpone a motion for a week or two because he was recently retained, I'm likely going to do it. I've been there and I know there's a good chance I'm going to need to ask for the same professional courtesy from him one day, so it behooves me to accommodate him. Plus it's just the right thing to do. The same goes for not serving people at the last minute with pleadings. Although I totally admit I've been guilty of this a time or two, I must be really peeved to do so. Giving people time to respond is the best way to ensure that all the facts come out and everyone can be prepared to argue their respective side. I don't want to cringe when I see the name opposite mine on the pleadings, and I certainly don't want people to feel that way when they see my letterhead in their mailbox. I try my best to do the best job for my client and maintain a good relationship with others in my field, and it's always helpful if the other side does the same. There's always room for improvement no matter who you are, although I still plan on repeatedly telling my husband that I am already perfect. The author is an associate attorney at the Law Office of Robert Matyjaszek, PLLC, Jackson, Michigan. Her blog site is: She can be reached at (517) 787-0351 or by emailing her at Published: Mon, Oct 15, 2012