Family Law attorneys see it all. The good, the bad, and especially the ugly. It is the nature of the beast – be it a divorce, custody dispute, family business dispute, or trust and estate litigation (all of which we do at Egan Law). And, wow, some of it can get ugly, really ugly, which is why we tell our clients not to be embarrassed about providing sordid details. I have told clients, “Tell me your worst story and chances are it doesn’t even break the top ten worst stories I’ve heard.” Yet, as important as placating the nerves of a clients is, there is even a bigger reason for insisting a client confess ‘any-and-all details’ pertinent to their case: it is immeasurably better for that client’s case if I have time to prepare for those damaging details than it will be if I hear about them for the first time while sitting in the courtroom facing the judge.
And that unpleasant info will come out. Nothing stays hidden. If it exists, the other side’s attorney will find it and use it.
Imagine sitting in the courtroom as compromising photos or texts that you failed to warn your attorney about are blown up into a 72-point font on the big screen. Trust me, this has happened all too frequently. Nude photos, questionable social media posts, embarrassing stories of drunkenness or general inappropriateness, bad financial decisions, etc. You name it and somebody has had it exposed to their shock—and to the shock of their attorney—on the big screen. There is little worse for an attorney than being caught with his/her pants down (figuratively, of course).
Tell us EVERYTHING ahead of time. Avoid this disaster.
Family Law attorneys are not here to judge. We are here to help you . . . and we can spin any story better than a washing machine or a political hack. (Interestingly, the details clients hide differ by age group. Younger clients are more often protective of sordid photos or incidences, while older clients usually are concerned about financial embarrassments.) But we cannot flip the script and twist the narrative into your favor without knowing the story in advance. It is absolutely imperative that you tell your attorney ev-ery-thing.
One final note—if you fear baring all to your attorney out of concern that you may be blackmailed in the future or that your attorney may use them as dinner party conversation, do not worry. California has (almost) iron clad protections available under the attorney-client privilege. I often joke with friends, relatives, and even random people that they can tell me anything because it is more difficult in California to subpoena a lawyer than a priest! That is not hyperbole. The attorney-client privilege is stronger under California law than the priest-penitent privilege. By law, attorneys cannot disclose any confidential client communications. The only time an attorney in California could potentially breach a client confidence is when there is a significant and credible threat of imminent death or severe bodily harm to the client or another person. Even then, the law is permissive – the attorney can tell authorities or others who can intervene and prevent the harm, but they do not have to. In states other than California, the attorney is required to disclose the information. That is how strong the protections are for anything you tell your attorney, and why you can feel absolutely free to share the sordid details, the mistakes and mishaps with your attorney in advance of any proceedings.
So if you find yourself needing a Family Lawyer – be it for a divorce, custody dispute, family business dispute, or trust and estate litigation after a loved one’s death – be up front about everything—the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. Like my Cal Poly Dairy Science professor said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The same rings true in attorney-client communications. Telling your attorney every detail and potentially disparaging story in advance can help save your case.