In DCS cases the parents usually have a right to a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford one. If you cannot afford a lawyer you need to ask the court to appoint you one the FIRST time you are in court. There are a lot of important things that happen early in the case.
Court-appointed attorneys are just like other attorneys in that some are good and some bad. Some know their stuff well because they do a LOT of these cases and some don’t. Some care and some don’t. And, by the way, it is usually a bad idea to begin the relationship by telling court-appointed counsel that when you save some money you’ll hire a “real” lawyer. I was told this by a client AFTER I had been arguing and appealing these cases for five years and had argued in front of the Tennessee Supreme Court on one of these cases.
The point is you don’t know what you get when you get a court-appointed attorney just as you probably don’t know what you are getting when you hire a private attorney. You really don’t have much control over this.
But you do have control of the client (a.k.a. you).
The client and lawyer have to work together whether they like it or not. The best lawyer can’t save the worst client’s case. So what can you do to NOT be the worst client?
- Give the lawyer your contact information and keep him updated any time it changes. When the lawyer calls you, answer the phone. He is not calling you to discuss last week’s Vols game. He’s calling about your case. He needs to be able to get a hold of you on pretty short notice.
- Keep any and all documentation and get copies of it to your lawyer.
- Contact them early. Usually you can get their contact info from court when they are appointed. If you wait till Thursday to contact your lawyer about a court hearing that is happening the next day the lawyer is far more likely to be unprepared.
- Don’t talk about your case to people other than your lawyer or as they direct. You may think of your plea for mercy to the caseworker as being touching and moving but, chances are, the caseworker thinks of it as the buffet of evidence because you are giving her all kinds of statements she can use against you in court.
- Actually DO the things you tell your lawyer you are going to do or don’t tell your lawyer you are going to do them. I know it’s hard to believe but court-appointed attorneys are human too and when you continually lie to them they become jaded. This is especially true of visitation with your children. If you say you are going to visit, then actually visit. ‘
- Listen to your lawyer. You are in a world that you do NOT know the rules of. Common sense is no guide. You can’t just talk your way out of it because this ain’t “Matlock”. There may be a damn good reason, of which you are totally unaware, for you to NOT testify so if your lawyer is advising it you had better listen.
- If you want to appeal let the attorney know as soon as possible. For example, at trial after the order is a good time. You have thirty (30) days to appeal most orders and if you wait till day 29 to even tell your attorney, you may be out of luck.
- At least act like you care about your case. At a minimum this means actually showing up for court. If your face belongs on a milk carton or there should be an Amber Alert out on you how can you expect your lawyer to do a good job for a client that is never there?