And Keeping Costs Down
Typically, most people dread the prospect of engaging a lawyer’s services. For most people legal matters are complicated, time consuming, expensive and frustrating. I have found over the years that much money and time is saved IF my clients and I all agree on some “rules of engagement” in advance of jumping headlong into the actual work solving the clients’ problems.
Here are a few ground rules that will smooth the process of most any legal engagement.
- Efficient Communication is Key. These days, email contact is essential, thus I require all clients to have access to a confidential email and to check it often. Nobody wants to play phone tag. With the busy schedules, both my clients’ and mine, I find email is the most efficient way to ensure that important information is being sent and received. Thus, I always ask for acknowledgment of my emails, so I know that both of us are working on the latest information.
- Gather Your Thoughts and Documents Before You Call Me or Meet with Me: Do a Confidential Chronology. It’s common for prospective clients to ask me to give legal advice on a written contract that I have not yet seen. Or, in our first conversation the prospective client might ramble on in an incoherent fashion, telling a long, long story, most of the details of which are not relevant to the legal advice they are seeking. While I pride myself on being both compassionate and having the breadth and depth of knowledge to be able to understand complex matters, I cannot interpret a contract I have not read, nor can I quickly and efficiently sort through a flurry of irrelevant facts in an initial phone call. So, in advance I recommend to my clients that they sit down and write out a “chronology” or “timeline” of what happened; make it short, sweet, factual….and gather any and all documents to support these facts. Label this document “attorney-client privileged” in a header because it is intended to be sent to your prospective attorneys. Be prepared to email this document on request. This will save us all an enormous amount of time and emotional energy.
- We are a Team. Keep Me In the Loop. Some clients try to save money by sidestepping my involvement. This is fine when we have agreed upon who will do what in advance—some things are best done by the client. In fact, I encourage clients to do as much as they can to save legal fees. However, as a seasoned lawyer my job is to protect the client and some critical pitfalls are not easily recognized by an untrained person. So, keep me posted on updates. There is almost nothing worse than spending time on an issue that has already been resolved or having to spend time undoing something that a client did because of ignorance.
- I Care and I Need You to “Bottom Line It”: Know What Your Desired Outcomes Are. Indeed there will be times when I need more background information; however, if I need more information I will ask you. Typically it saves time to be focused and stick to the issues at hand; using your chronological list of what happened and what you desire to happen—what your desired outcomes are. As a professional, I get paid for my time and thus time translates into money. The more irrelevant stories you tell, the more it will cost you. And, this said, I also expect my clients to tell the truth and not withhold any information that would be relevant to their situation. Warning: Sometimes there are no clear, bright lines between what is relevant and what is not relevant. Good judgment is required, and the best judgment is not always perfect.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Express Concerns. Because of the diversity of experience and knowledge of my clients, sometimes there is a fine line between over-explaining legal concepts and what is happening in a case (perceived by some as being condescending) and under-explaining. I do my best to assess what is needed, to ask questions and to listen to responses, and sometimes I just miss it, I just don’t get it. For example, I think a client understands me because the client says something is understood; only later do I discover that he or she didn’t understand at all.I typically give important instructions/information both orally and in writing. That doesn’t always work. So, if you don’t understand something, speak up, usually via email if we are not talking in person. If you have questions about a bill, speak up.
I charge for all of the time I spend on your matter. This includes phone calls, emails, drafting documents.Typically I will bill for any time I spend working on your case. However, luckily for my clients and much to the chagrin of my wife, I often “think” about cases while I am in the shower, while driving, while jogging, on date nights. And I do not charge for this time. But, when I sit down and specifically focus on your case, make a call, take notes, plan a strategy or anything else that is intended to advance your cause, I charge for my time. It’s the way I get paid, and supporting a legal office is expensive (e.g., current online legal research, rent, phones, advertising, etc.).
I’m a small town lawyer, with top-notch training, doing my best to provide my clients with the best possible legal services, given the economics of the client’s needs. Again, if you have concerns or questions, ask me. The only dumb question is the question that is not asked! (Except during cross-examination.)
- Keep the Economics of the Likely Outcome In Mind. Your case-situation has to make “economic sense” to you. You don’t want to spend $50,000 taking a case to trial to have the potential to win $50,000 (or even $100,000). It’s one thing to bet $1 for a $2 poker pot. It’s another to bet $50,000 for a $100,000 pot. Unless, of course, you are a steel-nerved gambler and can afford to lose the $50,000. There are no sure, slam dunk victories in the law. In most instances the law is subject to interpretation by judges and juries determine disputed facts. Sometimes it makes sense to compromise, sometimes it makes sense just to walk away. Revenge is expensive and not a recommended goal in legal matters. Vindicating principles gets old very fast except for the wealthiest of individuals. Expect to make compromises and be willing to move on with your life. This is solid advice based on years of experience. Sooner or later you most likely will hear it from me if you are my client.
So, where is the lemonade?
It comes when you know you have done your best, you have chosen to focus on what can work and what is cost-effective for you, you have forgiven yourself and/or others for getting you into a particular mess and you can move on with your life, with a lawyer by your side, on your team, a lawyer whom you respect and who respects you.