- Require a detailed retainer or fee agreement. Make sure that you review and sign an agreement that defines the scope of the work the lawyer will perform. The agreement should also explain exactly how you will be billed (hourly or flat fee) and what specific tasks you will be charged for (drive time, phone calls, and email).
- Be organized and responsive. Provide documents in chronological order, grouped by type. When you spend time organizing your file, your attorney won’t have to. When your lawyer is forced to sift through hundreds of pages to find what they are looking for, your bill will increase. When your lawyer requests information, provide it in a timely manner. Every time your attorney calls to remind you to deliver, sign, or return documents your bill will increase.
- Use your time wisely. Many lawyers bill in incremental time (usually tenths of an hour or six-minute blocks). Adjust accordingly. Instead of calling or emailing your attorney every time you have a question, wait until you have several and ask them at once. Be prudent regarding subject matter you discuss with your attorney. Stick to the facts. Do not overwhelm your attorney with minutiae. Trust your lawyer to solicit relevant information. Legal matters can be emotionally traumatic. If you are experiencing emotional trauma, take care of yourself. Enlist a therapist for short-term or long-term support. Attorneys are far too expensive to use as sounding boards.
- Disclose damaging or embarrassing facts. If you have something to hide, assume somebody will find it. Your attorney can probably minimize damning facts if they are given an opportunity to investigate. There is nothing worse than being blind-sided by detrimental information about a client in court. It will hurt your cause and damage control could be costly. Remember that communications with your attorney are confidential.
- Be nice. Take time to select a lawyer you trust and then give them the benefit of the doubt. Not all lawyers are out to get you. I can’t count how many times anecdotal or personal experiences have skewed the perception of clients or potential clients. For some, lawyers are a necessary evil to be constantly questioned or challenged. Select an attorney you have a good rapport with the first time. Hiring a second lawyer to deal with a single matter is costly. The new attorney will have to become familiar with the case. You will pay for their learning curve.
I hope this has been helpful. Excuse me while I slink back to my lair.
Originally posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 7:12 PM.