By: Michael Notaro, Esq.
“The problem with attorneys’ is they forget the facts” said Jim rather sheepishly. A veteran of numerous lawsuits, as both a plaintiff and defendant, Jim sat in my office and seemed as frustrated with attorneys as he was with the legal process itself. “I never seem to get the results that I want” he lamented. “It costs too much and it takes to damn long.”
Jim’s experience is not atypical. The often lengthy legal process takes on a life of its own complicated by the attorney. How can you insure your legal problem is solved as quickly and efficiently as possible?
An attorney can be your greatest asset or your greatest liability. Learning to properly qualify, select and focus your legal representation is vital to a successful outcome. Attorney/client misunderstandings drain valuable energy and resources.
This article provides fourteen (14) ideas to maximize the quality of your legal representation.
1) Choose an attorney who understands YOUR business. Your business presents unique opportunities as well as legal vulnerabilities. Attorneys are taught to be analytical and detailed, but not business savvy. Legal knowledge is only significant if it helps your bottom line. Some lawyers lack a sense of what makes business operate because they have never run one. Choose an attorney who will take the time to understand your business and apply the law where it is needed and helpful.
2) Choose an attorney with the right temperament for you. Some lawyers are tortoises and others are hares. Some are feisty litigators while others are deliberate and methodical drafters. You should feel comfortable with the disposition, ethics and approach of your legal counsel. Lawyers use four basic skills: interviewing, counseling, negotiating and drafting. Most lawyers shine at one or two of these skills. Find out what skills are most important to you and choose a lawyer accordingly.
3) Choose an attorney who impresses you. An attorney is charged with representing your best interest. You should expect your selection to be courteous, organized, competent and yes – impressive. If you are impressed with your attorney, judges, opposing counsel, and the public are likely to feel the same way.
4) Tell your attorney what you want. Is it money damages, restitution, injunctive relief, a court order, specific performance of a contract? Beginning with the end in mind will short circuit expensive and unnecessary legal digressions. Make a specific list for your attorney of what you hope to accomplish. Then ask questions and find out from your attorney the most direct way to accomplish your objective.
5) Prepare for meeting your attorney. Bring copies of all documents, contracts, communication and e-mails remotely pertinent to your case. If documents are legible, that is even better! Consider faxing documents to your attorney before the meeting. Print out relevant e-mails and personal notes from telephone conversations. When in doubt, include it. An insignificant detail to you may have awesome legal significance.
6) For group meetings, ask everyone to arrive together. All partners should arrive together so that nobody misses important information. If one person arrives late, the attorney has to repeat the process and start the discussion all over again. This can occur when forming LLC’s, partnerships or corporations. Make sure your group is on time for important legal meetings.
7) Tell your attorney the whole truth. Avoid bad or embarrassing facts at your peril! They end up coming out at the lease opportune moments, like during discovery or worse yet at trial. Some clients incorrectly think the attorney will do a better job without negative information cluttering his or her mind. Wrong! Leave surprises for the magic show and openly communicate all negative and positive facts to your attorney.
8) Ask the attorney who will actually handle your case and ask to meet them. I often receive calls from angry clients after a law firm does the equivalent of a switch and bait. The senior partner takes in the client and quickly delegates them to an inexperienced new associate. The client ends up paying to educate a new associate they never would have selected in the first place.
9) Ask the attorney when and how he or she will communicate with you. Do you prefer e-mail, phone conversations or face to face meetings? Ask the attorney to follow your communication preference, not the other way around. Find out how long it will take to return your phone call and how often the attorney will update you on your case.
10) Ask the attorney about his or her fees. Most clients do this only part way. They ask for the hourly rate. The hourly rate is only part of the story. The attorney may also have a policy of charging for faxes, phone bills, copying, secretarial work, filing fees, etc. Do not be bashful about inquiring about these “hidden fees”. You are the one who will pay them, and you deserve to know. Ask your attorney for an estimate of how much the complete matter will cost.
11) Find out if the attorney is too busy for you. Attorneys hate to turn down business, even when they have no business taking it. Ask the attorney about their current caseload and when you can expect completion. You may find out the attorney simply does not have time to handle your matter.
12) Manage your attorney. Attorneys, like employees, need to be managed. Some clients make an expensive mistake: they engage an attorney and forget about the matter. Often the attorney does too! Regularly ask your attorney this question: “What will it cost to settle this lawsuit now?” If your attorney has no answer, ask him or her to find out. Cost effective legal representation requires constantly balancing the cost to continue with the cost of settlement. A proactive approach will rein in your attorney and save time and expense. The cost of each motion should be justified. Could the matter be more easily addressed in a brief telephone call to opposing counsel?
13) Keep you attorney informed. Communication is a two way street. As facts and situations develop or change, keep your attorney knowledgeable on what you are thinking and doing. I once heard of two attorneys who continued to negotiate with each other, and incur costs, when the two clients had independently settled the matter a month earlier.
14) Pay your bill on time. A law firm is a business. One sure way to dampen your lawyer’s enthusiasm is to not pay your bills on time. Like all people in business, attorney’s dislike chasing after payment with billable time.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to for the personal use and general information of the reader. The author makes no representations or guaranties regarding the accuracy of the information contained herein. Nothing in this article should be relied upon in dealing with a specific legal matter or answering a specific legal question. This information may not be reproduced without the permission of the author.