As a result of the many available on-line attorney websites, it’s easy for clients to research my background before they even call the office. Thereafter and once they contact me, they know more about me, than sometimes I even realize is out there. Of course, they’ve called because they are impressed with where I went to school, how long I’ve been practicing law, the fact that I teach law, the high on-line ratings I hold, the variety of legal knowledge I possess and/or the recommendations of friends, family and other on-line testimonials.
With this, the client is comfortable and satisfied that I would be the best attorney to handle their case. But what typically comes next? The explanation that they have a serious and immediate legal issue and/or a highly complex case, with a very unworthy and difficult opponent, that requires my particular knowledge, skill and expertise. However, I’m told, for a variety of reasons, that they have little to no money to pay for the legal services and/or that they are seeking an attorney who will “work with me”.
Attorneys sympathize with the legal plight of our community and certainly want to help. However, keep in mind that we’ve spent a great deal of time obtaining our degrees and thereafter perfecting our practice of law towards our own necessary goal of making a living. Clients and potential clients, don’t stop here. Bear with me and keep reading! Yes, there are real money saving tips in the paragraphs to come.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the client is unable to physically “see” what makes us valuable because what we have is not something you can put your hands on. You can’t touch or feel it and frankly, most times, you can’t even see it. What is it? It’s our “largely behind the scenes” knowledge, time, skill, diligence, loyalty and long-time focus on a variety of areas of law. It’s also our intimate knowledge of the court system along with it’s legal processes and often times, circular set of local and State rules, regulations and laws. While clients typically only think of attorneys in the courtroom, there are many, many hours of time spent “getting there” and for a lot of clients, the matter is paid for on an hourly basis. Of course some cases are paid for on a flat-fee basis (but can be subject to change if the focus goes beyond the services originally contracted for). So, in an effort to help you tame your legal bill here are a baker’s dozen of tips on how you can assist your attorney and reduce your legal bill at the same time….. starting right now!
1. Seek counsel from the start: Many legal hours are spent taking a case after a client felt like they could handle it themselves, whether they started on their own or with the help of an on-line legal forms service. Nothing beats a one-on-one case analysis with a professional attorney. It is far more efficient for an attorney to correctly handle a case from the start, rather than clean up after serious errors have been made, deadlines have been missed, judgments have already been entered, a record, with your testimony, has already been made and /or it’s time for an appeal.
2. Be prepared: When you are asked to complete a questionnaire, in advance of a meeting, do so. It takes 2 –3 times as long to meet with a client who arrives at an appointment unprepared, without answers to critical questions and/or requested documents. Of course, this information can ultimately be obtained, but during an extended or follow-up meeting, including repeated additional emails and phone calls, all of course, at our on-going hourly rate.
3. Provide requested documentation when asked: Don’t come to a meeting, or call an attorney to ask a question, about a document and not have it with you. Most clients are ill-prepared to verbally translate important legal language contained within a document. It will take an attorney 3 – 4 times longer to try and understand the details of a missing document than for him/her to simply look at it themselves. In fact, more than likely, without the document, the attorney will not be able to provide you with the answers you seek, as the slightest missing detail can change the course of a particular legal analysis. Of course, in the world of technology, I am frequently told that “my information is available on-line”. This is true, however, an attorney’s legal rate is a high price to pay for the attorney to sit and watch you go on-line, during a meeting to obtain documents, call a family member to have it faxed over, stop while the office staff obtains it for you, or during a phone call, have to hang up and wait for a fax or email and later restart the conversation.
4. Be organized: With respect to meeting with or providing your attorney with documents, organize them so that they may be quickly reviewed. Many a client arrives in my office with literally a stack or shopping bag full of unopened mail and unorganized duplicate documents. Of course, the attorney will go through it, but consider how much longer that will take and ask yourself if it’s worth the additional hourly legal rate for the attorney to organize my documents?
5. Answer questions directly: When asked a straight question, give a straight answer WITHOUT presuming to know why the question is asked or making the decision that the question, and possibly the answer, is not relevant. This inevitably leads to an extended question and answer period which leads to additional legal time spent attempting to analyze the case. If a question is asked, your attorney has reason to believe that the answer is relevant to the analysis.
6. Leave your preconceived notions at the door. A good number of clients’ legal knowledge comes from what they’ve seen on TV and worse yet, from their friends, co-workers, neighbors and God forbid, their out-of-state cousin who is a lawyer. Think of cases as thumbprints. They are as individual as you are. Don’t waste time, during your attorney-client meetings, comparing your case to that of other cases, that you believe may be “like” yours, while making your attorney repeatedly convince you that first, your case is factually different and second, that they really are familiar with the law.
7. Trust in your attorneys’ advice: Clients spend valuable time re-questioning their attorneys’ advice. Remember, most consultations and certainly all phone calls, emails, follow-up meetings and document reviews are all performed at the attorneys’ hourly rate. If you are really uncomfortable with your attorney’s advice, you may need to seek a second opinion.
8. Speak to no one during the course of your case: Trying to decrease your legal fees by doing some unauthorized work yourself, is rolling the dice. Once you provide information to the other side, watch for it to backfire and be used against you. The time and effort spent, by your attorney, attempting to “unring a bell”, will undoubtedly be costly.
9. Be reasonable: Many, many hours of legal time is spent with a client who is unreasonable in their expectations and/or who may be unwilling to compromise. When faced with the opportunity to “settle”, remember that there is a real difference between settling and winning. A settlement must require some type of give and take – on the part of BOTH parties. Try and put your emotions aside and more importantly, pick your battles. If you are determined to maintain a certain position, that’s fine, your attorney will certainly back you as much as he/she can, but be prepared to pay for the additional hours of legal representation required to maintain that position.
10. Follow your attorney’s advice: When your attorney advises you to do something….do it. You hired your attorney to be well versed in a particular area of law, to know the process and give you specific legal advice. If you are given guidance from the start and choose not to or are unable to follow it, be prepared for the additional legal fees, that will be required, to repair what damage resulted from that inaction. Worse, be forewarned, that there will be times, when legal fees will be required from your attorney and the attorney of your opposition. So ask yourself: “Do I really want to pay additional legal fees to my attorney AND the legal fees of my opponent’s attorney? I would think not.
11. Be honest with your attorney: Full and complete disclosure is a must. Withholding information from your attorney will cause him/her to ask additional questions in an effort to search for what, he/she can tell, is obviously missing. Worse yet, that hidden bone will undoubtedly fall out of the closet, when you and/or your attorney are least expecting it. In any event, it will surely be at the wrong time and will result in additional legal time and effort to reanalyze your case and/or to correct the situation.
a. Moreover, your initial fee quote will be based upon the case, as you presented it at the time of your consultation, and the expected services rendered will be outlined in your retainer agreement. However, additional undisclosed but necessary services, discovered later in the case may quite possibly lead to additional legal fees.
b. Worse yet – False records and records that are inconsistent with the facts as explained by the client. I can’t tell you how many times, clients attempt to fool me in an effort to obtain the outcome they want, despite what may be legally correct! Remember, you hired your attorney to be knowledgeable in an area of law, thorough and precise and that’s what you will get. Attorneys are very skilled at reading statutes, reviewing documents and looking for loopholes and inconsistencies. We read things word for word, with no word being of less significance than the other. Thus, if you expect your attorney to flesh out all that is wrong with your opponents case, don’t you think, we’ll find what’s wrong with yours? And yes, the extra time it will take for your attorney to first analyze the case, based off what you presented, and then later off the real facts, will cost you extra. In fact, here’s what I tell my clients: “If I were you and I thought that I could outsmart you (my attorney) with regard to my legal issue, I wouldn’t want you for my attorney!”
12. Consider your attorneys’ time: We’ve all heard it before, “time is money”. No truer words have been spoken when it comes to the time of your attorney, Time is literally all that we, as attorneys, have. We use time to think, research, analyze, review, re-educate, prepare our clients, experts and other witnesses, negotiate, travel to and from court, argue in court, prepare documents, talk on the phone, email, text, listen to voice mails and the list goes on and on. Every minute spent on your case is a minute charged, so use it wisely. Most importantly, when you have an appointment and/or a hearing or trial date scheduled, be on time and don’t keep your attorney waiting. The clock is ticking
13. Be accepting of you’re legal position as it is explained to you: I spend a significant amount of time discussing the client’s view with respect to how unfair the law is, how things should be and explaining why their suggested solutions won’t work. Of course, it is your attorney’s job to analyze your case and provide you with all available options. Trust and believe that if there is an option for you, we’ll certainly let you know. Lawyers by nature are competitive creatures who want to win and will do all that they can to do just that. What better way to build our reputation, than by having our clients think (and tell everyone else) about how we saved the day and about how great we are! Unfortunately, however, unless you have a case that has the potential to change the law, accept the fact that the law is what the law is and that we are not holding back on you. However, if you want to insist that we continue with an argument that we’ve explained is weak at best, that’s OK, just be prepared to pay for it.
Of course, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. As most of you know, my grandmother had plenty to say during her lifetime. One of them was that “pennies make dollars”. I’ll adjust that a bit by saying that minutes add up to dollars. Because legal fees are a necessary part of the legal process, once you’ve decided that I meet your criteria for effective legal assistance, acknowledge and trust in my knowledge and experience and most importantly, what I can do to assist you. More specifically, work efficiently with me, on your case, and I’ll work as diligently as I can for you. Why? Because you deserve good counsel!
Thanks for reading. Please note that I am licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Please feel free to learn more about my practice at www.kelseylaw.net and to seek legal advice when you feel it necessary.
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