Hiring an attorney for the first-time is often an eye-opening experience for a client. Many do not realize that contingency and flat fees are a rare type of legal representation and often not relevant to the type of representation that they are seeking. Others do not understand how quickly an initial retainer can be exhausted in the confines of just getting your lawyer up-to-speed on your dispute. Still others are just floored by the initial “investment” in hiring a professional, legal representative.
The reality is that an attorney is a very expensive investment. Thus, it is imperative that a client do a thorough search for the attorney that has the experience, skills, personality, and mindset that is the right fit for what they are seeking. While most attorneys, undoubtedly, can mechanically complete what it is you are seeking, you aren’t paying for someone to “just git’er done” – you are paying for something to be done correctly, well, and effective for securing goals.
This entry, however, does not focus on the selection process of the attorney. Rather, it focuses on what you need to partner with your diligent search for an attorney, after that search has concluded. And that is a strategy for maximizing your results while minimizing your legal costs.
Below, please find a non-comprehensive list of things any client can do prior to or after hiring an attorney to minimize their legal costs. None of these things should negatively impact your results – rather all they should do is increase the chance of a positive result while reducing your expenses:
1. Identify Your Goal – what is it that you are seeking to accomplish by hiring an attorney? Don’t even look up an attorney’s name or website before you have accomplished this seemingly simple (but in practice, always shifting) task. You need to identify a desired end game to communicate to your potential attorneys. You may even have a list of multiple results or a rank in priority. That is all fine. But, at the end of the day, you have to identify a goal that you wish to achieve.
2. Develop Your Own Strategy – Before even talking to a single attorney, develop your step-by-step strategy for handling your particular legal issue. To be most effective, put the strategy onto paper and put milestones and dates on particular events you wish to see. After developing this strategy, present it during your initial consults with attorneys. Incorporate feedback you receive from these attorneys into your strategy, before settling on the attorney you are going to hire and your “plan”.
3. Determine What Your Case is Worth – Most people look at this and think, “How much will I receive in damages if I win,” etc. But that is not what I am asking. I am asking, how much are you willing to invest in order to achieve your goal? That is a big question. Many clients do not wish to divulge this to their potential attorneys during the consult process. However, it is an extremely important piece of information. Why? Well, what if the minimum expense for what you want to accomplish is less than the amount of money that you are willing to spend? Wouldn’t that be useful information for you to know so that you could adjust your goals and priorities? Or, decide not to pursue representation or this matter? In addition, you need to take into account the fact that you might not win. No matter what any attorney tells you, deep down inside, they know that at best, in any dispute taken to hearing, lawsuit, or appeal, the very best chance you can ever have at winning is 50%. That is because litigation is so uncertain.
4. Settlement – Is settlement off the table? You need to know, right off the bat, what it will take for you to settle and walk away – and whether or not that is a possibility. If not, communicate that to your attorney! They need to know that you are deadset on achieving nothing but your goal. This will alter their strategy considerably and may result in reducing expenses associated with repeated, undesired settlement discussion.
5. Read the Attorney-Client Fee Agreement – This is the agreement that establishes your relationship with the attorney. Read everything in it. And ask your attorney questions if you don’t understand a particular provision. If there is something you don’t like, ask that it be removed or revised. Also, feel free to take the fee agreement to another attorney (one that you may have liked) to see if they can match the price and/or review the agreement to see that it is sound (expect to pay a nominal price for this review).
6. Communicate and Listen – You need to speak to your attorney and his office. You need to do so on a regular basis. This can be done through a weekly or bi-weekly (or even monthly, in some cases) basis. It can be done in person, over-the-phone, or even via e-mail. Regardless, it needs to happen. You need to know the present status of your case. In addition, your attorney needs to know of any changes, questions, or concerns that you may have. Do not internalize your complaints or concerns! Use these regular communications as a means to address everything. Many clients assume the opposite – i.e. if I don’t speak to my attorney, then he/she cannot charge me for a meeting, telephone call, or e-mail. So, they avoid their attorney until they absolutely must have a question answered or issue addressed. And by the time the question or issue is presented, it may be too late to do anything about it. Or, it may take the attorney additional time to take a separate and distinct action to address it – which then costs you more money in the end (either in a smaller settlement or recovery, or in a superfluous task that they would not have had to complete had an open line of communication been present). Also, please listen to what your attorney says. Please read what your attorney writes to you. And promptly respond when questions or requests are asked of you. More often than not, an unanswered question or request means that the attorney – and your case – is going to be stuck in neutral.
7. Become the Staff’s Favorite – Treat the attorney’s staff as royalty. Seriously. Get to know them, treat them with respect, and shower them with praise. Never communicate anything but gratitude and appreciation to your attorney’s staff – leave the complaints, concerns, and emotion for the attorney. Why? Well, who manages the attorney’s calendar? Who is the one who answers the phone and gets the attorney on the line? Who is the one who can call with a quick update when the attorney is unavailable? Yes, while the attorney should be captain of the ship of your case and representation, it is the staff that not only keeps it afloat, but also can devote extra TLC to the case and representation of their own volition.
8. Review Your Invoice – Your attorney should be sending you a regular accounting of the costs for services. READ IT. Ask questions about it. If it is not detailed enough, request more detail.
9. Do Some of the Work – So often, clients are given a wide latitude on how some of their work will be completed. Will it be them who sorts through their own evidence, identifies it, summarizes it, and organizes it? Or will be a paralegal or junior associate that they are pay $100 to $300 per hour to do it? Another big help is providing an extensive, written chronology of what has transpired, including accurate dates, locations, and full names of the individuals involved. Trust me – no attorney wants to have to compile this all, but they are begrudgingly willing to do so if they are going to be paid for such grunt work. However, did you really hire the attorney to put together a beautiful timeline? One thing you should avoid, however, at all costs, is trying to communicate to the other side on your own. That is usually grounds to end the attorney-client relationship and is not a good method for saving money, moreso than it is good way to ensure your defeat.
10. Avoid these phrases – Never utter these things around your attorney – they have good ears and will take them to heart:
- “Can you just take a quick look at this?”
- “It’s the principle of the thing”
- “Money is no object”
- “I’d rather pay you than him”
- “I want them to feel some pain”
These all just provide your attorney a license to (a) get sidetracked on your goal and your plan and (b) engage in tactics which, ultimately, may do more harm than good.