Legal services aren’t cheap, and the need for legal services often arises in emergent circumstances or part of a budgeted process. Sometimes, legal fees are covered by insurance, but most of the time, they’re paid out of pocket. Legal work isn’t easy, and, like performing surgery, it’s generally unwise to do it yourself.
In light of these considerations, clients and lawyers should work together to promote the client’s interests in an efficient and cost effective manner. Here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of your lawyer (and likely other professionals), to your mutual benefit:
First, be prepared for meetings and teleconferences with your lawyer. Collect relevant papers and organize them in a logical manner. Use paperclips instead of staples, which are the mortal enemy of the paraprofessional at the copy machine. Don’t mark-up contracts, deeds, testamentary documents or other original legally operative papers.
If your lawyer provides you with a questionnaire, fill it out to the best of your ability. Otherwise, ask in advance of your meeting if there is anything that the lawyer wants you to think about beforehand.
Try your best to identify your objectives before meeting or corresponding with your lawyer. That being said, come in with an open mind because your lawyer will likely have a perspective that you haven’t considered.
Be truthful, honest and forthcoming with your lawyer. Sometimes, a legal issue involves embarrassing, unpleasant or sensitive information. A lawyer is ethically and legally bound to keep your secrets, and the lawyer-client relationship must be one built on trust. Hiding information or supplying a half-truth to your lawyer is a formula for hardship, and, possibly, a fatal blow at trial when the other party brings up prejudicial information that you knew about, much to the surprise of your attorney.
Your lawyer needs to know your story and perspective, but avoid using your lawyer as a psychotherapist. A good lawyer who deals with clients in crisis will certainly be sympathetic and understanding, but no lawyer has the training or experience to guide a client out of serious mental or emotional distress. Even if a lawyer has that ability (which would be unnatural for a lawyer), the lawyer’s fees will likely eclipse the rates charged by a qualified counselor, psychotherapist or clergy.
Take good notes, and do any follow-up tasks that the lawyer and you agree are your responsibility. In other words, don’t pay your lawyer to keep you on track.
Understand that sometimes a team approach is best. I will occasionally encounter a client who, in the interest of minimizing professional fees, will shuttle information between and among the offices of the lawyer, the accountant, the realtor or other the professionals involved because the thought of multiple fee-charging clocks running at the same time is difficult to stomach. This is understandable, but when an issue is truly multi-disciplinary, then letting the professionals talk to each other will likely reduce costs in the long run.
Finally, develop a professional relationship with your lawyer. Over time, a lawyer and client who have a history of working together will benefit from the efficiencies arising from mutual trust and familiarity.
Matthew Laurel Trinidad is a transactional attorney at Karp Neu Hanlon PC. His practice emphasizes business law, estate planning and probate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, (970) 945-2261, or visit www.mountainlawfirm.com.