Be an Attorney's "Best Client"

by Nancy McCaslin

People work hard for their money and are entitled to keep attorney fees at a minimum. The following suggestions may help accomplish that goal when working with an attorney. "With" is the key word in reaching goals and finding solutions.

Call an attorney at the first indication an attorney's services may be needed. React. Ignoring a legal problem will probably not cause the problem to go away. If an attorney needs to be involved, they will have fewer hours of research/review to become familiar with the issues if he/she is contacted early. Remember that attorney charges are often made on an hourly basis, and each additional hour that's spent on a case may result in additional charges for services.

Clients may need to be proactive. Being proactive can also result in lower fees. "Do It Yourself" may be fine; however, when litigation is the result of "do it yourself" legal documents, attorney fees may greatly exceed the fees an attorney would have charged initially for the document resulting in the lawsuit.

Ask preliminary questions. When people schedule an appointment with an attorney, "Best Clients" ask what documents should be brought with them to the initial conference. For example, if a lawsuit has been filed, the attorney will need to review the Complaint and Summons to determine what issues need to be resolved and the date by which a response needs to be filed. Also, "Best Clients" should ask what information is needed. If, for example, a person is asking that an attorney draft a simple Will, then the attorney will need to know the names of the Personal Representative, Guardian, and those receiving any specific bequests (i.e. Who is going to receive the antique desk Aunt Jane gave you when you were a child?). The attorney will also need to know how an estate will be divided. (Is there a spouse? How much, if any, will any children receive? Are there grandchildren to consider? Will charitable organizations be recipients?) If a new business is being formed, other information the attorney will probably need will include the names of other individuals involved in the business, the organizational structure (partnership, corporation, limited liability company, for example), banking information, and stock or share certificate information. Remember, asking questions regarding needed documents and information before meeting with an attorney can save an attorney time and a client's money.

Get organized. Clients should gather the needed documents and information. Clients who make detailed written notes (of all relevant facts and history relating to the case or services that will be requested) before meeting with the attorney at the initial conference will save time and money. Remember, all facts and history mean good facts and bad. It is rare that a case only involves good facts. If weaknesses or problems did not exist, a lawsuit would probably not have been filed! When attorneys are required to search for missing facts and information, it takes them time and can increase fees. Also, "Best Clients" often write a list of questions to ask an attorney during the initial conference. Working "with" an attorney includes providing information they will need in preparing documents or resolving litigation as well as asking questions to enable a client to better understand the legal process and plan for resolution or finalization of a matter.

Be organized. Initial conferences usually focus on three areas. First, the problem, its background, and possible solutions will be focused on. If the conference is for the purpose of having an attorney draft a document, then the focus will be on the need, the goals, and method of accomplishing those goals. "Best Clients" have done their homework and take the needed information and questions with them to the conference.

Second, the fee arrangement and payment of fees will be discussed. Attorneys utilize different fee arrangements for various types of cases. "Best Clients" discuss the applicable fee arrangement and details concerning charges. "Best Clients" also communicate their circumstances regarding invoicing to eliminate problems relating to payment at a later time. Initial conference discussions relating to fees will result in a fee contract or letter of representation that indicates the understandings regarding services. Understanding what is expected can save time, energy, and money during the course of the relationship.

Third, the future will be looked at. "Best Clients" will want to know what may happen next and when it might happen. These types of questions can eliminate unnecessary telephone calls and, perhaps, additional charges. "Best Clients" also want to know what the attorney expects of them. More information? What information? When is the information needed?

Complete assignments. A client can save some legal fees by providing the attorney additional needed information. Attorneys must adhere to deadlines. Sometimes continuances or extensions are possible, other times they are not. "Best Clients" will provide needed information in a timely manner to keep the case "moving" and to save money in doing so.

Review Invoices. A "Best Client" will review each invoice promptly and contact the attorney's office if it appears a mistake has been made. A friendly call to an attorney's office to inquire about possible invoicing mistakes is part of working "with" an attorney. Attorneys' offices can make errors in invoicing. Attorneys do not want to charge clients for services not rendered. If an error appears on an invoice, "Best Clients" do not assume they are being singled out or overcharged. They politely and timely ask for a review of specific items to answer their invoicing questions. Remember, an attorney-client relationship involves "working together" to resolve problems, and if an invoicing adjustment is something that may need to happen, then work together to solve the problem.

Throughout an attorney-client relationship, other ways may become apparent to keep legal fees as low as possible. The suggestions provided in this article are only possible ideas to achieve that goal. Each person wanting to become a "Best Client" needs to consider ways he or she can try to reduce costs relating to his or her own case.

Nancy is an attorney who practices with her husband in Elkhart, Indiana. She is also a freelance writer.

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