First, I must acknowledge that without clients, us lawyers don't have much more than our diplomas and student loan bills. We need you. But perhaps more importantly, you need us. That's why, to have a symbiotic relationship, we partners in the law (us attorneys and you clients) need to learn how to co-exist, manage the case and get the results you need. These are but a few suggestions in this "Round I" for accomplishing those goals, listed in no particular order (as they are all important!). Be on the lookout for additional tips in later rounds!
- Be Honest. If you are lying about your case, or that you have a document when you really don't, or whatever it is that you are withholding, I'll find out about it. It will probably be when I'm supposed to deliver that "thing" to the other side of our dispute, and you'll have to admit you lied, and you don't actually have it. That's never good. Or, it can be at trial, when I ask you the all-important question, and you, being struck by the conscience, decide that what you've been saying all along isn't that plausible, so you change your story. Whatever it is, just tell me up front. I can't help you if you blindside me. Plus, if you make me look bad, I make you look bad. The difference is, I have to go before that judge sometime in the future, and you inadvertently make my future other clients look bad, because I get a reputation for lying. So.... what can you do? Save my future clients, and your current case. Just be honest. It's easier, and I promise you - cheaper.
- Do Not Call Other Attorneys to Check My Work. If you have a problem with me, don't understand something, or think that someone else can do it for less, then you need to come in and see me face to face. You would not believe what a small community we lawyers live in, and we sometimes (and often times) know each other. I have found out my clients were shopping around, and the "shopped" attorneys have called me to tell me my client called them. That's awful, and hurtful to boot. I don't call your neighbors, boss or friends to see if you are lying to me, so you should not call my competitors to see if they can beat my price. Maybe they charge less. But maybe they do a worse job. If you are concerned about a particular aspect of your case - let's talk about it. I don't get my legal ideas out of thin air. Usually there's a legal principle of law that I can show you to support where I'm coming from. If you don't trust me, there's a reason. Let's get to the bottom of it - but calling others undermines everything - and I'll quit as your lawyer if I think you are not loyal. We can work together, but I need your trust.
- Please Don't Try to Haggle With the Price. I am not a car dealer. My rates and those of most attorneys, are not negotiable. What we can work out, is how those rates are paid, but the rates reflect an attorney's skill, market for the services, and are a function of expenses and costs to represent you as the client. If you want to pay $75 an hour for legal services, then you will get that quality of work. This is a hint to you that $75 an hour for an attorney implies that you will NOT get good quality work from an experienced lawyer. If a few lawyers charge more than $150+ an hour, that's probably the going rate. As such, you should be asking questions about the lawyer's rate, but be advised that just like at the doctor's office, the price is not something that is up for that much discussion.
- Please Don't Try to Limit What I Can Do or Work On. As your lawyer, I need to be able to do my job. I have clients who try to restrict my work, telling what I can and cannot look at, and how much time I can spend on something. This kind of dialogue just interjects stress into the relationship and almost forces me to do a worse job than I could do if just given the reigns to do what I need to. When a client micromanages the lawyer, resentment builds and ultimately the work gets done anyway, but usually at the last minute. What can you do to avoid this? Just speak clearly about what you want up front. If you as the client need to approve this and that, then you should tell your lawyer up front. If my client had done that, it would have given me the right to tell him that I cannot work like that, and that maybe another lawyer would be better for that kind of arrangement. By being honest, as above, you engage in a better starting point for the attorney-client relationship, and the money is better spent on actual legal work, rather than fighting over the legal work. Good communication helps everyone in the game.