No one loves legal fees and with the advent of the internet, and all of these “free” forms and information online that people now have access to, many lay people seem to think that paying for a lawyer’s time is overrated or that you could have obtained the same information elsewhere for a fraction of the cost. If you are starting with that mindset, you are setting yourself up to be frustrated with your lawyer and with the inevitable bill. If that is you, save yourself and your potential lawyer some aggravation…don’t engage an attorney. Take your chances with whatever you can find online, which may or may not be right for you and your situation, and run with it. No, really. It’s not with the frustration for either of you. No business, lawyers/law firms included, want to deal with a disgruntled client/customer that is going to nickel and dime them because they think they could have gotten a better deal elsewhere. There may always be someone “better qualified” or “cheaper” although the two don’t usually coincide with one another. The question then becomes, can you have a good working relationship with your lawyer? That’s what you really want.
If you do decide to move forward with an attorney, understand that there are things that YOU might do that can make your lawyer bill even more expensive:
1) Thinking that your situation is “simple” and being stuck in that mindset even when you are told that your situation isn’t “simple.” The matter may be simple to you, but that’s because you aren’t going to think of all the same things your lawyer is. Most matters are far more complex, and have way more moving components, than what a client thinks. The more complex a matter is or the more complex the lawyer says it is, the higher the bill will likely be. Expect it. Also, no lawyer worth their salt will say “this is a slam dunk case.” If they do, run!
2) Taking a free legal template document (which is SO basic it that it likely doesn’t actually cover what you need to accomplish your goals) and asking a lawyer to review it. Chances are, no lawyer is going to look at that and think that it is a legal masterpiece; but you are going to pay them to look at it anyway, and it’s likely going in the garbage. If that is where you are starting, you are better off asking the lawyer to draft and agreement or other legal document from scratch. At least then you aren’t paying for their time to read something that they likely won’t use in the first place.
3) Not being forthcoming with information to begin with. You have to remember that your attorney doesn’t know the matter or the parties like you do. It is up to you to help get your attorney up to speed on all the specifics and timely provide them with the information they request, by the deadline they give you. Similarly, if circumstances material to your situation change, you need to tell your attorney right away. You also have to remember that if your attorney’s job is to help protect you from some other party or risk, they are going to assume, and try to prepare for, the very worst. If you have a good lawyer, they are likely going to dig and ask questions to help them do that. Some questions you may not be comfortable answering because you might feel it casts you in a bad light or is otherwise harmful to your case/matter, but it is best to answer them anyway because if you don’t, and your attorney is suspicious of the situation, they will dig for themselves and you will be expected to pay for their digging. Besides, chances are, your lawyer has heard a lot worse than what you are likely going to tell them. Think of it as talking to your doctor. If you want proper treatment, you have to divulge all the details.
4) Providing hasty inadequate answers to, or otherwise failing to actually address, your lawyer’s questions. It is a bad idea to use email or text communications like a “chat” system with your lawyer unless you want to be billed a .1 (6 minutes) for each and every communication you send and receive. Make your communications worthwhile, and provide real thought out substance, before you hit “send.” Along the same lines, if a lawyer doesn’t feel they are getting the whole story, a good one will dig for more information to find the answers to their questions and it will likely be done at your expense. It’s better to be forthcoming and provide as much information as is requested or possible (it’s better to over disclose than under disclose) and provide such information in a methodical and organized manner as you can. Don’t just dump a bunch of papers in a box and say “Here ya go!” Your lawyer will charge you the time it takes to organize all of the materials. Similarly, if you fail to answer all of the questions that your lawyer asks you, your lawyer will follow up again or find a different route to obtain the same information. You will be charged for each follow up communication and for the additional digging your attorney feels is required.
5) Providing incorrect answers to your lawyer’s questions. A good lawyer will trust the information they are given but will also verify the information provided. If your attorney finds even one answer wrong/inconsistent from prior statements given to them by you, they are not going to trust what you (or whoever) are telling them and will have to verify all of the information given to them. You should always back up your statements with the documents supporting your statements. The more time your lawyer has to spend verifying the accuracy of the information that has been provided, the bigger the bill.
6) Not heeding warnings and advice of your lawyer. A lawyer can never protect you from all risk, but they can tell you when there are major red flags and discuss ways to avoid it going forward. Asking your lawyer to move forward, especially when you want to be cutting corners on recommended due diligence, increases the risk of the transaction or situation and also makes the attorneys job 10 times harder than it needs to be. This is because without the proper information they have to try to plan for, and anticipate, all of the unknowns. The longer and harder your lawyer has to think, especially where there are unknowns, the higher the bill is likely to be.
7) Being “needy.” Attorneys aren’t often referred to as “counselors” for nothing. Many situations can be very emotional and often people want to rely on their attorney for emotional support, a safe ear, and a constant source of reassurance. It happens to the best of us! At the same time, if you are the type of person that desires a lot of interaction and attention from your attorney, you should plan on and be prepared for, a higher bill. Why? Well, you have to think that even though you are a valuable client, chances are, your lawyer has other clients and projects. If they are in the middle of a project, and you call or keep sending text messages or emails, that interrupts their train of thought and their attention is diverted to you. Your attorney has to reorient their brain to address your call, text or email and then, when they are done with your matter, they have to again reorient their brain back to whatever it was they were working on and try to figure out where they were. It can be much like working from home when you have a few small, and otherwise unattended, children. The time that they give you to vent, be it on the phone, text or via multiple emails, and the time it takes them to reorient themselves back to their prior project, may very well end up on your bill and you should expect it. Just assume a .1 (or 6 minutes), at least, to be on your bill, for every communication you initiate, regardless of the medium (e.g., email, text message, phone call). Your attorney may be kind and write off some time, but you shouldn’t expect it. Think about it … would you go to work and then tell your boss to deduct money from your pay check even though you spent time on work projects for your boss? A lawyer’s time IS that lawyer’s product and you shouldn’t expect it to come free or at a discount.
Lawyers can be expensive, but you can lessen the financial burden by giving a little more consideration to how you interact with your lawyer. The more work , following up, or hand-holding they have to do, the bigger your bill will likely be, regardless of how “simple” you think a task is. Help them, help you, keep your legal bills lower by being mindful of your interactions with your attorney.
All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon. All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.