January 21, 2009

Part II: Top 10 Tips for Getting More From Your Lawyer...For Less!

Here is Part II of the list from yesterday:

6. Get realistic. A great way to rack up your legal bill is to insist that your lawyer fight unwinnable battles over trivial matters because you are taking an unreasonable position. If your lawyer tells you to agree to an adjournment of your application, there’s a good bet it’s because she knows that if you don’t, the judge will adjourn it anyway, possibly order costs against you and think you are a jerk for making everyone go to court. You are paying your lawyer for her judgment and expertise – so trust it. It’s much better save your money and energy for the useful fights than die the death of a thousand expensive lost chambers applications.

7. Get an email account. One way to reduce your legal fees and increase your lawyer’s accountability is to communicate primarily via email. Emails are shorter and more informative than telephone calls and allow your lawyer to copy you on correspondence and keep you updated on your file’s progress. Email also allows your lawyer to give some thought to your questions instead of replying off the cuff, which only increases the value of her advice.

8. Get some distance. Clients get very invested in their legal problems, with good reason. After all, it’s your marriage, job, house or business. But while you may think it’s helpful to barrage your lawyer with several calls, emails, thoughts, concerns, queries a day, the fact is that you are likely driving your lawyer crazy by second-guessing and micromanaging every step in the litigation and your legal bill will reflect all the time she spends dealing with your constant harassment. I have seen cases where the client’s constant intervention actually doubled his legal bills because of all the time spent reviewing, revising and reconsidering decisions which had already been made. If you want to handle the file yourself then stop paying your lawyer and do it yourself.

9. Get DIY. Actually, you might be able to do part of it yourself. There is no rule that you have to hire a lawyer to handle your entire legal problem. Many legal problems can be broken up into various parts, with each part having a varying degree of difficulty. For example, you may be able to start a divorce proceeding yourself, but hire a lawyer to handle the application for interim support. You might negotiate all the terms of an agreement to buy a small business, and then hire a lawyer to formally draw up the contract. The important thing is to consider which tasks are within your area of competence and which would really benefit from someone with a specialized knowledge of the law.

10. Get your documents. One of the most wasteful parts of litigation are document discovery processes where lawyers repeatedly ask clients for documents, only to have the client slowly produce them in fits and starts over weeks and months. Just as bad is when the documents are produced in inexplicable bundles and boxes requiring the lawyer to spend hours sorting, listing, and labelling. Do your lawyer and yourself a favour and organize your documents into chronological order. If you really want to save legal fees, make a document list, and include the date of the document, its title, who authored it and to whom it was sent. Your lawyer will think you are a superstar and your legal bills will reward you for your good work.

Whether its fees, documents, goals or timelines, the biggest frustrations between lawyers and clients relate to communication. Hopefully these notes from the field will make the experience of hiring a lawyer more enjoyable and much less expensive.

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