January 20, 2009

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

There are times when no matter how resourceful you are, your legal problem is so complicated or distressing that it makes sense to hire a lawyer to help. Everyone knows that lawyers are expensive, but what most people realize is that you can maximize your lawyer's help and minimize your legal bills by heeding a few simple tips:

  1. Get focussed. Let’s be honest - people usually see a lawyer when something bad has happened. Divorces, bankruptcy, criminal charges, foreclosures. When a legal problem arises it’s natural to be emotional, scared or confused about what to do next. But before you reach for the Yellow Pages, take a deep breath, sit down, and consider your goals. People usually call a lawyer without doing this mental homework first, which results in a lot of wasted legal fees while the lawyer tries to figure out the client’s bottom line. Try to be realistic and about your legal problem and consider the financial, emotional, short and long term costs of various outcomes, not only to you, but also to your family. Write down your best case scenario, your worst case scenario, and the middle ground which you could live with if you had to. Now find a lawyer, and take this piece of paper with you.

  2. Get a referral. Finding a good lawyer is like finding a good pair of shoes. Good client/lawyer matches are a walk on a cloud. Bad matches chafe, blister and eventually make you trip. So try a couple on for size before committing. One excellent way to do this is through the Canadian Bar Association (B.C.’s) Lawyer Referral Service, which provides a referral to a lawyer near you who has experience with your kind of legal problem. The referral gives you a 30 minute appointment for a nominal $25 fee. Take the opportunity to ask the lawyer about her experience, her approach, and her take on your problem.

  3. Get organized. Would you hire your accountant to do your dishes? No. So why would you pay your lawyer $200 or more an hour to turn your jumbled documents into a sensibly organized file? The simplest thing you can do to help your lawyer understand your case and save yourself loads of legal fees is to be prepared. Come to your first meeting with a binder of key documents arranged in chronological order with the oldest documents first, and the newest documents last. Key documents always include any relevant documents you have been sent by the court, the government or the person with whom you have a dispute. Also, prepare a one page chronology of events in point form and include dates wherever possible and give this to the lawyer when you meet with her.

  4. Get a retainer letter. If you have an initial consultation with a lawyer, and you feel confident in hiring her, take the plunge and talk about legal fees. Both lawyers and clients feel awkward about raising the issue, but it’s in your best interest as a client to know from the start how and when your lawyer will charge you for her time. Ask for an estimate of the total cost for the work. If it makes sense in your case, propose a flat rate for handling a particular part of the file. This way, you won’t be worried about how much every phone call or email is costing you. If you think you will have trouble paying your legal bill all at once, ask if your lawyer will agree to a payment plan to spread the cost over several months. Often law firms have some flexibility in their billing practices which may make the bitter pill of legal fees easier to swallow. Make sure that whatever agreement you reach about legal fees is in a retainer letter signed by you and your lawyer.

  5. Get counselling. Some legal problems come with a lot of emotional collateral damage, especially where the issue involves family and jobs. Clients trust and confide in lawyers, as they should, but this doesn’t mean that your lawyer knows from Freud. In fact, the statistics on the divorce, depression and addiction rate among lawyers shows that many of us are in no position to be giving you advice on your personal life. Again, paying your lawyer $200 or more an hour to listen to you rant about your ex is going to cost you a bundle and do almost nothing for your headspace. For about half the price you can make an appointment with someone who has a degree or two in what to say in response to your diatribe about your idiot former boss.

Stay tuned for the next 5 tips tomorrow...


  1. Great tips, Shannon! Looking forward to the next 5.

  2. A good lawyer can make a difference in your case as well as your right to monetary compensation. Always be completely open and honest when discussing your case with a lawyer. Tell the lawyer as much as you can about what happened. Try to remember every detail.

  3. Something else that goes along with tip number one is trying to be as direct as possible with a lawyer. During a dramatic situation like most situations that include a lawyer, there is a tenancy to use the lawyer as a therapist to unload on as well. This just ends up raising the bill. It is best to save venting for someone who isn't charging for their time. It is just something to keep in mind. http://www.adamsandco.net.au/Our%20Firm


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