"How to Work With Your Lawyer" and "Ten Ways to Save Legal Fees"
HOW TO WORK WITH YOUR LAWYER
Parts excerpted from "How to Choose a Lawyer"
Phyllis C. Kaufman & Arnold Corrigan, Longmeadow Press
The following are some tips on how to get the most from our office, and in fact from any attorney. Remember, as Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer's time and advice is his stock in trade." If you are a cooperative, involved client, your lawyer will save time, and in most cases, you will receive a smaller bill. The reasonable lawyer works best with a reasonable client.
The first rule when dealing with your lawyer is to be completely truthful, accurate, and honest. Or, to use the courtroom phrase, "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Withholding information, telling only part of the story, or failing to disclose embarrassing or damaging details to your attorney can interfere with your attorney's doing the best job for you and can seriously damage your case.
Remember three things. First, your lawyer works for you; he or she is not your judge. Second, if you fail to disclose some potentially damaging fact, and the fact is brought out later, your lawyer can not possibly offer an adequate reply on a point about which he/she is ignorant and for which there has been no opportunity to prepare. Third, your lawyer is bound by rules of confidentiality not to disclose the content of your discussions (unless they fall within the narrow exceptions under the Florida Bar rules, such as intent to commit a crime or to injure or harm someone). You may speak to your lawyer with complete candor and openness.
Let Your Lawyer Guide You, But You Are the Boss
There are many times during the lawyer-client relationship when the lawyer has to be the one to decide how to proceed. However, you must make it clear at the beginning of your relationship that no settlements, litigation, or other pivotal matters are to be begun or concluded without your direct consent, and then only after you understand all the details and ramifications of the move. This is especially important during settlement negotiations.
Keep in Contact
You should receive copies of all relevant documents and correspondence from your attorney. If you do not receive anything in a reasonable time, tell the lawyer to send you copies of documents. This will help keep you current on your case and will show you what your attorney is doing.
You need not telephone your lawyer on a daily or weekly basis, and you should remember that he/she will no doubt bill you for telephone calls. But, if something important comes up, or if there is a change in your situation, do not delay - inform your attorney immediately. If your attorney is in Court or too busy to answer your call, ask his/her secretary to set a time for a telephone call ... a sort of prearranged meeting by phone. That way, the time will be comfortable for both of you, and you will be able to talk without interruption.
Respect Your Lawyer's Advice
You have hired a lawyer to give you advice and information on matters in which he/she is experienced. When your lawyer gives you that advice, do not ignore it. If you are inclined to reject the advice, think twice, or perhaps three times. Occasionally, there may be a good specific reason for rejecting a lawyer's advice. But, if you find you do not have confidence in the lawyer's judgment, consider hiring a new lawyer.
TEN WAYS TO SAVE LEGAL FEES
Be Prepared for Meetings
Do your homework before meeting with your attorney. Bring all documents with you. Write out a chronology of events and facts relevant to your case. It is far easier for your lawyer to read a brief summary and then to ask questions based upon it than for you to recount each detail verbally.
Maintain a File
Start a file regarding each legal matter you discuss with your attorney. Keep all correspondence, chronologies, and documents in the file. Take the file with you to all meetings with your attorney and/or the opposition.
If you read an item in a newspaper or magazine that you think is relevant to your case, cut it out and discuss it with your attorney at your next meeting. Better yet, make a photocopy of the item and send it to your attorney with a note explaining why you think it is important to the case.
Be on Time
Try not to be late for an appointment with your attorney; his/her time is your money. If you have to cancel a scheduled appointment, do it as far in advance as possible.
When your lawyer submits a well-documented bill to you for services rendered, try to pay it promptly or make arrangements for paying it off. Remember that the lawyer has already done the work and may not be comfortable about proceeding further until he/she is sure that compensation will be forthcoming. You never want a lawyer to be distracted about owing fees as opposed to spending that time and effort working on your matter.
Do Not Withhold Information
Be frank and honest with your lawyer. Failing to reveal information, even if you are not sure of its relevance, may not only seriously damage your case but may also necessitate revisions or additional work that could have been avoided if you had been forthright at the beginning.
Do Not Be a Pest
As was said earlier, communicate with your lawyer when it is necessary, but do not become a nuisance. Do not make your lawyer spend time on phone calls, letters, or meetings except when it is necessary and productive for your case.
Many clients are afraid to express their feelings and desires to their attorney. You must tell your lawyer what is most important to you so that he/she can act accordingly. For example, if you are contesting an estate and both money and sentimental items are at stake, tell your lawyer which of them means the most to you. If it is the sentimental items, the lawyer's tactics may be different than if you were to stress the money. The lawyer has no way of knowing unless you express yourself.
And if you do not like something that your lawyer has done - speak up. If he/she continues to behave in a way that displeases you, you may have to think of changing lawyers. But first, let the lawyer know how you feel so he/she can address and potentially correct the situation.
Consider Using Small Claims Court
If your case is one under the $5,000.00 jurisdictional limits of the Florida Small Claims Court, consider filing your claim there; the Clerk of Court can assist you with the filing. If you feel uncomfortable proceeding on your own, then we can give you guidance and prepare the Statement of Claim or represent you if it is cost-efficient.
Be Willing to Use Mediation, Arbitration, or Private Trials
The court can order any civil matter to mediation before allowing it to proceed on with litigation. Mediation is form of facilitated negotiation through a mediator to see if the parties can negotiate a resolution of a claim or dispute. Your attorney can assist you in preparing for and presenting your position at mediation, and it is usually less costly than litigation. Arbitration is a binding process with an independent person serving as the tribunal; it is private, less formal, and quicker than litigation and trial. A private trial is a less structured one where a retired judge is hired by both sides to hear and render a non-binding ruling in an abbreviated trial setting ... it gives everyone the opportunity to consider the potential outcome if they went on to trial and often leads to settlement on the spot. Ask about these types of alternative dispute resolution processes.
Seek Legal Advice Early
The most effective way to avoid large legal fees is to seek the help of a lawyer early on before the situation gets out of hand. It is far better to have a lawyer review a minor matter for a small fee than to wait until the problem grows to major proportions requiring a costly legal effort.
The law and legal system can be complicated and frustrating, but it leads to resolution of disputes, claims, and violations of law. As lawyers, we are pleased to provide legal services and representation ... we answer legal questions; solve legal problems.