I work in a law firm. Commercial litigation to be precise. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with clients not only in this job but throughout a long career of dealing with people in a crisis.
No one comes to see a lawyer when things are going well, more often than not we see people at their worst (or close to it), particularly in litigation. Having a legal issue can be very stressful regardless of the side you’re on. Law firms are the most perfect capitalist machine. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, what I mean is that they are very efficient at using their time, resources and people in the best way possible. So to make sure you resolve any issue you may have quickly (and cheaply) you should be as efficient as they are.
Here we go:
1- Be Thorough.
Remember the lawyer does not know your issue as well as you do. When meeting your lawyer at the initial consultation be as thorough as possible, write a list or a chronology of your issue and use it to guide you so that they have a complete understanding of why you are needing their assistance. Lawyers are trained to sift through a set of facts and find the legal issues within them. Don’t be afraid to tell them everything and let them decide what is most relevant. It’s better for them to have too much information than not enough.
2- Be Honest.
Keep in mind that a lawyer’s first duty is to the Court and to the law. They can not say something on your behalf they know to be untrue, they can’t be complicit in any fraud or miscarriage of justice. Despite what you may think about lawyers most take this duty very seriously. The duty to the Court and to the law overrides any duty the lawyer has with you as a client. This is not negotiable.
3- Everything is confidential.
This follows on from the point above. Your discussions with a lawyer are confidential, don’t be afraid to disclose. Remember though, a lawyer is just that, not a counsellor.
4- Be efficient.
Law firms are very efficient. They have a knack for utilising their highly educated people in the best ways possible. Depending on the fee arrangement you have with your lawyer you will incur fees differently, however the billable unit is still king. What’s the billable unit, well it’s the amount of 6 minute increments that a lawyer spends on your matter. Every 6 minutes is one unit. There are ten units in an hour and so on. Client’s usually get charged by the unit. If you call up a lawyer, that’s one unit before you’ve even started talking, if you’re on the phone for twelve minutes well that’s two units. If you forget to ask a question and call again that’s another unit. You can see how the costs will mount up.
When dealing with a lawyer or their offices be efficient. If you have questions about something write them all down before you get on the phone. Try not to drop in unannounced at the offices just to see how your matter is going. Not only should you always make an appointment, for the lawyer to come out and tell you that there are no news will cost you money. You get my drift.
5- Take your own file notes.
Lawyers must keep file notes on every interaction they have with you. You should do the same. Maybe even start a small journal about your matter and record quick notes about who you’ve spoken to, why, what was the outcome and what is the next step.
6- Be clear.
Lawyers are smart (and good looking people) but they can’t read your mind. Always be clear in your instructions, if you don’t understand something, ask. A lawyer essentially acts as your agent and need your instructions to proceed at every step of the way. The clearer you are the easier it is for them and the easier it is for you.
7- Don’t be afraid to ask.
The law can be incredibly complex. At the end of the day if you could solve your matter yourself you wouldn’t have engaged a lawyer. If you don’t understand a process, a document, a letter, ask. You can always ask for a little more time to consider your options too. This may not always be granted, say because a court has ordered you to do something immediately, but if there is time available, ask for it.
8- Pay your bill.
No, really. Pay your bill. It doesn’t stop amazing me that every now and then a person refuses to pay their bill for whatever reason. Sometimes there aren’t any. Lawyers are professionals, they are highly trained and qualified, there may be more than one that works on your matter, there may be a whole team working on your matter as well as several barristers, a team of paralegals and a clerk. All of these people are very good at what they do (on the most part) and prompt payment ensures you value their knowledge in the same way they’re valuing your custom. Lawyers need to be clear at the time you are signing a retainer and officially engaging their services as to their fees. Pay attention to how you will be charged and ask them for an estimate of the costs you may incur.
They’ll also sue you if you don’t pay. Seriously.