For Those Who Spend Less Than $300 Million on a Lawyer

If you spend $300 million or more a year on legal fees, this post is not for you. If, however, you need to hire a lawyer and are concerned about how – and how much – you will be billed, keep reading.

Certainly anyone who finds themselves needing to retain an attorney – whether a Fortune 100 company, a small business, or an individual –  wants to make sure they are being billed fairly by their lawyer and that they are getting value for their money.

The folks who write $300 million checks to lawyers can go to insurance giant AIG for help managing their legal expenses, as the company recently set up a new entity whose sole purpose is to advise large businesses about the amounts they are paying their attorneys and “what the right costs for services are and the right value is for the services that are being delivered.”

But most folks aren’t going to be hiring a whole other company to make sure that happens.

When you hire an attorney for a business or personal matter, your assurance that your lawyer is being straight up with you on their fees and billing practices will largely hinge on open and honest communication between you and your lawyer. This should include establishing clear expectations as well as dialogue about how and why you are being billed.

Clear Expectations – Even When Things Are Unclear

I have a fairly diverse practice, encompassing estate planning, family law, and transactional matters as well as litigation. With litigation in particular, the process can be and usually is lengthy, time-consuming, and notoriously unpredictable.

Cases can be resolved fairly early in a dispute (which is always the hope and goal) or the conflict can metastasize into a matter that takes a long and winding road to trial, on to post-judgment motions and appeals and perhaps another round in the trial court, just to name a few possibilities.

I let my clients know upfront about the dangers and potential costs of litigation, and those discussions not only set expectations but play a role in the strategy we decide upon going forward. It is vital that clients go into a lawsuit with a clear understanding that the amount in fees that may be expended is unclear. This does not mean you are writing a blank check. It does mean that you know what you may be in for so you can plan accordingly.

While estate planning and business transaction matters may have more predictability than litigation, the necessity of setting expectations upfront is no less important. I provide my clients with either a set fee or a range within which they can expect their matter to cost.

By having these discussions at the outset, we can avoid surprises or misunderstandings down the line, and we can incorporate any questions or concerns about costs into our planning.

A Dialogue, Not Just a Bill

From our first meeting until your matter is concluded, I want you to feel and believe that I will be fair, transparent, and accommodating in my billing practices. I want you to know what to expect in the future and what has been done for you in the past. I want you to review and fully understand your bills and reach out to me if something is unclear. If your case has taken a turn that will result in a monthly bill being particularly high, I will make every effort to give you a heads-up so that you can plan accordingly.

Finally, I know that if you are paying for my services, you are likely doing so because circumstances have made it a necessary or prudent move in order to protect your interests or advance your goals. Part of protecting your interests is being judicious in my billing and cutting time from my bills on occasion.

My fundamental role as a lawyer is to help people who need legal assistance. To that end, I will work with you to find an arrangement that fairly allows me to do so.

At the end of our legal journey together, you should feel that my bills are fair, reasonable, and within the expectations set throughout the course of your matter – even if you spend a little less than $300 million.

Your Choice of a Lawyer Matters. Here are Four Qualities to Look For.

I meet with new clients and potential new clients on an almost daily basis. When I do, I know that the reason they are in my office is because they have important issues that need to be addressed; issues that can have a profound impact on their career, family, and future.

I also know that the decision as to which attorney they hire to assist them is one that they don’t, and shouldn’t, take lightly. There is no question that the quality and competence of an attorney can play a significant role in the outcome of a given matter, and how that attorney approaches his practice and relationship with clients can make the difference between peace of mind and constant worry.

Based on my experience, here are some qualities you should consider if you are in the process of looking for an attorney:

  • Knowledge of the Law. It goes without saying that your lawyer should know what he’s doing, and that includes keeping up to date on new developments and approaches. The law is constantly changing; new legislation, court decisions, rules, and guidelines come out all the time. It is crucial to hire a lawyer who not only understands the law as it is but who is aware and alert to the impact of changes which may take place.
  • Experience. So much of what happens in a legal matter is not based on things that can be found in books; knowing the nuances of both the law and the reality of practice is crucial to obtaining successful results. Look for a lawyer who knows their way around the courthouse, hearing room, or conference room. Look for a layer who knows how things work, and knows how things get done. Sound judgment and insight isn’t learned at a seminar. That is something that only comes from years of experience.
  • Communication. You no doubt have many questions about your situation, what may happen next, and what the plan should be going forward. Throughout your case, you’ll want to know that when questions and concerns come up, your attorney will be there, available and ready to answer and resolve them. You also want a lawyer who will actually listen to you and who will take the time to understand your needs and goals.
  • Empathy and Trust. When you meet with a lawyer, you are not there necessarily to discuss a case or a file; you are talking about your life. You want an understanding and compassionate lawyer who you can speak to about your concerns and issues and you want to feel as if they truly care and understand what is at stake. Choose an attorney who makes you comfortable, who is trustworthy and ethical, who you feel will truly expend all necessary efforts on your behalf, and who gives you a feeling of peace of mind every time you leave his office or hang up the phone after speaking with him or her.

The attorney-client relationship is a unique and important one, and the trust you place in your lawyer is something he or she should value and work every day to earn.