Client’s Bill of Rights

Seven Steps to Finding A Lawyer For Your Business

Whether it’s attorney and client, doctor and patient, or husband and wife, a successful relationship is built on open communication and mutual trust. The next time you’re looking for a lawyer for your business, try the following:

1. Meet the lawyer first. Some people are just better “fits” than others. It may be a business matter, but you need to be comfortable not only with the lawyer’s ability and experience but also with the personality you’ll be dealing with. Some but not all lawyers give free initial consultations where you can try each other on for size; avoid unpleasant surprises by asking about charges before you make the appointment.

2. Be forthcoming with initial information. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to screen new clients for conflicts of interest. When you call for an appointment, be prepared to give the legal name of your business, your name and position with the company, your business phone and fax numbers, and a brief description of the matter. If there are other people or businesses involved, you need to give that information as well. This is for your protection. For all you know, the lawyer already represents the party you think you want to sue. So give the necessary information, but don’t volunteer any more than you’re asked.

3. Ask about fees. Don’t be shy about asking for details. Some lawyers charge by the hour, prorated to the tenth of an hour (i.e., every six minutes, about the length of most phone calls); others prorate only to the quarter of an hour (i.e., every fifteen minutes). Some matters can be handled for a flat rate. Ask to see a written schedule not only of hourly fees but also costs; some lawyers charge for photocopies and faxes; others do not.

4. Have a written retainer agreement. You should get a written statement of the work to be done (and, sometimes equally important, not to be done), the fees and costs to be charged, and the billing cycle. If a conflict of interest has to be waived, this should also be put in writing at the very beginning of the engagement.

5. Ask for a budget. Unless you’ve agreed on a flat fee, you’re entitled to your lawyer’s best estimate of how many hours the project may take and the costs that may be incurred. But realize that it is only an estimate. Don’t handcuff your lawyer if additional work needs to be done to get you the outcome you want or need.

6. Stay involved. Read the papers your lawyer sends you. If you don’t understand what they’re about, you shouldn’t hesitate to call and ask. If you’re asked to provide more information or documents, try to do so as promptly as you can. If nothing’s happening, ask why. If you think your lawyer’s doing too much, say so. Don’t let unanswered questions pile up, and don’t let problems fester.

7. Try to keep a sense of proportion. Some legal matters are very stressful to deal with. The less you know what to expect, the more stressful it is. So you should feel free to ask questions until you’re sure you understand what’s going on and what’s likely to happen. And try not to let these matters unduly impact the rest of your business or your life. Make a promise to yourself to deal with them as best you can, and then move on.

Copyright © Jill A. Douthett, 2004