It’s a day out of the office for me while we are having some renovations done on our home. With the brutal winter weather, it seems like a long time ago that we actually signed up for these renovations. But the day has finally arrived and I’m watching the house get ripped apart while trying to get work done.
The process of choosing who to hire to renovate, then watching the work happen, reminds me of the way that clients choose an attorney. Like hiring a contractor to renovate your home, hiring an attorney can be a similar process.
Knowing What Questions to Ask
At the outset, one of the most intimidating steps was meeting the different contractors. With each contractor meeting, I became a bit more knowledgeable about what to ask. I knew the overall the project and what I needed to ask. But as I got into the details with each contractor, the differences between them began to show.
When choosing an attorney, you won’t know all the questions to ask. That’s a natural function of an initial consultation. But as you meet with the attorney, you should get a feeling of how they interact with their clients. If you have a question, do they make sure to answer it? Or do they just press on to the next thing that they want to discuss? You want to make sure you feel comfortable talking to the attorney about all of your questions.
Naturally, your main question may be what the cost of the services will be. That is a pretty common question, but also a very loaded one. Rather than simply asking for a number, try to get to the basis for the number. Why are you being charged an amount for a flat fee – what is being done? Or if you are going to be paying hourly, what kind of hours are anticipated on the case? What kind of work will be done?
It seems like it should be an obvious part of the attorney-client relationship. But over the years, I have met with a variety of clients who have felt rushed by their attorney. They were given a document to sign, but not a full explanation. Or they had more questions to ask before they signed it, but just signed it anyway. Then a few years later, they end up across the table from me asking how to modify or cancel what they signed.
Watching the Process Happen
When it comes to major home renovations, I don’t try to do them myself. It’s not in my skillset. I know this and let the professionals do their work. But while they are doing their work, I am also the type to stay nearby, observe what’s happening, and ask questions if I’m unsure what’s going on.
In that same vein, when you hire a lawyer, you should be able to see the work happen on your matter. If you are in a lawsuit, you should be receiving copies of letters sent on your behalf and documents filed with the court. When putting together contracts or estate planning documents (like wills), you should see drafts of the documents before you are asked to sign them.
The Attorney-Client Relationship
Finally, and in my mind most importantly, is how you and the attorney relate to each other. You and your attorney don’t need to be best friends, but you need to be able to work together. At the courthouse, I’ve seen attorneys and clients who clearly can’t stand each other. They won’t talk to each other. Each of them is on their phones instead of interacting. When you talk to the attorney, they are quick to throw their client “under the bus” to get the court appearance finished.
You are likely spending a good amount of money when you hire an attorney. It may not make the attorney rich, but it does entitle you to some of their time and mental energy. You both need to feel comfortable talking to each other. Sometimes the discussions will be hard – perhaps the case isn’t going exactly as you both would like. But the discussions need to be able to happen in a professional manner.
In the end, both you and the attorney need to be sure that you are a good professional fit with each other…