How to Talk to Lawyers
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There are no four letter words in this piece in case you were wondering. Curse words aside, communicating well with your attorney is essential. You can ultimately increase your chances for success and lower your legal expense if you learn to communicate well with your legal counsel.
1. Establish a mode of communication. Not too long ago, if you wanted to ask your lawyers a question, you had to schedule an appointment or wait to receive a letter by mail. Now there are many options. Some people prefer phones, some email and for some, old-school face time is essential. Establish the best mode of communication with your attorney immediately. Email creates a record of your attorneys’ answers and explanations to which you can always refer. Email can be impersonal, but it will often cost less than face-to-face phone consultations which require and often gets you a quicker response. Overall, establish a mode of communication that works for both you and your counsel. If you are not sure, ask.
2. Do your homework – There is a wealth of information (or misinformation) about a multitude of areas of law online and in libraries. Acquiring a working knowledge of certain procedures and concepts can enhance your communications with your attorney. BEWARE though. The law is a living, breathing thing that is constantly changing. A good attorney is the best source of real-time legal information tailored to your specific situation.
3. Lawyers don’t need disclaimers, they write them. When you speak with your counsel, leave your vanity, self-consciousness and shame behind. That only wastes time that costs you. Assume your attorney has heard worse. (She probably has). Your private communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege. So, talk straight to your attorney. It is a unique relationship, so enjoy it. Your attorney is there to serve you. You don’t have to impress your counsel. Your attorney should impress you. All you have to do is be honest and keep your word to your counsel.
4. Get to the point. When and if your attorney needs to know about your “feelings,” he or she will ask. Most attorneys will let you say what you want to say. However, when your counsel starts asking direct questions, focus simply on answering them clearly and directly. Remember, this is time for which you are ultimately paying. Furthermore, these direct questions are often preparing you for the courtroom or deposition – so FOCUS.
5. Clarify Your Goals. Goals evolve. As your personal, business or litigation goals change, tell your lawyer. Of course, not having a goal in the first place is a great way to increase your legal expenses and the likelihood of disaster. That is probably not your goal.
6. Organize Your Documents. If you want to increase the likelihood that your attorney will miss something or you want to pay more, be sure to do the following: 1) Send your counsel a mess of unorganized documents; 2) forward a pile of emails, one at a time, to your attorney and require him to open each one, then open the email within the email and then the multiple attachments; 3) Don’t explain or summarize any documents or identify what they are. You will improve your communications with your attorney, minimize your legal bills and strengthen your case if you organize your documents well and create notes, a list or a summary which identifies each one. If you don’t, the law firm will anyway, but you will pay for that, and your interpretation and input might be missed.
7. Be responsive. Your attorney is usually working under strict deadlines – FOR YOU. Excuses don’t cut it. When a judge orders that documents be produced or a government agency requires that a document be filed by a certain date, bring you’re A-game and help your counsel meet the deadline. Your case, your business and your freedom may depend on it. Start locating and organizing your documents and related emails as soon as you recognize you have a legal issue. Also, there are significant penalties to deleting or disposing of documents and emails once you become aware of the possibility of claim. So, don’t delete or dispose of anything until you speak to your counsel.
8. The Last Three. There is no time for the other three because time is money.