Is it possible to minimize your legal bills?
Cost is often the first thing on a business owner’s mind when it comes to hiring an attorney. When you’ve got high hourly billing and high lawyer fees it’s hard to budget for legal expenses. Because of this, many owners and entrepreneurs call on the services of a lawyer only when there is a crisis to avert. However, if you’re already facing a crisis, it’s going to cost you more time and money to solve it than if you had consulted with an attorney in the first place, before there was an issue.
Here at Labour Research we believe that an attorney is indispensable in the activity of business, big or small, but we also know that many business owners are weary of dealing with lawyers. We have put out a small guide on how to select the right lawyer while keeping costs down.
When it comes to hiring an attorney, many people still go by word-of-mouth recommendations but that’s not the best solution. We recommend that you meet a couple and schedule a number of free consultations in order to get clear on how much it’s going to cost, how well you’re getting along and what kind of aid the attorney can offer you. Doing this will allow you to get a sense of what a number of attorneys will charge you for the same service and also what is included in that service. One thing that the legal industry is notorious for is lack of opacity – there is no standard price to compare against. Shopping around and getting a number of price quotes will give you a better negotiating position.
Don’t try to drive a hard bargain and argue every single bill you get. If you present yourself as a client that is constantly looking for the lowest price possible vs one who is a potential long-term client you may incur higher fees from the start.
If you’re going to be working with an attorney on a hourly basis and he is offering you a low hourly rate – don’t take it at face value without asking a couple of questions first. How long would a matter like this, based on the attorney’s experience, take to resolve? If they say “it depends”, ask him or her what it depends on. Aside from this, you should ask every attorney what type of law they practice and if they had previous experience with your type of matter. An experienced attorney will know more accurately how long your legal issue will take and he will probably be able to solve it even faster than others.
Attorneys prefer clients that they can work on a long-term basis. If you can present yourself as a long-term client, you are sure to get preferential rates. Even if you need a lawyer for a one-off issue, you can help them by pointing to other potential clients in your industry.
With that said, don’t be afraid to negotiate. The worst thing that can happen is that they will simply refuse. Tell them that you understand and value the importance of their service. Everybody opens up when you treat them as someone valuable rather than as someone you have to haggle with on price.
Once you’ve honed in on the lawyer that you’re going to hire, make sure to clearly state any expectations you have. Being clear on all points will prevent future disputes and will give you space to negotiate when a problem arises. Here are a couple of issues to keep in mind:
- What fee structure does the attorney work with? Depending on a couple of factors, you could have hourly, flat (fixed), contingent or monthly retainer. Some attorneys might agree even to equity or exchange of services. Don’t be afraid to ask for alternative structures.
- Payment method and period. Law firms that represent clients on an hourly rate usually send an invoice at the end of the month. There is also the option of “deferred payment” which means that you can discuss the periodicity of your payments.
- Who will do the work: an associate or a partner? Clients may think they’re getting a great deal by having an associate do the work at a low hourly rate but associates are less experienced than partners and will take longer, sometimes costing more than if the partner took the lead on the matter.
- Who is responsible for legal research? Will you be billed for paralegal or administrative work? If so, at what rate? Are there any disbursement estimates included in the hourly rate?
- How is new work handled? If you have an hourly billing agreement with your attorney ask him to contact you before he does anything outside the explicit scope you initially established.
Handling and defining expectations at the outset of a representation will come in handy later, as you can always turn back to it when any issues arise.
It’s a good idea to be involved and active during the representation. If you pay your bills on time and you are clear and responsive in your discussions with your attorney, he/she will likely be more responsive as well when you bring up an issue with a line item or the quality of work you received.
- If work took longer than expected, ask why.
- Double check that any “client calls” and “client emails” are accurate with your records.
- Don’t hesitate to mention any inaccuracies or discrepancies that you find in your bills.
- If the work you received does not correspond to your expectations – inform your lawyer and tell them that it is their responsibility to fix it.
Legal services can be negotiated and being cautious is a proactive measure to cut costs. It is true that good lawyers don’t come cheap but by using the tips that we laid out you will be able to get a better price. Lastly, the old saying “you get what you pay for” holds true, especially in law. Don’t let price be the sole driver of your decision. Ironically, hiring an experienced attorney will keep your costs down because you won’t have to pay to rectify mistakes they made with the work.
photo credit: photosteve101