Your Role In The Legal Relationship
You have a valuable role in the legal proceeding in which you are involved. With your information, your attorney will apply his/her knowledge, skills and experience to produce the end result. Your assistance with that effort can greatly enhance your chances of success. You should never hesitate or be embarrassed to ask questions of your attorney or the staff. They recognize you may not be familiar with legal procedures and will assist you in understanding your case.
Honesty and Candor
Your attorney relies on the facts and documentation you provide. Be specific and truthful with your attorney. You should not make decisions about whether to disclose a fact or document to your attorney. Rely on your attorney to determine the importance of documents and facts. You cannot be effectively represented if you are less than candid with your attorney. These hidden facts could be discovered later by the opposing party, and potentially harm your case. If the attorney knows the facts beforehand, he or she will be better prepared during all phases of the case.
Keep Your Attorney Informed of Your Address and Phone Number
Keep your attorney informed of your correct home address and telephone number If the attorney cannot contact you, you risk missing important communications. It is not enough that you contact the attorney periodically to “check in.” The attorney must be able to contact you as necessary.
The relationship you have with your attorney is one of partners in the legal process. Much as you would ask your medical doctor questions concerning your health diagnosis, you should inquire of your attorney concerning aspects of your case. You can also call and ask the attorney’s secretary questions about the case. The secretary is prohibited from advising you on the law, but may be able to answer basic procedural questions for you. It is important that you take part in the legal process so that you will understand what is expected of you should your case go to trial.
You can expect to be treated courteously by the law office staff. In turn, your courtesy to the law office staff and lawyer is appreciated. You are one of the many clients the lawyer has, and other clients also deserve the lawyer’s time and efforts. While it is true that as a client you are in essence one of the bosses, it is extremely difficult for legal staff to deal with people who are discourteous. If you feel the staff is being discourteous to you, promptly bring it to the attorney’s attention so that the problem can be corrected.
It is always a good idea to schedule an appointment with the attorney ahead of time, rather than appearing at his or her office and expecting to see the attorney without an appointment.
Your attorney will expect you to respect his/her obligation to adhere In the Code of Professional Ethics. A violation of the Code subjects the attorney to punishment. If you would like further information on the requirements of the Code of Professional Ethics, you can ask your attorney, check out a copy from your local library, or contact your state Supreme Court.
When asked to provide information or documentation within a specified time, be prompt in your response or ask the attorney to extend the time period. Portions of your case have deadlines and you could risk adversely affecting the outcome of the case by procrastination.
In addition, you should always be on time for all legal proceedings, such as depositions, court dates, appointments, interviews, etc.
Sometimes during a case the attorney will write or call and request that you make a decision about some aspect of your case. For example, the attorney may have a settlement proposal to discuss. The attorney will ask you if you agree to the settlement proposal, if you want to counter-propose, or if you want to reject the proposal and continue on with the case. You should make your decisions after deliberating with your attorney. If you call the attorney and advise him by telephone of your decision, it is in everyone’s best interest to confirm that decision in writing and mail it to the attorney, keeping a copy for yourself. This reduces the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding between you and your attorney.
The attorney’s ability to operate a business depends in large part upon prompt payment by clients of fee bills. If you have any questions concerning the fees and costs for which you are being billed, contact the attorney to discuss the matter. Accounting departments occasionally make mistakes and you wouldn’t want to pay for someone else’s legal work.
At the beginning of your engagement of the attorney the determination of how fees are to be paid will be agreed upon. An engagement letter or fee contract prepared by the attorney stating the terms of your relationship with the attorney is standard and explains in detail the terms of your engagement. The most common types of fee arrangements are:
A. Hourly. You will be billed on a monthly basis (unless otherwise agreed to) and charged the attorney’s hourly rate, along with the hourly rates of those members of the firm who are also working on your case. This may include legal assistants, law clerks, investigators, etc. You may also be billed for costs expended on your behalf, such as photocopies, telecopies, mileage to and from the courthouse, computer research, deliveries, postage, etc. Be aware that telephone conversations with your attorney are billed at an hourly rate. You can minimize the amount of the bill by writing your questions down before talking to the attorney. Also know that most attorneys have a minimum charge of 0.3 hours.
B. Contingent. Contingent fees are charged at the conclusion of the case. You may be billed on a monthly basis for costs as they are incurred. A specific percentage of the amount collected in the case will be paid to your attorney as fees before deducting the costs expended by the attorney. The following example shows how this might work using a 40% contingent fee agreement:
Amount awarded – $100,000
Attorney percentage (40%) – $40,000
Subtotal – $60,000
Expenses related to the case – $10,000
Final amount to you – $50,000
If the case is lost or the monetary award is nothing, the attorney is entitled to no fees, unless otherwise agreed upon. Be aware, however, that you are expected to reimburse the attorney for costs expended on your behalf. Therefore, if the case is lose, you are responsible for payment of the attorney’s out-of-pocket costs (which, in some circumstances, can be substantial) You may want to receive an estimate on costs from your attorney prior to starting the case, or even request the attorney seek your authorization for single expenditures over a certain dollar amount
C. Flat for Fixed Fee. This usually applies only to one-time transactions, such as the preparation of a Will or representation in a simple traffic matter.
Special Note: Please remember that attorneys are not miracle workers. They will endeavor to obtain the best result for you. Attorneys depend on word of mouth for a substantial portion of their business. If you are happy with the services you have received, refer your attorney to others.
This information included is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.