How to work with your lawyer

11 04 2012

Whether you retain a lawyer to draft contracts or to represent you in court, the outcome of your case will depend largely on how well you work with your lawyer.

A lawyer is not a magician or a mind reader.  Your lawyer needs to know all of the information available to you in order to best represent your interests.  For instance, if you were in a car accident and you noticed that the other driver was on the phone, keeping this information from your lawyer could substantially harm your case.

A good lawyer will listen to you and ask you questions.  A good client will tell their lawyer everything about their case.

So, a good place to start is to write down everything you can remember about what led up to the lawsuit.  Or, in the case of a contract, all of the terms that you would like.  Then sit down with your lawyer and go through the list.  The more you provide ahead of time, the better.  For each fact, try to answer the question “how do I know this”?


Don’t Fear Lawyers

13 12 2011

We are often brought in to fix a problem that has gotten out of control.  Often, the problem could have been prevented with very little work from an attorney.  When asked about why the client waited so long to retain an attorney, the answer is almost always “I was worried about how much it would cost.”

That fear causes problems to get out of control and makes everything more complicated and expensive in the long run.  Without exaggeration, it can mean the difference between five hours of work and five hundred.

Is Dictation a Lost Legal Skill?

20 10 2011

In the “olden days” of law, which don’t go back so far, lawyers used dictation to write briefs, correspondence, etc.  They would talk into a tape recorder and then their paralegal or secretary would listen to the tape and transcribe everything.  The lawyer would then go through a printout with a (usually red) pen and give it back to the typist who would make the revisions.  This would go on until the document was complete.

Recently, I spoke with an attorney, who is not that old, who still uses this method.  For a number of years, he has been using digital recorders instead of cassettes, and outsourcing the typing.  Instead of his paralegal/secretary doing the typing, he would email the sound recording to a service, which would transcribe it and then email it back as a Word document.  He could then make revisions himself (often on a printout with a pen which he would then give to his paralegal/secretary).

For many lawyers, this method makes sense since they do not type as fast as a trained typist, and they have practice “thinking through speaking.”

For those of us who grew up with computers, this is neither a natural method of thinking, nor efficient.  My smartphone has a voice recorder, so I recently experimented with writing a letter this way.  I found dictation extremely uncomfortable.  Without the ability to quickly glance at what I “wrote” previously, and quickly make edits, I was lost.  For me, doing my own typing and editing is invaluable.  For my clients, it is a huge money saver – my end work product is much faster than if I dictated and had somebody else type, and my hourly rate is lower because I don’t have to cover the costs of a typist.

But I can see how dictation could be a valuable legal skill.  For instance, every motion is spoken instead of written.  This gives the attorney practice making the arguments that he or she will make in court.  By revising the motion multiple times from start to finish, the attorney also gets very familiar with the brief.  I don’t know if this leads to more victories or just costs more, but it is certainly a skill which newer lawyers will not have.

What Kind of Lawyer Does a Start-Up Need?

27 06 2011

If you’re starting – or thinking about starting – a business, you know that every penny counts. Unless you are lucky enough to have a lot of funding from the start, you will need to make some hard decisions about what to spend on in the beginning. One of those decisions will, undoubtedly, involve legal fees.

As a business owner, you need to make your legal budget work for you. There are some things you can probably do without – or do on your own – in the beginning. There are other things that you need a lawyer to help with. Your lawyer should, ultimately, prevent legal problems and save you money. But hiring a lawyer is a daunting task. Here are the things you should be thinking about as you make this big decision:

– Your lawyer should be able to advise you regarding entity formation, intellectual property, funding and investment, and contracts. He or she should be focused on litigation prevention. If you are in a regulated industry, your lawyer should be familiar with it.

– Your lawyer should be comfortable discussing fees with you. Try to find a lawyer who is flexible about fees.

– Your lawyer should have experience working with start-up companies, and should be enthusiastic about your company. You want a lawyer who will be part of your team. He or she should point out problems and find solutions.

– Your lawyer should be available. Don’t hire someone who never returns phone calls or emails. You might need your lawyer to be available at the last minute.

– Your lawyer should be looking for a long term relationship, not a quick paycheck. A lawyer who wants to keep you as a client will treat you well.