Abraham Lincoln, a man well known for his analytical skills, once said that “a lawyer’s time is his stock in trade.” As usual, Lincoln was correct; every time you contact an attorney, you can expect to be charged for the time the attorney takes to field your call, respond to your letter, or provide advice.
Therefore, a critical question for any person or entity relying upon an attorney is: how do you keep from giving your attorney a blank check? There are several key tips to follow when looking to save attorney fees.
- Prepare a Detailed Chronology
- Organize Your Documents
- Prepare a List of All Witnesses
- Bring the Skeletons out of the Closet
- Consider Saving up Questions and Concerns Before Calling Your Attorney
- Ask if There are Matters You Can Take Care Of
Let’s take a moment to review each tip designed to save money on your legal fees.
1) Prepare a detailed chronology, complete with important dates, details of conversations, and correspondence between the parties. Of course, no one is more familiar with the facts surrounding your case than you. While your attorney might need to spend hours pouring through documents trying to make heads or tails of what transpired in your case, you can save time–and fees–by taking a few moments to provide an outline of what occurred.
2) Organize your documents in chronological order and flag those documents which are most important and which tell your side of the story. You may also wish to highlight important sections of documents, or refer to them in your chronology. Ensure that you provide your attorney all documents, even if you don’t think they will be helpful. I’ve had too many clients withhold documents, thinking they weren’t important, only to find out later (and many times too late) that the documents contain the proverbial “smoking gun.” Don’t forget to include any notes, or even ‘doodles’, you created while talking on the phone with anyone involved in the suit. I was once involved in a lawsuit where the client’s doodles/notes taken during a phone call with another party proved to be the most important piece of evidence at the trial.
3) Prepare a list of all witnesses. List all people who either have, or could have, knowledge about any portion of the lawsuit. Provide their names, employers, positions, addresses, and phone numbers. It is always better to provide more, rather than less, information to your attorney; you may even want to give your attorney a short written narrative about what each person may know, may have witnessed, or told you about the event.
4) Bring skeletons out of the closet. If you have something to hide, assume somebody will find it, because they probably will. You will only hurt your own cause, and end up costing yourself more money, should you try to keep damaging information away from your attorney. Armed with knowledge of your weakness, your attorney may be able to fortify your position against attack. There is nothing worse for an attorney than to be blind-sided at trial with information his client didn’t disclose because he thought nobody would ever find out.
5) Consider saving up questions, ideas, and concerns about your lawsuit on a pad of paper. Once you have compiled several of these items, call your attorney or set an appointment to see him. When you have his undivided attention, discuss all matters on your list until you are satisfied. If you instead call each time you have a question, you may be charged for each call at the attorney’s minimum billing increment instead of for one conversation.
6) Ask if there are matters that you can do on your own, rather than having your attorney do it. Often, a client may obtain information, run errands, or perform document gathering and organizing tasks which will advance the cause of the lawsuit, and in the process save him or herself money. Don’t be afraid to tell your attorney that you are concerned about fees, and wish to handle administrative matters yourself.
It’s worthwhile to keep Lincoln’s wise words about a lawyer and the value of his time in mind. By following these six helpful tips, you can help minimize your legal fees while maximizing your attorney’s efforts on your behalf.