How To Train Your Attorney

Do I hear a snort?  Or possibly an “Oh, sure?” Does the title sound like How To Train Your Dragon? And when you question an invoice you’ll get your eyebrows singed off?

For many reasons, lawyering has evolved. Remember when your family doctor, the local GP, knew and did everything? Today they are all medical specialists and are questioned and second-guessed by many patients. Attorneys are the same, and most realize they don’t have all the answers. Working in concert with clients is not frowned upon.

Where do you Start?

Like it or not, for health and survival you need your doctor, and your business needs an attorney. The first step is choosing the right attorney for your industry, business, and legal needs.

Find the best person for the job by:

  • Interviewing several. Tell them what you’re doing, request a no-cost meeting, and pay attention to their “fit” with you and your business style.
  • Asking about their areas of specialization and how they can get you other expertise when you need it. Make sure you understand what “privilege” means.
  • Inquiring about the office staff – is there a back-up team for an urgent matter?
  • Discussing fees and flat-fee options for certain work like contract reviews. Are they open, flexible, and even pro-active in helping you manage costs? Insist on regular billing – not a huge whack six months down the road.

Getting Down to Work

  • Once you’re comfortable and think the relationship can work, explain your business in depth and your risk concerns.
  • To address your legal needs, I recommend you ask them for ideas from their experience before telling them what you think you need.
  • Ask how they have handled these issues for others – get “real” stories and examples.
  • Ask how they handle disagreements with clients. Do they use a written service agreement? You want an advisor who works with you, doesn’t tell you just what you want to hear, or gives ultimatums.

Address Future Issues

  • What could come up to derail all your plans? Raise issues now while everyone’s friendly. Be open and brutally honest about you and any potential problems.
  • Will they take an active role in learning about you and your business? How do they charge for that learning curve?
  • Can you create a plan to prevent a legal emergency? Will they accept a heads-up email that something’s coming up and work with your schedule?
  • How will they make sure you have complete understanding of their guidance or recommendation? Can they provide a legal dictionary and a lower paid clerk to clarify or explain a complex or obscure remark?

You should also quiz them on whether they’re willing to have a general discussion meeting at no charge once or twice a year. Ask them to lunch, then learn about legal trends that could impact you, contract revisions to better protect all parties, etc.

Anything you can do to proactively manage the relationship will be good for you and your attorney. You need someone you trust, respect, and enjoy doing business with.  With some focus and discipline it’s easy to train your attorney – and yourself – to get the best for your business and peace of mind

Call or email Charles (510-685-3883 | charles@risksmartsolutions.com) if you need more details or have a unique situation – there’s no obligation.

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3 Comments

  1. Charles T. Wilson August 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks to both Bart and Mary for their insightful comments.- real experience talking!

  2. Charles T. Wilson August 15, 2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    A colleague, Mary Janaitis (mary@msjconsulting.com) an excellent and experienced HR consultant, gave me this comment and asked that I post it
    “Excellent article. I would add that “general purpose” attorneys who say they can do it all are risky from an HR perspective as the employment law world has gotten increasingly complex, including different regs in different states, or counties/ cities within states. California leads the pack!

  3. Bart Gragg August 12, 2014 at 8:26 am - Reply

    I always tell people to take an attorney to lunch – before you need one. Not all attorneys are bad! I have several that are friends and I am the furthest thing from being an attorney. I am comfortable in knowing who I can go to for advice when I need it. Advice I can trust.

    Also, attorneys methodologies differ. Some are bulldogs. Others go about the business quietly, trying to avoid conflict. Look for the style that most fits your needs. The question here might be “Which method will work best in this instance? Do I want to attack? Or do I want to take the time to sort this out…”

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