Fired by your lawyer? Seems like an odd concept. Won’t a lawyer take any client willing to pay? Indeed some will. The best ones will not. Life is simply too short.
If you treat your lawyer like a commodity, you run the risk of losing the most important part of the attorney/client relationship. Even if you think you only need the lawyer for a single project, there are certain things you, as a client, can do to sabotage the relationship:
10. Lie to your lawyer. This is the number one thing you can do to get your lawyer to fire you. Your lawyer is your representative. Every case has its warts. Your lawyer can only help you if he or she knows the whole story. If you lie to your attorney, or fail to disclose pertinent information, by the time the lawyer finds out from the other side, it is often too late.
9. Ask your lawyer to lie for you. Contrary to what you might have seen on television, it is rare for an attorney to lie. Skilled attorneys pride themselves on finding equitable solutions within the law. Asking your lawyer to lie speaks volumes about you as a client. If you ask your lawyer to lie for you, it is unlikely you will get a second chance.
8. Slow pay. Failing to pay your bill within 30 days of the invoice is no guarantee your lawyer will fire you, but it certainly does not help. If you have a concern about the bill, contact your lawyer immediately to discuss it. If you wait until your lawyer contacts you, it is more likely that your lawyer will view a dispute as a delaying tactic, rather than a genuine issue with his or her services.
7. Nitpick the bill. This does not refer to genuine fee disputes. Your attorney should clearly explain and itemize work on the invoice, but all lawyers occasionally make mistakes. Most good lawyers are eager to discuss and remedy fee issues. If you consistently have issues with your lawyer’s bills however, it is likely time to find a new lawyer.
6. Throw common courtesy out the window. Believe it or not, lawyers are people. While you are by no means required to sit through stories of your lawyer’s new puppy’s bladder infection, and certainly should not be charged for it, the more you treat your lawyer like a human being, the more likely you are to receive better service.
5. Call your lawyer after hours. While I receive calls after hours, it is almost always a genuine emergency. If you you discover a genuine problem after hours, your lawyer should provide some way to contact him or her for immediate advice. There are no hard and fast rules regarding after hours contact. Some clients, by the very nature of their business, require more after hours assistance. Fortunately, it should be fairly apparently from the tone of your lawyer’s voice, whether or not you are abusing this privilege.
4. Demand everything immediately. Some types of businesses require immediate action on a lot of projects. If you have one of these businesses, make it clear from the start of the attorney/client relationship. Your lawyer may suggest an alternative fee arrangement for expedited service. At the very least, avoid violating any of the other nine items on this list to keep the relationship on good terms.
3. Be difficult to contact. Your lawyer receives a lot of time sensitive information on your behalf. Nothing is more frustrating than losing a great opportunity for a client just because the lawyer could not reach the client in time to capitalize. You end up spending more money for a worse result, leaving everyone unhappy.
2. Hold everything to the last minute. If you anticipate having to request your attorney doing something at the last minute, let them know so they can make room in their calendar. One last minute request is not going to sour a relationship, but if it starts to become a habit, your lawyer may decide to end the relationship before your next eleventh hour request comes 59 minutes too late.
1. Ignore your lawyer’s advice. Lawyers are not always right. If you do not agree with your lawyer, tell him or her so. If you want to proceed along a different path, a good lawyer should be able to lay down the best strategy for this new approach. If your lawyer believes you have agreed to pursue one course, however, and you unilaterally pursue another, this is a warning sign for any attorney that large problems loom just around the corner.
Other than lying to your lawyer or asking him or her to lie for you, it is unlikely that violating one of the foregoing rules will get cause your attorney to end the relationship. These are not hard and fast rules. If the violations stem from the nature of your business and/or you are an otherwise good client, most attorneys will overlook most of these issues. Unfortunately, once you have pushed too far, it is unlikely the relationship will ever recover. All too often, clients do not realize what they have lost until they go looking for a replacement. If you think finding a good attorney is hard, try finding one after being fired by your last attorney.
The key to any attorney/client relationship is communication. Open and honest communication (on both sides) is key to getting the most out of your lawyer. Remember also, this is not a one-way proposition. It is just as easy to turn the foregoing rules around. If your lawyer is the one violating any of the foregoing rules, talk to them about it immediately. More than likely, agreement can be reached to avoid problems in the future. If not, you, rather than the attorney, may be the one doing the firing.