What to Expect from Your Lawyer – The Bill. Five Tips for Controlling Your Legal Fees

shutterstock_124994786-thumb-400x500-65288Lawyers can seem like they’re from a foreign land with their own strange customs and language. And, let’s face it, sometimes (okay, a lot of times) some lawyers seem unapproachable, which can make the client experience less than a good one.

At Hightower Reff, we do our best to be approachable, be clear about our legal fees, and have a productive relationship with our clients. A big part of that productive relationship is helping our clients know what to expect in all areas of their cases so they can be realistic about their goals.

In this series, What to Expect from Your Lawyer, Hightower Reff Partner Attorney Susan Reff will give you some useful information to help you understand why your lawyer handles things the way they do and to maintain reasonable expectations regarding your attorney and your case.

This week: The Bill. Five tips for controlling your legal fees.

1. Pick Your Battles

We covered this in detail in the last artcle of this series, and it’s so important when it comes to controlling your legal fees, that it’s worth repeating.

Money is an important form of “fuel” to help you reach your goals in life in many areas, including reaching your legal goals.

If your lawyer charges by the hour or by the task, the more issues you choose to fight, the more hours it will take. The more hours it takes, the more money you spend. Unless your money fuel tank is unlimited, you have to decide where to focus your money fuel.

If you spend it all fighting over things that really don’t matter in the end, you may find you don’t have any left for the issues in your case that truly matter to your life and your child’s. Pick your battles and put your money fuel where it counts.

2. Practice Phone Efficiency 

In an earlier article, we talked about what to expect from your lawyer regarding phone calls. Phone calls are a fast way to run up your bill. Remember: each time you call, you get a charge on your legal bill.

Unless it’s something urgent or time sensitive, put off the call if the question can wait until the next time your lawyer calls you, or until you have more than one question. We recommend our clients make a list of these “little” questions that are bound pop up and ask them all at once.

If you need regular reassuring from your attorney personally, and if your attorney is willing and able, you may want to schedule a weekly phone call with them when you’re in the active phases of your case. That way, you can have peace of mind by touching base at least once a week, and have your “little question list” ready to go for the weekly call.

3.   Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

When you talk to your lawyer, stick to the legal issues in your case. As compassionate as your attorney may be, and as much as they may care about your case, they are a counselor at law, not the kind for emotional or mental health support. In other words, your lawyer is qualified to give you legal advice, not emotional therapy.

A licensed professional counselor can be an important support during stressful litigation. Their hourly rate is probably quite a bit lower than your attorney’s and may be covered by your health insurance. Legal fees are 100 percent out of your pocket.

4. Know How Your Attorney’s Firm Bills  

Attorneys can bill by the hour, by the task, with a flat fee or by a percentage of the money you recover. Aside from attorney fees, legal costs like depositions can add up. So you don’t have any surprises, find out up front your firm’s billing method and what costs your attorney expects may be involved in litigating your case.

Also, if your lawyer bills by the hour, find out in what increments they bill. A lawyer who bills in a fifteen minute increment will end up costing you more than one who bills in a six minute increment. For example, at $275 an hour, a four minute phone call will cost you $27.50 at a firm that bills in six minute increments. The same phone call will cost you $68.75 if your firm charges in fifteen minute increments.

5. Put It in Writing

Signing a Contract for Legal Services with a law firm may seem daunting, but it’s as important for your protection as it is for the firm. The contract sets the rules between you and your lawyer on how your representation will be handled – including fees. Make sure you have a contract that includes clear language regarding the firm’s rates for the attorneys and support staff and the method of calculating your legal fees. Read it thoroughly before you sign.

If there is ever a disagreement about how you’re being billed, a contract that is clear in its terms can be a good thing to refer to in deciding whether billing is happening according to your agreement with the firm.

Next Time…

Watch for Part IV of our series – unnecessary roughness in the practice of law and why it could mean a flag for your case.  

Let Us Know if We Can Help 

To find out more about Hightower Reff and how we can help, call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts. 

What to Expect from Your Lawyer – Five Key Reasons You Need to Pick your Battles in Court

shutterstock_268621781-thumb-400x267-65274Lawyers can seem like they’re from a foreign land with their own strange customs and language. And, let’s face it, sometimes (okay, a lot of times) some lawyers seem unapproachable, which can make the client experience less than a good one.

At Hightower Reff, we do our best to be approachable, talk like real people and have a productive relationship with our clients. However, like many lawyers, despite our best efforts to do this, we sometimes fall short of our clients’ expectations.

In this series, What to Expect from Your Lawyer, Hightower Reff Partner Attorney Susan Reff will give you some useful information to help you understand why your lawyer handles things the way they do and to maintain reasonable expectations regarding your attorney. 

This week: five of the most important reasons to pick your battles when you are involved in a court case.

Focusing Expectations & Picking Battles

Picking battles is important to help you focus your expectations and develop your strategy for your case. Each court case is made up issues to be decided. In criminal cases those issues, in large part, involve proof as to whether or not the defendant did what he or she is accused of doing. In civil cases – like divorce and child custody – the issues involve who is entitled to what property, and who should have what time and decision making power with the children. 

Sometimes an entire case can rise or fall on one issue, especially in criminal law, and your biggest (and perhaps only) battle choice may be whether or not to enter a plea agreement. Sometimes, however, you have more choices to make regarding your battles and focusing your expectations. This is especially true in family law. 

When your lawyer advises you to back off on an issue, there is a reason. Here are five of the key reasons to listen to that advice, focus your expectations and pick your battles:

1. You Don’t Want to Spend the Rest of your Life (or what feels like it) in Court

Even when the two sides aren’t fighting over every little thing, court cases take a long time. Every issue you choose to fight about adds weeks or months onto the clock. 

First, the lawyers will go back and forth trying to reach an agreement, then, they may have to file motions or other papers with the court about that specific issue asking the judge to decide. Depending on the issue, there may be a special hearing, or it may be dealt with at trial. Either way, chances are it will add time onto your case. 

In some cases, like criminal cases where your freedom is on the line, and your attorney believes the law is on your side, it may be worth all the time in the world to fight nearly every issue. However, in other cases – including divorce and child custody – you should weigh the time it will take to fight over the issue against the likely outcome and ask yourself if the battle is worth it. 

An experienced attorney can advise you regarding your chances of success if you fight a certain issue in your case, and how much time it is likely to take. With that information, you are better equipped to decide if your time investment is worth the likely return.  

2. Other Things are More Important   

Before you decide to fight a battle over an issue in your case, decide your intentions and priorities and make sure winning that issue is in line with them. In other words, focus on what’s important to you.

If you choose to prioritize one issue in your case, and you are successful, it may be at the expense of something else. This is especially true in family law. The court is going to try to make things “equitable,” so issues left up to the court are likely to go a little your way, and a little not your way. 

For example, when it comes to a divorce property settlement, it may mean that you get the boat, but you don’t get the savings account with a value comparable to the boat. Maybe that’s fine with you because you really like boating. But, if you go after the boat just to keep your spouse from having it, and you really need the money instead, you could end up cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

In child custody issues, relationships are usually the most important consideration. First, you should consider how any issue at hand may affect your child’s relationship with the other parent and/or with you. Next, consider how the issue will affect your relationship with the other parent and – as a result – your ability to effectively co-parent your child. If the impact of fighting about an issue on any of these areas will be worse than if you reach a compromise, don’t fight. Work it out. Even if it means giving a little more than you really want. In the end, the return on your investment of sacrifice is likely to pay off.  

3. There are Long Term Consequences  

Decisions you make in your case – especially in family law – could affect you, your spouse, and children for many years.

As an example, in a divorce, you may really want your ex’s mother’s casserole dish. Maybe you really love it, because you loved your mother-in-law & she has passed, so you just want this one reminder of her… or maybe you know your spouse really wants it, so you want to take it to spite them. Either way, decide whether the casserole dish is worth it in the scheme of life.  

In twenty years, is it going to have been worth your time fighting over a piece of bakeware? Probably not. Perhaps the long term consequences will result in damage to your integrity and your ability to remain amicable with you spouse. Those things could render the battle a lost cause – regardless of how it turns out.  

The consideration of long term consequences is especially important when children are involved in a divorce. 

4. Your Money Tree Died

You may have heard the saying that all problems have a solution so long as you have the time and money to find it and make it happen. In other words, time and money are fuel to reach a goal. The same can be said in many court cases. 

Along with costing time, court cases cost money. In most of them, your lawyer charges by the hour. That means every additional battle adds to the bill. Unless your money fuel tank is unlimited, you are going to have to decide where you want to focus your money fuel. If you spend it all fighting over things like casserole dishes, you will soon find you don’t have any left for the issues in your case that are truly impactful in your life and your child’s. Put your money fuel where it counts. 

5. Your Case is About the Law – Not Principals

Very rarely (perhaps almost never) is a court case about principals. Rather, court cases are about the law. When people involved in a court case talk about principals, they are talking about what they feel or believe is “fair” or what they deserve. They are talking about emotions. However, what you feel or believe you deserve isn’t relevant in court. The law is only thing that is relevant. 

If your lawyer is being honest, they will tell you the same. It’s your lawyer’s job to guide your expectations accordingly. That means focusing on the law, not your emotions. 

For example, if you enter your divorce with the goal of taking your spouse to the cleaners because he or she was unfaithful or was a poor excuse for a spouse – “out of the principal of the matter” – you are going to end up disappointed. 

The court does not care whether your ex is an ass. The court can only concern itself with enforcing the law. In most aspects of divorce, and even child custody, being an ass does not mean you are entitled to less money, property, or time with your child. Further, your spouse getting less of any of these things is not going to change a thing about your spouse or what happened between you.

Don’t Make Your Battle Plan Alone 

There is no substitute for the advice of an experienced attorney to help you pick your battles.  Hightower Reff can help. Call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

Next Time…

Watch for Part III of our series when we explore ways you can help control your legal fees.   

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.  

What to Expect from Your Lawyer – Top Five Things to Know About Phone Calls

shutterstock_155858537-thumb-500x334-65280Lawyers can seem like they’re from a foreign land with their own strange customs and language. And, let’s face it, sometimes (okay, a lot of times) some lawyers seem unapproachable, which can make the client experience less than a good one.

At Hightower Reff, we do our best to be approachable, talk like real people and have a productive relationship with our clients. However, like many lawyers, despite our best efforts to do this, we sometimes fall short of our clients’ expectations.

In this series, What to Expect from Your Lawyer, Hightower Reff Partner Attorney Susan Reff will give you some useful information to help you understand why your lawyer handles things the way they do and to maintain reasonable expectations regarding your attorney.

This week: Top five things to know about phone calls.

1. Call Me, Maybe? – Or Maybe Your Lawyer is a Jerk

One of the most common complaints about lawyers is that it may seem they take forever to return calls or don’t return them at all.

Despite the appearance, most of us really do get that timely return calls are important to the client. I say most of us, because – as with any profession – there are a few bad lawyers out there. Either they are bad at managing their case load, have personal problems or they are just jerks. However, other than those exceptions, we attorneys do our very best to make our clients happy with all aspects of our communications with them – including phone calls.

But there are several reasons you may not get a timely return call or talk directly with your attorney at all. Understanding why and keeping reasonable expectations can be helpful to a good client experience.

2. It’s Usually About Time

Good lawyers attract a lot of clients. Lawyers with a lot of clients are always pressed for time. That’s why they typically rely on trusted staff to help manage their cases and communicate with clients. Support staff can answer routine questions, field calls and follow up with the lawyer on any questions the lawyer needs to answer. This frees your lawyer up to do things that only they can do like planning your legal strategy, attending hearings, solving emergencies and negotiating with opposing counsel.

In other words, your lawyer has to prioritize his or her time to do their job well. That doesn’t mean you aren’t important. In fact, it means you’re so important, they want to be sure they can devote the necessary time to your case when your case demands it. They need to do the same for their other clients as well.

As a result — unless you’re in the middle of a complex issue, crisis or negotiation in your case, preparing for a hearing or trial that is happening soon or in the throes of another legally dire aspect of your case — it’s reasonable that your attorney may enlist the support of another lawyer in the firm, a paralegal or assistant to take care of your call.

3. It’s Privileged  

In some circumstances, a lawyer actually can’t call a person back because of attorney client privilege, such as when the caller isn’t the client. This commonly happens when someone other than the client is paying the lawyer’s bill.

For example, if you hire a lawyer to represent your son in his divorce, the lawyer can’t talk to you about the case unless your son signs a release.

In some circumstances – like criminal cases – the lawyer may not talk to you even if a release has been signed. This is because sharing details of the case with anyone but the client may mean that information is no longer privileged and could be used against the client. You could be called by the other side to testify about what the attorney told you.

4. The World’s Most Expensive Pay Phone

Before you pick up the phone to call your lawyer – remember that each time you call, you are going to incur a charge on your bill. Sometimes calling your attorney can seem like the world’s most expensive pay phone.

Unless it’s something urgent or time sensitive, ask yourself if the question can wait until the next time they call you, or until you have more than one question. We recommend our clients make a list of these “little” questions that are bound pop up and ask them all at once.

If you are a person who needs regular reassuring from your attorney personally, if your attorney is willing and able, you may want to schedule a weekly phone call with them when you are in the active phases of your case. That way, you can have peace of mind by touching base at least once a week, and have your “little question list” ready to go for the weekly call.

5. Sometimes It’s Not a Good Fit 

There are many legitimate reasons a lawyer may take a long time to return your call or not call back at all. But like with any personal service, sometimes what the lawyer is willing or able to do and what you want does not mesh. It may just not be a good fit. If that is the case, it’s best to figure it out early and find a better fit.

A good attorney who is the right fit for you is crucial, and Hightower Reff can help. Call us at 402-932-9550, or contact us online.

Next Time…

Watch for Part II of our series: Why You Need to Pick Your Battles. 

This article should not be construed as legal advice. Situations are different and it’s impossible to provide legal advice for every situation without knowing the individual facts.