1. Ask a lot of questions.
No question should be off limits with your lawyer. Ask questions about litigation issues, billing issues, what legal terms mean. Very few clients routinely deal with litigation and understand the legal process or legal terms. Your lawyer should be able to explain these issues in a manner you understand. If your lawyer is put off by your questions, it is probably time to look for another lawyer that is actually going to help you understand your options. This is especially true about bills from your lawyer: if he is put off by questions about a bill, it is time for a different lawyer.
2. Respond quickly to your lawyer’s requests.
It will save you time and money if you respond quickly to requests for information or documents from your lawyer. Your case is not the only case your lawyer is working on, and to the extent he has to wait a week or two for your response and then pick back up where he left off, it is inefficient. Furthermore, you do not want to pay your lawyer’s hourly rate for him to follow-up with you to receive information needed for the case. This will increase your legal bill, and forces your lawyer to spend time thinking about other issues than the case.
Your lawyer should understand that you have a business to run and that you are dealing with other pressing issues. It is important to communicate with your lawyer that you received the request, are busy, but will respond by a certain time or date.
With this said, the rule is mutual. If your lawyer is not timely responding to your requests, it is time to think about changing lawyers.
3. Work with your lawyer before the need arises.
You are engaging a lawyer only for serious issues facing your company, and the attorney you chose to work with should not be taken lightly. I do not think many clients spend the required time to find the right lawyer for them, and simply use the lawyer that someone in their network referred to them. I highly recommend that clients start using an attorney and develop a relationship with their attorneys before the legal need actually arises. This gives the client an opportunity to work with the lawyer and evaluate the relationship, without having the additional stress of pending litigation. Engage a lawyer you were referred to on simple matters, such as helping out on an employee handbook or policy revision. See if the lawyer responds quickly, bills efficiently, and treats you with respect.
4. Don’t kill the messenger.
Litigation sucks and almost no one likes it (only litigation attorneys like litigation and they are a strange group of people). Every client needs to vent to their lawyer every now and then, and I think a good lawyer should help the client work through the stresses of litigation. However, remember that your lawyer is on your side, and don’t take the stresses of litigation out on the person (or people) trying to help resolve the situation. Don’t take this to mean that you cannot question your lawyer’s strategy. If there is something you do not agree with the case strategy or other legal issue, do not be afraid to voice your difference of opinion. Your lawyer needs to have your feedback to develop the best case possible.
5. Be adaptable.
Litigation is uncertain and fluid. If a lawyer could predict the outcomes of litigation, they would be very wealthy. Strategies change as the case develops. Just as running a business, have a plan, but be ready to disregard the plan and change strategies if needed. Understanding this and analyzing the different strategies with your lawyer throughout the course of litigation will result in the best outcome. Also be flexible on how you negotiate. Negotiation styles must change based on where the case is.
Photo: Juan Garcia