Being an Effective Client
Attorneys advise clients that contracts for services should be clear and specific about work to be done, how much it will cost, and how to resolve disputes if the client is dissatisfied with the services. Unfortunately, legal representation contracts are usually vague about charges and the work to be done. The legal client should require that the representation agreement provide the same information as any other contract for services: the work to be done and what it should cost.
An effective client must understand the dimensions of his or her legal problems and the specific tasks that must be performed. The attorney must teach the client about the legal problem just as the physician must teach patients enough about their medical problems to allow them to make informed decisions. Simple legal services do not require a lengthy explanation, but many legal services are complex, requiring months to years of work. These services may cost the client tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. A client engaging an attorney for such a prolonged relationship is entitled to considerable detail about the strategy and progress of his or her case.
The client should ask the attorney to document the information the client is given about the case: the work to be done, who will do the work and their expertise, the billing rates for various personnel, and estimated costs of the different services to be performed. The client may want to ask the attorney to draw a diagram of all the steps in resolving the legal problem. This graphic display of the chronology is effective in eliminating uncertainty about what needs to be done. This diagram should be included in the client’s documentation.
In addition to the traditional bill, the client should ask for a running total for each task outlined on the legal road map. For a deposition, each month’s bill should include the total of all charges relating to the deposition that have been incurred to date. The bill should also group hourly charges for the deposition together rather than presenting all the hourly charges in chronological order. If the client’s road map of the case includes the various steps in a deposition, the client can reconcile the road map with the bill each month.