6 Helpful Things I Do for My Clients That You Should Expect From Your Lawyer
I Wish All Lawyers Did These Basic Things I Do for My Legal Clients
I don’t talk about myself much on Law Soup, because it’s not about me, it’s about providing helpful legal and civics information for people. But part of that information consists of how you can get legal services, and what you can and should expect from lawyers and law firms.
So I want to let people know how I do things in my law practice which helps people with small business, freelance, and tax issues, and how this differs from how most lawyers do things. Spoiler alert: quite different!
You may not be surprised about this, but unfortunately many lawyers don’t practice law in a way that works best for their clients. Many simply try to make as much money as possible, and do the bare minimum that clients need.
Frankly, this doesn’t even make sense as far as having a sustainable law practice. When lawyers go the extra mile, clients are happier and are more willing to come back to get more services down the line and to refer their friends and family.
Aside from this self-serving motivation, what ever happened to simply being a good, ethical person and treating others well because it’s the right thing to do?
Anyway, here’s a look at how I treat my clients in my law practice. This post will irk many lawyers, because they don’t want to do things differently. To be fair, many of these things may not work well for all areas of law (for example, a criminal defense practice necessarily operates quite differently from a consumer rights firm). But wherever possible, I hope other lawyers will follow suit (so to speak), and implement more client-centered practices.
1. Affordable, Transparent Pricing
$1000 per hour for legal services? Yes, some lawyers actually charge this or close to it. Perhaps it’s worth it if you’ve got millions of dollars on the line. While the thousand-dollar lawyer may be an extreme end point, unfortunately it may not be so easy to find lawyers who charge more reasonable rates.
And it’s especially rare for lawyers to actually be upfront about the full costs of their services. When lawyers charge hourly, the number of hours the services will likely take is a hugely important question for figuring out what your total cost will be. Hopefully you can get a good estimate of the number of expected hours, but even this may be too much to ask of some lawyers.
Wherever possible, I believe in the flat fee model. It’s a total amount, discussed upfront, for the services you need. I generally charge very reasonable flat rates for my services, so you won’t be surprised by a huge bill like with many other lawyers who only charge hourly. And this is the really shocking thing (to other lawyers): my fees are all out there on my website!
In situations where it is not possible to do a flat fee, I charge a competitive hourly rate ($250/hr; $225/hr for social enterprises and non profits) and I give an estimated cost based on how many hours I expect it will take.
2. No Nickel and Diming
Some lawyers will charge you for every 6 minutes of work they do for you! The logic is that 6 minutes is 1/10 of an hour, so it’s an easy way to calculate 1/10 of the hourly fee. But is it really necessary to charge at all for this minuscule amount of time? I think not.
Many lawyers will also charge you for minor expenses, like each page they print out (when they may not even need to print at all). It just feels petty at that point.
Again, I prefer flat fees to avoid the nonsense of tracking and billing for each minute I spend working on something. But when I do need to charge hourly, I usually just round (down, not up!) to the nearest half hour. And I don’t bother to charge for expenses unless they are significant.
3. No Unnecessary Costs
Overnighting or expediting documents is often unnecessary and a waste of money. At the very least, a lawyer should ask the client if they want to spend the extra money (sometimes hundreds of dollars) to submit the document 1 day earlier!
Other examples of unnecessary costs may include things like the “corporate kit” binder and seal. Many clients love to have the physical corporate documents arranged nicely in a high quality binder and case with the company name on it. For others, all-digital docs are just fine, thank you. I like to give people the choice.
4. A La Carte Menu of Services
Another way to avoid unnecessary costs for the client is to give her options for what the lawyer can do versus what the client may be comfortable doing herself. Clients have varying levels of knowledge and comfort with legal compliance. Some may be fine to handle simple things like a DBA or business license. Others tell me to just go ahead and do everything for them. Either way is fine with me!
5. I Do the Basic Stuff that Other Lawyers Won’t
Many lawyers won’t give you options such as whether you want them to handle licenses or permits, because they don’t even do these at all! Yes, most people would think that a business lawyer will take care of all their business legal needs, but it often doesn’t work that way.
Lawyers may think it is too trivial to handle certain things, perhaps because they can’t justify charging enough money for it. Or they often assume it is so simple that the client won’t need a lawyer for it. On the contrary, I have found that many clients need significant assistance on all things legal. And I’m happy to help.
6. Actually Explaining Things in a Way that Makes Sense to Clients
Another word for lawyer is “counselor,” and I wholeheartedly take on the role of counseling my clients. It is unfortunate that many lawyers will just dump a bunch of documents on their clients and say “here you go, our work is done.” But the work is really not done. It’s important to help people understand the processes and requirements of the law, at the beginning, middle, and really on an ongoing basis.
For simpler tasks, I am happy to explain the process of how to do these things so clients don’t have to pay me to do it.
Legal stuff can be confusing, and it’s the job of a lawyer to help sort it all out for people. That’s why I created Law Soup, and wrote the books in the Law is for Everyone series. It’s all part of my mission to democratize the law.