Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
How to Be a Good Client
A dozen easy ways to help your lawyer help you
There are good lawyers, and then there are lawyers who are the
inspiration for countless jokes. By the same token, there are good
clients, and some that are, well, not as good.
Being a "good client" isn't necessarily a matter of personality.
A good client is someone who makes it easier for us to do the job
we've been hired to do. That is, to get you out of trouble, or
(better yet) to keep you out of trouble. Following are 12 simple
ways to get on your attorney's good side.
- Like your lawyer. You don't have to love him
or her, but you should be very comfortable with the person
representing you. A lawyer who can help you best is one who
understands what you do and how you do it. Even before you contract
with a lawyer, you should have a very open conversation about the
nature of your business and the areas in which you think you might
need legal assistance.
- Discuss key contacts. Your lawyer may be hard
to reach, and you may be hard to reach, too. Let the attorney know
up front the size of your staff, the people who will be able to
contact him and how you prefer to communicate (phone, fax, e-mail,
mail). Realize, too, that your lawyer is likely to have associates
who may be brought in to help out on a particular matter. This is
not because he is ignoring you, but because it may be the the most
effective and cost-efficient way to address your needs.
- Talk about billing. Let your preferences be
known. Do you want a flat project fee, an hourly charge, a retainer
arrangement? Would you like a day-to-day breakout of expenses? How
should out-of-pocket expenses be billed? Once you agree to a
billing approach, expect to sign an engagement letter that spells
out terms and conditions.
- Be open. Even if you're not asked, let the
attorney know about any previous legal issues you have faced. If
you are looking for a "first time" attorney to work with you, say
so. If you are changing from another lawyer, share the reasons. Ask
if the attorney is familiar with the nature of your business, and
always request a conflict of interest check as well as references
and call them.
- Tell all. Tell the whole truth. This may seem
obvious, but over the years I have found that many times clients
conveniently "forget" to share important information that can make
a big difference in the outcome of a particular matter. A good
lawyer is never judgmental. However, for the attorney to be able to
render advice and represent you, she must have all of the facts. No
- Keep mum. There's a time to talk and a time to
keep very quiet. If you anticipate a problem with another party,
let the lawyer know, and do not discuss the matter with anybody.
Loose lips sink ships and also make for costly lawsuits. Let your
attorney handle the matter and oversee all communications. After
all, I tell my clients, "I'm your official worrier. You don't have
to worry anymore."
- Show your hand. In negotiations, you might not
want to tell a supplier up front where you're willing to bend. But
let your attorney know if there is room for flexibility and in what
areas, so that he can properly address key issues and meet your
demands and needs.
- Send everything. When preparing a package of
material for your attorney regarding a particular matter, omit
nothing. Let the lawyer determine what's hot and what's not.
Otherwise, she will have to keep coming back and pestering you for
- Don't cry wolf. Your attorney needs ample time
to do an adequate job. Only in true emergencies should you ask your
lawyer to set aside other matters to address yours immediately.
Most of us are confronted daily with clients who claim they're in
the midst of a crisis; later we find out it was not quite so
urgent. This tactic will backfire.
- Set a time line. Ask for a realistic estimate
of when a job or task can be completed, and be sure that meets your
expectations at the outset. The lawyer may be embroiled in other
pressing business, or the matter at hand may simply require more
time than you realize.
- Expect to work. If you are facing litigation
or some other adversarial proceeding, you can't simply hand over
the matter to your lawyer and walk away. Be prepared to work
together in developing information, documents, and the like. This
will be a team effort, and it won't always be easy.
- Pay your bill. If you have a question about
fees, call the attorney, don't let the bill sit on your desk. One
major client of ours pays his bill as soon as he opens it. Now,
that's a good client.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
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