Throughout this blog I will refer to lawyers as advisers. Most people are unfamiliar with this concept. They think you hire lawyers to represent you, pay them, and they do their thing. For example, you need an employment contract for a new manager that you hire. You can either pay a lawyer to whip up an agreement from scratch, and then pay him to review any changes required by the employee – or you can find an employment agreement that you and the employee like, and then have your lawyer review it. If he finds that it needs a complete overhaul, you may not save a dime, or he may not even charge you to review it due to its completeness. I learned this lesson early on when I saw lawyers charge big bucks for contracts they printed off their computers and only changed the names and dates.
When it comes to agreements, you can almost always find a draft of something similar on the internet. You will save a fortune in legal fees if you can use the lawyer as a consultant rather than a technician. In fact there are a number of kits you can buy to do anything from incorporate to file a patent (remind me to tell you about my $25,000 patent experiment).
Unless your time in worth more than $175 to $250 per hour, I suggest you draft your own agreements when you can and then show them to your attorney. I have even had documents going back and forth between parties before getting an attorney’s blessing. Of course most attorneys really don’t feel comfortable with this arrangement. It is not because they are just fee hungry. Every attorney has their own style. Even though they may be able to edit your document to make is say what it is supposed to say, they may wind up doing as much work as if they had created it in the first place. It is just a judgment call on your part. The other reasons this makes attorneys feel awkward is because they don’t get this request very often. Find an attorney that will work with you the way you want to work with them. They’re out there.
Managing your Lawyer
Should you decide to use an attorney or use them regularly, this page is designed to teach you how to be your own “in-house counsel”. Managing the client attorney relationship means defining the scope of the engagement and having very clear understanding of your expectations. In many cases it will be impossible for an attorney to give an accurate quote for his/her services. Where possible, try to limit the cost to what you can afford and explain that you must approve any time expenditures beyond the pre-approved limit. In cases where you have been given a range you will want to keep track of how much time has been spent in regular intervals. All attorneys work by the hour and have an incentive or even a requirement to bill a certain number of hours per month. You may want to interview several lawyers before you choose one. You will get a sense of who is likely to be the most effective and affordable. In some cases you may be able to negotiate a flat fee. Contracts, incorporation, bankruptcy, and other document type work lend themselves to flat fees.