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Ten Things Your Lawyer May Not Tell You (Part 1)

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Fred S. Steingold |

Ask questions to learn scope of legal services, aptitude of attorney

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — During the course of running your coin laundry business, you may find yourself in need of legal services. Your lawyer may not automatically tell you everything you need to know about these services, and if you don’t ask questions, you may be in for some surprises.

There are 10 things your lawyer may not tell you—unless you ask. Here are No. 1 through 5:

1. “I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE.”

You’ve found some new space for your expanding laundry business. After stumbling through the dense verbiage in the landlord’s lease, you decide to have your lawyer review the lease before you sign. Smart move.

But what if your lawyer has never reviewed a commercial lease before? Will he or she volunteer that information? Maybe not.

Legal ethics don’t require a voluntary disclosure. They only require a lawyer to become competent in a legal matter before proceeding. In theory, a lawyer can get up to speed by consulting with a colleague, reading professional books, and attending seminars.

But, given a choice between a novice and a lawyer who has checked out 50 commercial leases, wouldn’t you be more comfortable with the more experienced one? If so, find out how much work of this type your lawyer has done.

2. “YOU DON’T NEED A LAWYER TO DO THIS.”

There are many law-related tasks you can do yourself—like getting a tax assessment reduced or suing in small claims court.

There are other things that can be accomplished by hiring non-lawyers who can work more effectively and charge less than a lawyer. For example, an accountant may be better and cheaper at sorting out a financial mess. A real estate broker may be better at negotiating a land purchase.

Some lawyers won’t tell you about less expensive options unless you ask.

3. “I CHARGE FOR FAXES, PHOTOCOPIES AND POSTAGE.”

When you’re paying a lawyer $250 or $300 an hour—or even more—you may be shocked to find yourself nickeled and dimed as well. But it happens.

Some lawyers bill for the faxes they send or receive, for the photocopies they produce, and for postage and long-distance charges. Don’t assume your lawyer will be absorbing these expenses as a part of doing business.

Get a clear understanding up front about whether you’ll be hit with these incidental costs.

4. “MY PARALEGAL WILL BE HANDLING THIS.”

Paralegals—also called “legal assistants”—play an important role in a modern law office. Rightfully so. They’re usually well trained and capable of handling many routine transactions.

But what if your lawyer is planning to let the paralegal do all the work? You may want to know.

For one thing, you’ll want to make sure the paralegal’s time is being billed at a substantially lower rate than the lawyer’s. In addition, you’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with the amount of the lawyer’s supervision—or lack of it—that the paralegal will be receiving.

You may also want to meet the paralegal so you can have an effective working relationship.

5. “I’M ABOUT TO GO AWAY FOR SIX WEEKS.”

Terror can grip your heart when you call your lawyer to ask a follow-up question, only to be told, “I’m sorry. Ms. Jones is on a long trip to Asia and can’t be reached.” Reasonable access is a reasonable expectation, especially in today’s digital world. You’d like to know in advance if your lawyer will be out of touch for an extended period.

To avoid rude surprises, inquire about the lawyer’s travel plans, and who will be handling the lawyer’s clients in his or her absence. Ask to meet the back-up person, and make sure that he or she will be fully briefed about your legal situation.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!

About the author

Fred S. Steingold

Hamilton, Judge, Schroer & Steingold, PLC

Attorney

 

Fred S. Steingold practices law in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the firm of Hamilton, Judge, Schroer & Steingold, PLC. He is the author of The Legal Guide for Starting and Running a Small Business and The Employer's Legal Handbook, published by Nolo Press.

 

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