Attorneys fees can seem expensive, particularly if you only concentrate on the rate charged. The other component of the rate is the time it takes to do a task or the experience level of the lawyer. A lawyer that charges $300 / hr and takes 1/2 hour to accomplish a task or that does not need to research the issue is more efficient than a lawyer or paralegal that bills at $150 / hr but takes 1.5 hours to accomplish the same task or has to research the issue. So, what makes your fees higher and how do you mitigate them?
Below is a list of tips that we have gathered over the last 30+ years in seeing some bills end up higher than others:
- Organize your thoughts. Just as in business, a more organized plan will get you where you are going faster and more efficiently. Before you call your lawyer to “chit chat,” think through why you are calling, what information or advice you need, and be concise and to the point. We love to chit chat and we will buy you lunch and chit chat on legal issues for free, but when we are at work we generally bill.
- Organize your documents. The least efficient and most expensive resource to help you organize your documents is a lawyer or paralegal. The more sorting, sifting, re-organizing and general searching we have to do, the more expensive it is for you.
- In a deal, pin down the big issues. Transactionally, many clients think it is easy to shift a deal from one form to another (say from an asset to a stock purchase, or from a sublicense form of license to a order solicitation form) – it is not easy. In larger deals, particularly where significant tax issues arise, structuring the deal first is absolutely key. Use a non binding memorandum of understanding or letter of intent, or have a pre-call with your accountant or tax lawyer first. Once a deal is set in motion, if it changes midstream, it costs more. Consider if you got half way through college and changed your major from art history to electrical engineering. It takes more time.
- Be responsive. Probably the single most significant complaint we lawyers have is when clients do not respond to issues that are on deadlines. We have to remind, and call, and email . . . and so on, and you are billed every time we have to do that, trying to get you to provide us the responses.
- Don’t wait to the last minute. Many clients think that waiting to the last minute and giving the lawyer no real time to draft the document or resolve the issue makes the lawyer more efficient. It doesn’t! It makes us less efficient. Why? Because we are at some risk if later we miss some issue that we should have raised, so compressing the work makes us worry more and hence, be inefficient trying to make sure we have caught everything. Think about a construction project. Whenever one company falls behind and the others have to “rush” you end up with “compression damages” – enhanced costs. The same thing happens to lawyers.
- Make decisions. Being indecisive can cause increased fees. We often need decisions to be made, sometimes quickly. When they are not made, they cause us to “start and stop.” Being busy, we cannot always remember where we stopped, so we have to go back and get up to speed. This costs us time and you money.
- Work as a team. Your team includes your accountant, lawyer, banker and insurance agent, and sometimes a business consultant. These team members must work together and *communicate*. Now, sometimes this is hard for us because of the attorney client privilege. If we share attorney client privileged information with many of the team members, it may waive the privilege. But, there are still basic decisions and issues that can be shared and coordinated.
It may sound odd, but we actually want your fees to be as low as possible, and it sometimes troubles us that we have to charge for some things that have made us inefficient. So let us help you!