Help your lawyer to help you
I would like to thank Val Antoff for preparing this article which I am sure will make interesting reading.
How to reduce your legal bill?
Get documents and info ready
- Ask for a questionnaire and bring it completed to the initial interview.
- Bring copies of all relevant documents to your first interview including:
- Financial statements;
iii. Court documents;
- Videos, photos, valuation reports etc
- If you need evidence from a third party it may be cheaper to arrange it yourself, e.g. valuation of a property or a company.
- Lawyers work with chronologies – this is a list of events in chronological order. Have one ready before you see your lawyer.
- Instead of handing over a bundle of documents to your lawyer you can save on costs by categorising and indexing the documents yourself.
- Do not spend time in the presence of your lawyer reading lengthy documents and completing questionnaires and other forms if you can do this at home.
- Have clear objectives
Write down the best outcome that you are hoping to achieve in your case. Then write down the second and third best outcomes that you will be prepared to accept. Expect a difference in legal costs for achieving each of the three different outcomes.
- Choose the most cost effective method to achieve your objectives
Research the different options for resolving your problem – negotiation, mediation, collaboration, arbitration, court action etc. Court action is usually not the only option but it is likely to be the most expensive one. Try resolving your problem through one of the more cost effective methods before going to court. Your lawyer should be able to advise you further.
- Ask for an estimate of costs
Lawyers in Western Australia are obliged to give clients an estimate of costs in writing in the form of a retainer agreement if the expected costs are likely to be more than $1,500. Ensure that you have been given not only an estimate of costs but also a list of variables that may affect the size of your legal bill.
- Scope of work
Define the scope of work to be performed by your lawyer – any scope creep will increase your legal costs.
- Have a budget
Tell your lawyer what your budget is, if you have one, and seek assurances that your matter can be completed within your budget.
- Communicating with your lawyer
Request from your lawyer a progress report. Discuss with your lawyer the time interval between each report and avoid contacting him/her just to follow up unless you have to. Your lawyer should be forwarding to you all correspondence from the other party in relation to the matter as soon as it arrives. Calls to mobile phones are usually charged at a premium – give your lawyer a landline number, if you have one, as your primary contact number.
- Recovery of legal costs
Check with your lawyer if it is likely for you to recover from the other party any of the legal costs in your matter. Not all costs are recoverable and even if you are awarded costs by the court you will never be able to recover the total amount you have spent on your lawyer.
You might be able to cover all points from 2 to 9 above easily if your lawyer has project management skills and knowledge. Ask your lawyer for a written outline for the management of your matter.
- Quality systems
Look for a law firm which has been accredited by the Law Society in your State as a quality service provider. Such firms usually have a quality management system in place which helps increase efficiency, predictability and quality. Efficiency is inversely proportional to your legal bill – higher efficiency means usually lower costs.
- Be succinct
Stick to the relevant facts rather than the emotional issues in the matter, avoid irrelevant issues, you will be paying for those too.
- Involving family and friends
If you are bringing family members and friends for support to your lawyer’s office instruct them to stay quiet. They may be more useful to you if they take notes of what is being said than becoming involved in the discussion with your lawyer.
- Pay bills on time
Lawyers are entitled to charge you interest on any outstanding bills. Make sure that you can secure the funds before you engage your lawyer and subsequently pay your bills on time.
- Choose your lawyer carefully
Changing lawyers after you have signed the retainer is most likely going to increase your legal costs. The new lawyer will not be able to take off from where your former lawyer stopped work on your matter. The new lawyer will charge you a premium for familiarising him/herself with your matter.
- Settle early
Consider all possible options to settle the matter early. Ask your lawyer to help you reach a sound commercial decision. Early settlement is likely to reduce your legal bill significantly.
- Engage a lawyer to review your documents before your sign
Review by a lawyer of contractual documents ( such as a contract for building a house, sale of a real estate, retirement village agreements etc) that you are considering signing is most likely to be cheaper than your lawyer’s fees for trying to resolve issues arising from the ill-advised execution of these documents.
- Documents that you should prepare now
There are certain documents that you should prepare now while you can such as your personal estate plan and your business succession plan (if you have a business). Failure to do so in time is likely to cost your loved ones a lot more when they will need to deal with your estate.
- Do not delay seeking legal advice
Delay may not only be costly but may also block you from starting legal action. There are certain time limits that apply.
- Unbundle your legal services
If you are willing and able to do some of the work in your matter then you may ask your lawyer to carry out not all but only some specific tasks on your behalf. This approach may reduce your bill in the short term but may be costly later if you make a mistake.
- Always have a written agenda
Write down the issues that you want to discuss with your lawyer. Always identify the issues is dispute and the agreed issues with the other party. Email or post the agenda to your lawyer so that he/she can get prepared before the meeting so you can get the maximum benefit of your meeting.
- Contact support staff for non-legal questions
Most questions that do not involve legal advice may be answered by your lawyer’s personal assistant. Talking to support personnel is always cheaper than talking to your lawyer.
- No two cases are the same
Do not rely on the advice of your friends or family members which is based on their personal experiences. It may be more expensive to fix problems created by such an advice than to pay for your lawyer’s advice instead.
- Fixed fees legal service
If you are looking for predictability of legal costs than you should consider a lawyer who offers fixed fee legal services.