How to work with an attorney (Huffington Post article)–part 1

August 13, 2018 - Posted by: admin - In category:

taxes - No Responses

Some people dread the very thought of dealing with a lawyer and in many instances, this is justified.  However, just like any other profession, there are good attorneys and some which are not so good.  Likewise, regardless of qualifications and acumen, some individuals are pleasant to work with and some are not.  These realities have equal application when dealing with legal professionals.

Since Abraham Lincoln was an attorney before and far longer than he was President of the United States, it is fitting that we reference Mr. Lincoln in the context of the “good” attorneys.  He was certainly good in the context of his skills, knowledge and legal qualifications.  So, when people are being overly critical of the legal profession, I always like to reference Mr. Lincoln as a shining beacon of the positive and praiseworthy selection of lawyers.

I recently found an article on the Huffington Post website by Jack Garson titled “My Lawyer, My Friend: A CEO’s Guide to working with an Attorney.” Even though this article is a little dated (first published in November 2014), I believe that many of the points made by Mr. Garson are accurate and timely in 2018.

Give Them The Story
You may be embarrassed. You may think certain details are irrelevant. You may think you can save money and time by just focusing on the issue or contract provision in question. But a good attorney looks at the big picture, the details and the law that applies to all of that. Give your attorney the full story.

That is the first item mentioned in the article and I concur with the wisdom of the same.  Far too often, in my experience, clients have the mistaken view that because many attorneys bill by the hour (often by the minute), they will somehow save time (and therefore money) if they do as much as they can by themselves, and then ask for assistance only at the last minute and with regard to a small part of the overall project or problem.  While this may work out ok for the clients in some situations, my experience is that it leads to bad results far more often than not, for several reasons.

Legal issues can be much more complex than what appears at first glance–at least the glance of a non-attorney.  Believe it or not, there is real/substantive/valuable/worthwhile training and experience that happens in law school and in the practice of law after a lawyer gets his/her JD and passes the bar exam.  Much of that training/experience/insight relates to gathering facts and data and applying relevant laws, rules, and regulations to such facts and circumstances.  More often than not, when a client (or potential client) gives the attorney only part of the picture (part of the information) in an effort to save money, such limited disclosure leads to the attorney not being in a position to fully understand all the relevant circumstances and therefore not being able to recommend the proper course of action or giving an incorrect “diagnosis” because of such incomplete or incorrect information.  By way of example, let’s use a hypothetical example from medicine to illustrate the point:

Let’s imagine that one day I woke up with a bevy of physical symptoms, from shortness of breath, stinging headache, coughing up blood, etc., etc., etc…I know that something is definitely wrong with me and that I need medical attention.  However, I first spend the morning online seeking guidance from “Dr. Google” and a bevy of medical websites.  I self-diagnose my ailments and then decide that I will need to get an MD to prescribe the medications that I believe will make me well.  Even though my physical problems continue to bother me, I don’t go to the emergency room because I know how expensive that can be.  No, I make an appointment with my general practitioner, who is fully booked until the end of the week.  By the time I arrive at my doctor’s appointment 4 days later, I am feeling far worse.  Even so, I approach that appointment with the mindset that “I know” what is wrong with me (after all, I have consulted with several online resources) and I will therefore simply tell the doctor what he needs to know (selective disclosure) in order to get the prescribed medication that I believe I need.  I feel very “smart” leaving the doctor’s office with the prescription I was seeking. However, I am very unhappy and unwell a week later, as my condition worsens greatly. I eventually spend weeks in the hospital recovering from very serious health problems which could have been diagnosed and treated much earlier (without a hospital visit) if I had been honest and open with my doctor in the beginning.

All of that may seem like an outlandish example.  You may be thinking that nobody would ever be foolish enough to behave in that manner. Well, I see that sort of mentality on a regular basis in the context of people dealing with the legal equivalent of “problems” and “emergencies”.  I understand the concern about saving money whenever possible and not seeking professional help unless and until absolutely necessary (not that I agree with the wisdom of this approach in all instances–but I do understand the logic). Even so, just as with my hypothetical example where my incorrect assumptions and bad decisions eventually led to much more in medical costs and a long stay in the hospital, a similar type of approach to legal issues has the potential to result in even bigger issues and more expense than simply being open and giving a full disclosure to the attorney on the front end. Of course, this assumes that the attorney is honest and ethical and will not take advantage of the situation and “more information” to create unnecessary work and extra legal fees.  But there is always that risk when working with professionals–just as there is the risk that a doctor/surgeon will recommend an unnecessary surgery in order to put more money in his or her pocket.  

Inherent in all professional engagements is the absolute requirement that there is honestly and full-disclosure between the professional and the client. This honestly and disclosure must be bi-lateral in order to serve the client’s best interests. If there is ever any question about the ethics and honesty of the professional (including the attorney), the client should find a new professional.  In a similar manner, I, like most of my colleagues, will not hesitate to decline an engagement (or terminate an ongoing representation) if it becomes apparent that the client is dishonest. Again, there must be two-way honesty, transparency and trust in order to have a successful working relationship between client and attorney (and any other professional).