Let me tell you a little secret about being an attorney. For me, by far, the least favorite part of my job as an attorney is dealing with other attorneys! I enjoy clients, and I can handle judges and other professionals, but some attorneys are just not pleasant creatures. ☺
I’ll let you in on a little “legal” secret: attorneys are the source of most attorney jokes. We make up jokes about our colleagues to help cope with the stress some of these individuals can create. In short, I am very empathetic to someone who says he or she doesn’t want to deal with an attorney!
I will also add in fairness that just as with people in any other profession, there are all types and grades of attorneys, including some who are first rate in all respects (and are even pleasant people who adhere to the Boy Scout’s Law, you know, “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly ….”).
As is the case with any professional you’re seeking to hire, you should do your homework and take time to find someone you trust, with whom you feel comfortable, and with whom you can have a long-term working relationship. Estate planning, like home ownership, can require periodic maintenance, so you’ll want to feel comfortable and assured that your attorney will be there to help you five years, ten years, and more down the road.
Keep in mind, however, that in the end, you’re the client, you’re in charge, and you’re the one who decides what attorney you will hire. And even after you hire an attorney, you always retain the right and ability to fire him or her. This gives you a lot of power and protects you from being “taken to the cleaners.”
The attorney is required at all times to be very clear with you about what services he or she is going to perform for you and what they will cost. You have a right to know these things, and the attorney has a duty to give you this information, in writing in a clear and understandable manner.
You also have the right to be kept up to date on the status of your matter (this applies to all attorney relationships, not just estate planning), and the attorney should always respond to your inquiries. At our firm, we always try to respond within twenty-four hours of a phone call or e-mail (unless on weekends) from our clients even if it’s only to say, “We received your message. We’ll look into your question and get back to you ASAP.”
The most common complaint clients have about attorneys is that the attorneys don’t return calls or e-mails. I guess such attorneys just forget that they’re in the service business and that it’s difficult to stay in that business without clients. You’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing, retaining, and keeping an attorney. If at any time the arrangement you have with an attorney isn’t working to your satisfaction, get a new attorney.
On the point about attorney’s fees and such, I’ll again admit that attorneys aren’t known for being inexpensive (for the most part). Again, as part of your process of choosing an attorney, ask about their charges, but I caution against looking for simply the least expensive option, and there are good reasons for this council.
When you’re looking for a physician, especially a specialist, do you call around and ask a number of them what they charge for, say, open-heart surgery? Do you visit their websites to see which one is running a sale? Of course not—nobody does that. When we’re in need of medical services, our primary concern is with finding someone we trust and like and someone we know is qualified and capable of giving us the help we seek. We should approach attorneys in general and estate planning in particular with the same mind-set. Even though attorneys deal with papers and legal matters rather than medical devices and pharmaceuticals, these legal doctrines and planning vehicles can be quite complex, and the outcomes (for better or worse) can be quite dramatic and life changing.
Other similarities between attorneys and doctors are that they are both required to obtain several years of specialized education and training, be licensed by state and other agencies, and pursue ongoing education to retain their professional licenses and accreditations.