Ten Tips to Save on Legal Fees

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What is the law on....

Our mission statement is to provide quality real estate, business and estate planning services at a reasonable price.  If you need a real estate, business or estate planning lawyer, these ten tips can save you money by keeping your legal fees down.  Please call Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. for a free consultation.

1.  Choose Carefully.  Not every attorney knows every area of the law.  You should not hire a personal injury lawyer to form your business.  Look for an attorney who practices the type of law you need.  If you don't know what type of lawyer you need, talk to an attorney you or a friend have used before and ask the lawyer to refer you to an attorney with the expertise you need. 

In addition to looking for an attorney with the right experience, look at the lawyer's staff.  Your legal fees will be significantly less if the attorney has a Certified Paralegal and a Legal Assistant.  Certified Paralegals and Legal Assistants working under the lawyer's supervision can do much of the work at hourly rates significantly lower than the attorney’s rate.  To save you money, Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. has a Certified Paralegal and a Legal Assistant experienced in real estate, business and estate planning who work under Tom Tornow's direct supervision. 

The size of the law firm should also be considered.  A small law firm may not have the expertise you need (see the first paragraph of this tip) or a properly trained staff who can work on your case at a lower hourly rate (see the second paragraph of this tip).  Too large a firm and your case may be handled by a junior lawyer who doesn't have the experience you need (see the first paragraph of this tip) or who doesn't know you or your case.  You don't want to be just a number or a file.  You want to be an individual and an important client.  You need to know who is working on your case and they need to know you.  Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. limits its practice to real estate, business and estate planning.  The professionals working for you will know you and will handle your case the way they would want their own case handled.    

2.  Identify your Goal.  Make sure you have a specific goal that you want your lawyer to achieve.  Your goal has to be specific (e.g., recovering a specific amount of money or evicting your tenant).  Getting "justice" or being treated "fairly" is not specific.  Communicate your goal to your lawyer and ask if (s)he can achieve that goal.  While no lawyer can guarantee a result, an ethical lawyer will tell you whether your goal is realistic.  Often, dissatisfaction between clients and attorneys is the result of unrealistic or un-communicated expectations of what the lawyer or the legal system can deliver.  Periodically evaluate whether you are closer to your goal.  If not, talk it over with your lawyer. 

3.  Tell the Truth.  Clients sometimes feel the need to persuade their lawyer of the merits of their case by withholding damaging information.  With very few exceptions, everything you tell your attorney and his/her staff is strictly confidential.  This is so you are free to tell your lawyer and his/her staff everything.  So tell them the good, the bad and the ugly.  What laws apply depends greatly on the facts of your case.  If the facts you provide are inaccurate or not complete, your lawyer may identify the wrong laws and you will get a poor result.  Moreover, your attorney is trained to identify which facts are legally important and which are not.  They are also trained to deal with the negative facts that exist in every case.  Your lawyer will uncover the negative facts eventually (probably from the other side), so withholding information you think may hurt your case only costs you money in the long run.  Your attorney can identify which facts are important to your case and develop a strategy to deal with the negative facts.  Keeping information from your lawyer only makes it harder for the attorney to get you the best possible outcome.  So make sure you accurately tell your lawyer all the facts.  Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. takes your confidentiality extremely seriously and will candidly evaluate the pros and cons of your real estate, business or estate planning case. 

4.  Get it in Writing.  It is essential that you have a written contract with your lawyer.  With very few exceptions, the Montana Bar requires the lawyer to communicate the fee arrangement in writing.  Read the attorney's contract carefully and ask questions before signing.

The contract should explain the attorney's obligations to you and your obligations to the attorney.  It should also explain how and when you will be charged.  If you are paying hourly, it should specify the rate for each type of professional who may work on your case (see the second paragraph of tip 1).  It should also specify any additional charges such as filing fees, copying, postage, etc.  Look to see how the professionals charge for their time and if there are any minimum charges. 

Don't be surprised if the contract says that you will be charged for communications with your opponent's attorney, witnesses or third-parties.  Most of the time, the most efficient way to achieve your goal (see tip 5) is for your attorney or his/her staff to communicate directly with other individuals, even if they are against you.   

Some attorneys offer a flat fee for specific legal services.  Ask your attorney if this is available for your case.  Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. offers flat fees to form corporations and limited liability companies and to prepare simple leases, deeds, wills and powers of attorney. 

Don't be discouraged if the attorney does not offer a flat fee.  It could simply mean that your circumstances or objectives are unique enough that a more customized approach is required.  If so, ask how much the attorney expects your case to cost. For many services, your lawyer will charge by the hour and may only be able to give you a very rough estimate.  Request to be notified when the fees approach the estimated amount.  It is very disconcerting to get a bill for more than you expected. Requesting your lawyer to notify you of fees and costs will reduce this strain on the attorney-client relationship.  The billing software used by Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. notifies the staff if the charges approach the amount you discussed with the attorney so the staff can alert you and your attorney.   The contract should address when you will be billed and when payment is due.  It should also tell you when you or the attorney can end the contract. 

Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. provides a comprehensive contract to all its real estate, business and estate planning clients.  It specifically provides that questions about the contract and billing are at no charge. 

5.  Let the Lawyer Decide how to Reach your Goal.  You set the goal of the legal representation (see tip 2).  Your lawyer decides how best to achieve your goal.  Your attorney is highly trained to use the law to work toward your goal and knows which tactics will work and which will not.  A lawyer sells his time and advice.  If you don't take your attorney's advice, then you are wasting your lawyer's time and your money.  That is not to say that you have no role in how your case is handled.  Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. will often give the client alternative approaches from which to choose.  Before deciding, it is a good idea to ask your attorney the cost of each alternative and the probability of success.  Then trust your lawyer to efficiently reach your goal using the tactics your lawyer suggests.

If you are not comfortable following your lawyer's advice, it is time to get a different attorney.  But before changing lawyers, it is important to ask yourself whether you are unhappy with the attorney; or are you unhappy with the legal system or the law that applies to your case.  If it is the latter, changing lawyers is not going to change the legal system or the law.

6.  Tell the Attorney how you Prefer to Communicate.  Everyone has a preference as to how they like to send and receive information.  Some people like phone calls while others prefer letters, faxes, emails or meetings.  Your preferred method of communication may not be appropriate for every communication, but it can serve as the default method.  Your lawyer has an ethical obligation to keep you informed about your case.  Telling your lawyer what method of communication works best for you will make sure you receive important updates on your case in the way that works best for you. 

7.  Stay in Communication.  Respond to your lawyer's inquiries and communications.  Sometimes clients are hesitant to respond because it costs money.  Lawyers make inquiries because they need the information to reach your goal (see tip 5); and they will continue to make inquiries until they get the information.  So it is less expensive to respond as soon as possible.

Likewise, clients can be hesitant to ask questions because it costs money.  But it is important that you understand what is happening in your case.  Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. will copy you on all written and electronic communications and encourages you to be an active participant in achieving your real estate, business or estate planning goals.       

8.  Be Proactive.  "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies to working with real estate, business or estate planning lawyers.  The inclination is to assume that everything will be fine and to use a lawyer only when something goes wrong.  But it is far easier, and much less expensive, for an attorney to tell you how to do something right than to fix something that went wrong.  A good business person consults a lawyer before taking action.   

9.  Don't Draft Your Own Documents.  Don't try to save money by drafting contracts, business formation documents, letters regarding legal matters or other documents for your lawyer to review and tweak.  An experienced lawyer has a vast library of templates from which the lawyer or staff (see second paragraph of tip 1) can often modify to fit your situation.  It takes much more time for the attorney or staff to change your draft document.  So just tell your attorney your goal (see tip 2) and let the attorney or staff person produce the appropriate document.

To expedite the process, prepare an outline of your questions, concerns or issues.  This helps make sure everything is addressed and gives you, your lawyer and his/her staff a written document to refer to as needed. 

With over 35 years of experience, Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. has a vast library of real estate, business and estate planning documents and offers a free consultation.  Call or email for your appointment.    

10.  Don't Use Your Lawyer as a Therapist.  Legal matters are often emotional.  However, your lawyer is unlikely to be trained as a therapist.  How you feel about a situation or your opponent is usually not important to how your attorney handles your real estate, business and estate planning case.  If it is, your attorney will let you know.  Otherwise, stick to the facts and business at hand when communicating with your lawyer.  You are paying too much to use them as a sounding board for your feelings and emotions. 

Thomas T. Tornow, P.C.'s mission is to provide you with quality real estate, business or estate planning services at a reasonable price.  They handle your case the way they would like to have their own case handled.  That includes keeping the cost to a minimum.  Call or email Thomas T. Tornow, P.C. today for your free consultation.   


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