- “It’s the principle of the matter.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines “principle” as a fundamental idea or general rule that is used as a basis for a particular theory or system of belief. The problem becomes when a potential client’s basis has no support in the law. For example, you may want your child’s mother out of the picture and to never see the child again. Your prior sour relationship with the child’s mother may serve as the basis for your principle. At the same time, an attorney, with just information alone, will not have any support in the law to request this from the courts.
Any attorney will also tell you that principle becomes expensive quickly. Very few clients ever have enough funds for the principle they have. When you choose to allow your emotions to run your decisions, you will find yourself in court often. Taking positions not support in the law will also encourage hostility and fighting between the parties and/or the attorneys involved. Going to court and fighting are two fast ways to increase your attorneys’ fees and costs.
Takeaway tip: Consider what goals are important to you in your case. Do you want safeguards or protection for your child? Do you want litigation to end quickly? Thinking about the resolution you are seeking and listening to an attorney’s realistic strategy may save you time and money in the long run.
- “Can you fix this?”
Probably yes. Do I want to? I don’t know. But I do know it is going to be expensive.
Many clients attempt to handle a case themselves in order to save money. However, when they run into problems and need an attorney, more often than not, they will spend more money fixing the original problem than had they hired an attorney in the first place.
Once you or the court determine there is a problem, a new attorney on the case has to take multiple steps. First, they must review the documents you drafted. Because your paperwork was not drafted by an attorney, it may be difficult to understand what you are seeking through your paperwork. Chances are, we would have said things differently. There may be something you missed that must be included. In some cases, if something is missed the first time around, you have no opportunity to correct it. Second, they have to review what happened in court already. If an attorney handles a matter from the beginning, they have an understanding of what happened so far. However, if a new attorney is coming into a case, they need to get up to speed. Just reviewing a court docket and/or documents does not really give an attorney the full picture of what happened so far. Copies of transcripts may be helpful if they are available. Transcripts can cost hundreds of dollars, making this “fix” even more expensive. Third, we have to re-draft and re-file paperwork to fix your correction. If you had met with an attorney initially, that attorney would have consulted with you and drafted your paperwork according to that discussion. There would be no need to review, redraft, and refile. Many times an attorney will be starting from ground zero. They have none of your prior court paperwork and they were not there. It is making the attorney go into the case blind.
Takeaway tip: Consider if money is really what is keeping you from hiring an attorney. Many smaller law firms take smaller retainers, offer payment plans, and alternative fee arrangements with their clients. Thinking about the cost vs. benefit analysis for your case is important. It may be a good idea to spend the money on an attorney now so it does not become expensive later.
- “I’d rather give you every last penny than give them a dime.”
If a potential client says this to me, I have a feeling they may be right. A potential client who feels this way indicates that they may take unreasonable positions in their case. Attorneys cringe when they hear this because a potential client may be seeking their “day in court”. What that potential client may not know is that their day in court comes many days down the road. Even small claims cases take at least six months before it goes to a trial. For a case in Florida, most attorneys cannot get a trial date earlier than 2 years from the start of the case.
Additionally, your day in court is going to be expensive. Between the initial documents, the hearings in between, any depositions, transcripts, etc., you may see attorneys’ fees in excess of $10,000 before we even get to trial. Most attorneys provide a trial budget which sets out the attorneys’ fees you can expect for trial. Some rough math would be to take the hourly rate of the attorney (my fee is $275/hour) multiplied by 8 hours for your day in court is one day for trial. Preparation is hourly rate x twice the amount of time scheduled for trial (here, 8 hours) is $275 x 16 hours. There may also be additional discovery, documents, and hearings prior to trial for which you can expect another 20 miscellaneous hours is $275 x 20 hours. This brings a trial budget to approximately $12,000. This doesn’t include any time for meetings with clients, retaining experts, or staff time. This could bring the trial budget closer to $20,000. The trial budget, however, is on top of the original $10,000 you already spent in the earlier part of the case.
Takeaway tip: If you are going to spend significant amounts of money on litigation, make sure you understand how much litigation costs. While you may originally intend to spend every last penny, it is a lot of pennies to spend. Consider instead using mediation to resolve your case in an efficient manner and then take a vacation with your remaining pennies.
- “My last attorney was on their side”
This statement makes attorneys cringe because it indicates a client may not be able to take direction or accept the law as it is. Attorneys do not normally take sides. We explain the law and counsel our clients. If I do not agree with a position a client takes, that does not make me on the other party’s side. It means, that as an attorney, your position is without legal merit or significance. For example, if you are unable to work, this does not mean that your student loans will be dischargeable in bankruptcy. This doesn’t mean I am on the side of the student loan companies or the court. This does not mean I do not believe you are unable to work. It also does not mean that I do not understand your situation. What it does mean is that my education and experience tell me that you will not qualify for a student loan hardship discharge under the Brunner case.
This statement also makes attorneys cringe because you have had an attorney and now you are looking for a new one. This relates to statement #2 about fixing issues in your case. If this is the situation, it may cost you additional funds to get the new attorney up to speed. Attorneys will wonder why you are looking for a new attorney. We will wonder if you were unable to meet your financial obligations to your prior attorney. We will wonder if you were a difficult client to your prior attorney and their staff.
Takeaway tip: Know that attorneys do not usually take sides. Be open to a realistic evaluation of your case and the law as it pertains to your case. Ask your attorney questions so that you can understand why there are saying things the way they are. Try to understand what the explanation is for your attorney’s actions. Do not take your attorney’s honest advice as being against you. They are sharing their knowledge of the law and their experience with you.