The Secrets to Building a Good Relationship with Your Lawyer

Nicholas D. Wells
Utah Business

Although most people don’t want to use lawyers, most will need one at some point. To improve your overall experience, follow these important rules for building a solid client-attorney relationship:

Choose the Right Lawyer

No lawyer is thoroughly knowledgeable about every type of law. Think through what you need a lawyer to do and invest some time finding the right one to solve your problem, whether it’s European data privacy or collecting child support payments. By using the right lawyer, you will avoid paying someone to learn a new area of law on your dime. For example, if you need help with a commercial office lease, do not rely on an attorney who primarily does immigration law. You will regret it.

Lawyers in Utah are not allowed to say they are an “expert” in an area of law, so you may need to ask others for recommendations, research their profiles on their websites, or quiz a potential lawyer about their experience with the specific type of work you need done. Spend five to 10 minutes talking with the lawyer to see if there is rapport. If you do not feel comfortable talking with him or her, then move on to another prospect. A good relationship helps create good results.

Prepare Yourself

Think about what you want your lawyer to accomplish. What are your goals? What would be the best result and what would be an acceptable result? What can you give up? What are your biggest concerns?

Gather up the details you would expect a lawyer to need, such as copies of contracts and notes about phone calls, names and addresses. By helping your lawyer be efficient, you can lower your bill, set the performance standard higher and most likely see a better end result.

Set Expectations

Whether starting a relationship with a new lawyer or resetting an existing relationship, work together to set agreed upon expectations. How often do you expect an update? What method of communication do you prefer (phone, email, letters)? How quickly will calls or emails be returned?

To keep money issues at a minimum, find out the lawyer’s hourly rate at the start. Ask how often invoices are sent as well as payment terms and methods. Ask whether a retainer will be required and what is billed in addition to time (telephone calls, emails, postage, etc.). Inquire about an expected total fee
for your project, which will make it harder for the attorney to significantly exceed the estimate without a good reason. For some matters, you can ask for flat-fee billing. These may be uncomfortable questions, but asking up front can avoid real discomfort when the invoices arrive.

Don’t Waste Time

Lawyers basically sell their time. To keep invoices in line, be concise with requests and avoid chitchat unless you expect to pay for the privilege. Avoid rambling emails and long phone calls repeating what you have already communicated. If you are concise and polite, you increase the chances of regular and effective communication within your budget.

Accept Advice, but Understand the Attorney Role

A lawyer has a duty to represent you as his client as well as a duty to the court system and various professional ethical rules. Your lawyer will have the right to decide how some legal procedures are carried out, but generally the role is to advise you of legal risks and describe strategies or options to accomplish your goals within the law. Most lawyers will lay out choices, but expect you to make an informed decision based on your business goals, risk tolerance, the projected costs and other factors important to you. Your lawyer will often make a recommendation, but will not make a decision for you because how you choose to balance the factors involved will determine whether you will consider the outcome a success.

At the same time, if you consistently ignore your attorney’s advice, it will undermine the relationship and the attorney may suggest you find a different lawyer better suited to your goals or temperament.

Pay Your Bill

Lawyers are often pressed for time. They fear running out of work, so they may take on more work than they can comfortably manage. Other things being equal, your lawyer will most likely choose to work on matters for clients who pay their bills on time. Abraham Lincoln recommended always collecting payment in advance so it was clear the lawyer knew he had a client and the client knew he had a lawyer. It is still good advice.   

Nicholas Wells, a shareholder with Kirton McConkie, focuses on legal issues related to trademark, media/entertainment, licensing, copyright, advertising and the internet. He can be reached at (801) 323-5995 or

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