I recently used an attorney to evict one of my tenants and recover rent that they had not paid. It was really interesting to be on the other side of the fence for once. Rather than being an attorney providing a service to a client, I was the client receiving the service from an attorney. I must say it was not a good experience. I learnt a lot from it and it made me realise “what clients want” when looking for a good lawyer. So here are some of the things that, as a client, I wanted.
I have made a promise to myself that I will always try to do the same things for my clients.
The way forward
Right up front, I want to understand what the process is. What services is the attorney going to provide? How long will it take? And what is it going to cost me? Ideally, I want to agree a fixed fee sign. As a second prize, I want a clear indication of what the possible estimated fees could be. This must be in writing. I want the attorney to help me establish what my goals are. What is it that I’m trying to achieve?
Knowledge and experience
I want to know that the attorney has applied all his or her knowledge and experience to my specific circumstances and as a result, I’m going to save time and money in solving my problem. I want to know that out of all the available courses of action, I’m going to be following the most suitable course of action for my specific circumstances.
Communication is key
Then, I want the attorney to communicate with me, often. I always want to know what the attorney is doing, what the current status is, and to be BCC’d on all emails and correspondence. Even if it’s a short email just to say “we sent this letter but the tenant hasn’t responded” or “we are still waiting for the period of 14 days to expire and will get back to you on such and such a date“. Even “nothing happened this week” is nice.
I want the attorney to write to me in plain language so that I can understand what they are communicating to me. I also want the attorney to communicate with others in plain language. What’s the point in sending a letter of demand to a tenant if the tenant doesn’t actually understand it?
I want the attorney to return my telephone calls and respond to my emails within a reasonably short period of time.
Fees and invoices
I only want to receive invoices once I have received some value from the attorney. Not just the attorney having provided some services, only after me having actually received something of value. I want the invoice to clearly state the benefits that I have received or the value that I have obtained. I always want to know where I am in terms of fees – where are we currently sitting? I don’t want to be surprised when it comes to the invoice. I want to know upfront what fees the legal services will involve.
I also want affordable legal fees. Interestingly, the Legal Practice Act promises to finally give many clients just this. Once the law takes effect, it will require all legal practitioners to provide upfront quotes for the services they provide to clients. While the law has not yet commenced or come into force, this is a good time for every person it will affect – lawyers and clients alike, to take stock of this very important provision.