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Tips for Avoiding (Big) Legal Expenses

We often see clients who, with some prior planning and effort, could have either avoided or reduced the size of their legal issues and fees. Here are a few tips for you:

(i) Get "it" in writing. Whatever the "it" is, be it a service or item, get the terms in writing. That way if there is a dispute at the least there is some documentation as your understanding of the agreement. If you do not have a written contract, at least, send a letter, email, or text to the other party outlining your understanding of the terms.

(ii) Preventative law. Just as physicians discuss preventative medicine, good lawyers recommend preventative law. If there is a real estate contract or lease offered, do you understand what you are being asked to sign? Better to spend the month with an attorney up front, than face costly "surprises" later as you did not fully understand what you signed or what you are agreeing to do.

(iii) Reputation. Perhaps I am "old school" (o.k., I am) but I do not think the decision about what company or professional to use should be based upon the first name that pops up via the search engine. I think you should first ask your friends, associates, and colleagues for the names of their trusted professionals and service providers. Look at the websites after the recommendations are received.

(iv) Penny wise and legally foolish. I see many instances in my practice wherein a client utilizes on-line forms or third party documentation companies for significant legal uses, particularly estate planning documents. I know legal services are expensive, but the costs from innocent mistakes when self-drafting your documents can certainly exceed the perceived "savings" from a do it yourself will or trust kit.

(v) Try to be reasonable. I know everyone thinks they are in the right about a particular issue. However, it may take a lot of your personal time and money out of your pocket to prove your point. We should abide by our principals, but not lose sight of the costs of inflexibility. Settlements may not be perfect, but they resolve the matter and free you from more legal expenses and personal time dealing with the situation.

(vi) Be prepared. When you meet with your attorney, especially the first meeting, please bring all possible relevant information. It is far better to bring too much documentation than too little. Your attorney can weed out the unnecessary documentation. Let him or her decide what documents are related to your case.

(vii) Flat fee or hourly. Depending on the nature of the legal matter, the attorney may be willing to accept your case on a flat fee or percentage of assets or recovery. Attorneys often charge a flat predetermined charge for creating a business entity or estate planning documents. Percentage fees are typical in a personal injury or a wrongful death case. If the fee is hourly, request an estimate as to the ceiling and periodically check with the attorney to see if that is still a good number.

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