1 8 Find the Lawyer You Need The 5 Biggest Mistakes You Must Avoid Edward Olkovich
2 2 Copyright 2012 EstateTherapy Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this work covered by the publisher s copyright may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means (graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or information and retrieval systems) without the written permission of the publisher. Published by EstateTherapy Inc. c/o 62 Jane Street Toronto, Ontario M6S 3Y4 Tel: TF: MR WILLS ( ) EstateTherapy is an online publisher of books on estate issues. www. For Your Protection This information is not financial, legal, medical or psychological advice or a substitute for professional advice. Laws change and vary in each jurisdiction. Always consult a professional before taking any action. The author and publisher assume no responsibility for loss or damages, direct or indirect, of any kind from use of this material.
3 3 Contents About Author Edward Olkovich Introduction Chapter 1 The Five Biggest Mistakes Clients Make and How To Avoid Them Mistake #1 Being Cheap Mistake #2 Starting with Unreasonable Service Expectations Mistake #3 Forgetting That Diamonds and Doughnuts Are Different Mistake #4 Chasing the Clock Monkey Mistake #5 Thinking That All Lawyers Are the Same Chapter 2 The Top Seven Ways to Find a Good Lawyer A Case Study Can Frank s Nephew Be the Answer? What to Ask Lawyers How to Interview a Lawyer Lawyer Interview Notes Chapter 3 What Every Lawyer Owes You Should You Trust Your Gut? The Right to a Second Opinion Professionals and Profit A Statement of Clients Rights Chapter 4 The Critical Checklist for Choosing a Lawyer Reputations May Not Be Deserved Prickly Personalities A Sense of Humour Summary of Steps to Find the Right Lawyer Legal Resources on the Web Legal Terms Made Easy Your Notes
4 4 About Author Edward Olkovich Edward has practiced law in his own firm since 1978 and is a certified specialist in trusts and estates law. He is also the author of seven books including Choosing Executors, Breakthrough Estate Planning and Estate to the Heart: How to Plan Wills and Estates for Your Loved Ones. He has written for various publications, including the American Bar Association, and is regularly quoted in national publications and is a frequent guest on television and radio. As a lawyer, Edward is available to consult in the areas of wills and estates, advises executors on estate administration, and handles legal challenges to wills. Edward is a member of Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP), Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and the National Speakers Association (NSA). Edward has instructed new lawyers in the Ontario Bar Admissions course on estates, tax, professional responsibility, and the business of law. He has chaired various programs, sections and committees for the Ontario Bar including General Practice and Law Practice Management. He was an executive member of the Trusts and Estates Section and founding chair of Ontario s Make a Will project. Edward is an entertaining speaker for financial and continuing education programs, keynotes, conferences, and client seminars. He is the founder of, an online estate planning publisher, and ExecutorTherapy.com, a resource for executors. His law firm web site is He can be reached by at or by telephone at or toll free at MrWills. Edward Olkovich grinds his own grain to make whole wheat bread and loves espresso. He has been married to Krystyna since 1975 and they have two exceptional sons, Nicholas and Adam.
5 5 What is EstateTherapy? For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Traditional estate planning often leaves people cold and in the dark, unable to make decisions. EstateTherapy Inc. was founded to offer you a new breakthrough approach to deal with your money. Your money should go straight to your loved ones without any problems. Here s what EstateTherapy looks like: EstateTherapy helps you make better decisions for the people you care about. Find more valuable resources at
6 6 Introduction Would you go into the jungle without a guide? Of course not. So why deal with the legal jungle without a lawyer? I know hiring lawyers can make you feel nervous. I have done my fair share of hiring them for my own clients who frequently need other experts. Let me show you how to hire the right lawyer to be your guide without costing you your heart and soul. Avoid Making Mistakes the First Time Read this to protect yourself from nasty surprises. Who wants to go through the expense, hassle and further risk of having to change lawyers midstream? I ll give you my Top Seven Ways to Find a Good Lawyer. And I ll tell you the one thing your lawyers absolutely must give to you before you hire them. Then I ll guide you through the process of how to find the right lawyer for your needs. I ll wrap up with a glossary of useful legal terms and some websites for further help. But first, following are the five mistakes you ll never make after reading this report.
7 7 1 The 5 Biggest Mistakes You Must Avoid Mistake #1 Being Cheap Would you hire the cheapest contractors, doctors or dentists in town? Then why would you choose a lawyer who quoted you the lowest price? Identify what you need from your lawyer so you don t focus on price alone.
8 8 You must consider several factors before you hire a lawyer. Don t base your decisions on one factor alone, such as price. This only increases your chances of making a mistake. Are you confused by the variety of fees quoted by lawyers? You may think all legal firms provide identical services. So why do legal costs quoted by lawyers vary so much? The Right Lawyer Let me try to explain legal fees and marketing from a law firm s perspective. The Trouble with Price Comparisons If a law firm s quoted legal fees are lower than anyone else s, this may not always be a bad sign just as expensive lawyers are not always the best lawyers. It may help you make sense out of this difference by remembering this marketing concept: Lawyers compete or distinguish themselves on the basis of various factors including price or discount fees. A firm can quote you a low fee as a lure or quote you a premium fee to discourage discount shoppers. Lawyers who market themselves as price leaders (low or discount) will necessarily take a no-frills, cookie-cutter approach for all clients. They may be able to offer the lowest price because they have deleted extras they expect you won t need. They re probably right, but if they re not, you could be vulnerable to extra charges down the road. In any case, you must look carefully at the overall package cost, because some firms will not provide an itemized breakdown in a quoted fee for what they consider routine. Don t Compare Apples with Oranges For example, let s say John is a contractor who wants to hire a lawyer to put a lien on a customer s property for a balance of his contract. He is quoted $1,500 by Firm A and $900 by Firm B.
9 9 To be able to register the lien, however, Firm B would have to perform searches and pay registration and government filing fees. These costs can add another $300 to Firm B s bill. These out-of-pocket expenses incurred on the client s behalf are considered disbursements. Some law firms may quote them as separate items and include them in their fee quote, but others count them as extras and do not include them. As a consumer, you need to know as much as possible about the total cost in order to compare. There s No Free Lunch On the other side of the coin are the lawyers who use expensive fees to develop an exclusive clientele. Lawyers who are premium price leaders will expect you to pay extra for their firm s reputation. They may have experience dealing with the rich and famous. They can afford to turn away clients who can t afford their fees. If you are looking for a good result, hiring a lawyer based on price comparison alone is not your best option. Try this instead: Find out what you need your lawyer to do for you. Focus on Purpose, Not Price Specialization has taken over the legal profession as it has so many others. For example, it makes a difference when you are looking for a lawyer if you are suing someone or being sued. Some lawyers are aggressive and always in attack mode, while others are defence experts. You will need to break down your needs to be more specific. Are you being sued? Is your case a commercial case, a family law matter or a boundary dispute with a neighbour? Lawyers tend to restrict their areas of practice and specialize in diverse areas, such as: Bankruptcy Estates Personal injury Corporate (business and finance) Real estate
10 10 Some jurisdictions and bar associations permit lawyers to specialize in up to thirty different practice areas. You want to identify the area of law that covers your needs to help narrow your search. Ask yourself what you need from your lawyer. For example, if you need an estate lawyer, identify your specific purpose. Do you need a lawyer to write a will, administer an estate or contest a will? Defining your needs will help you get what you want when you search. Action: Be specific to get better results. Take a moment and be specific. You do not have to be fancy here; just write down what you need in your own words. I need a lawyer to do the following: Now let s look at the second common mistake and how to avoid it. There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse or sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man s lawful prey. John Ruskin
11 11 Mistake #2 Starting with Unreasonable Service Expectations I sent my lawyer s last night at 1:30 and 3:30. I called his office in the morning to ask why he never replied. My lawyer told me to find a new lawyer because I was harassing him. Find out how your lawyer will fulfill your expectations. Make sure it s at a price you can afford without being surprised.
12 12 Lawyers who are service leaders market themselves as excelling at service and handling details. Higher standards and personal attention to details are things that budget or low-cost firms may not provide. Do you expect your lawyer to return your call while you sit waiting by the phone, or are you comfortable with a call the next day? Lawyers on television solve problems between commercials in a sixty-minute time slot. Real problem solving, however, can take days, months or even years. What Level of Service Do You Need? Identify what you consider a reasonable time for your legal team to respond to your questions. For example, how long should you wait for a response to an or telephone call sent to your lawyer? Do you expect a reply within: Three hours? Twenty-four hours? One week? Some clients send off a flurry of s late at night and expect their lawyers to reply regardless of the time of day. Their service expectations are unrealistic. Your legal problems may keep you up all night, but they do not affect your lawyer in the same way. Your s or telephone calls sent after hours cannot generate immediate replies. No matter how anxious you are, the issue may not require urgent attention from your lawyer. You can get around-the-clock service from lawyers, but you may be shocked by what it will cost you. Ask what extra charges apply to meet your level of expectations. You do not want to get a nasty surprise with a huge bill down the road. Who Works on Your Case? Ask for a schedule of fees for all individuals who may be working on your file. Your lawyer may pass your case to junior lawyers or law clerks. While this will save you money, you may be disappointed if you were expecting personal attention from a partner.
13 13 If you hired a senior partner for her experience, you may not be happy to be told she is too busy to attend to your matter. You may be more than disappointed and end up changing lawyers. Action: Ask lawyers what their experience is cases like yours and for a realistic time frame for their replies to you and completion of their services.
14 14 Mistake #3 Forgetting That Diamonds and Doughnuts Are Different You need different approaches when you are buying diamonds and when you are buying doughnuts. This is applies even more in choosing a lawyer, since legal services are not products. Make sure you modify your hiring strategy when you deal with professionals. Bargaining techniques practiced on a used car lot may not work in a law office.
15 15 I want to sue my boss for a million dollars! Bob Johnson told his lawyer when he first met him. People often believe they know what they want. At least they will tell you that when it comes to buying diamonds or doughnuts. But telling your lawyer what to do because you know what you want in a legal case can be a mistake. You do not want your lawyer to go to court and tell the judge, This is exactly what my client, Mr. Johnson, wants. I know because I recorded his wishes word for word at our first meeting. He told me what to do and how to do it. Your real concern should be what kind of legal advice you should be getting. You are not looking for a hired gun to do your bidding. You are looking for someone to give you advice and recommendations, and to help carry out a plan in keeping with that advice. Don t make this mistake. Not all lawyers are capable of satisfying your needs. You are not buying a product like a car that was produced on an assembly line. You are getting service and advice where experience, timely delivery and results make all the difference. Good lawyers are always in demand, and this is reflected in their fees. You will not get far asking for a day old discount. On the contrary, you may be triggering the lawyer s own self-defense mechanism. Lawyers evaluate prospective clients before they agree to accept them. Each law firm has its own criteria for accepting clients. A firm s policy may include such factors as: Who referred you to their office How complex your case is Whether you will be able to pay the fees on time Whether you will be difficult to deal with You may be raising red flags if you argue about fees before you hire a lawyer. Lawyers who hear prospective clients grumble about fees say to themselves, I am going to have trouble with this person. I don t want to negotiate every item on my bill. Who needs this aggravation? Action: Consider these ten factors.
16 16 In all professional relationships, cost is only one element. You should consider these additional important factors: 1. Skills shown by a particular lawyer and the firm 2. Friendly and professional reputation 3. Service and qualifications 4. Whether other lawyers refer cases to the lawyer 5. Shows understanding of your particular needs 6. Trustworthiness 7. Ability to communicate 8. Accessibility and availability 9. Experience 10. Costs You have heard that lawyers bill by the hour. Is a lawyer s billable hourly rate the key factor in your hiring decision? Tick Tick Tick There are 28,800 seconds in a lawyer s eight-hour day. How much does each second cost you? Mistake #4 clarifies what s real and what s not. There may be a good reason for why some lawyers are desperate for work.
17 17 Mistake #4 Chasing the Clock Monkey What your lawyer charges per hour is not relevant, but how much and how long it will take to successfully handle your case is crucial. Look at your overall cost, not your cost per hour. Remember, low hourly rates can be an indication of a lack of experience, low overhead or incompetence.
18 18 I have to laugh when people telephone me out of the blue to ask what my hourly rate is. I never know what kind of answer they expect. Do they think a high hourly rate is a sign of premium service, experience and ability or that I m way beyond their budget? If I tell them my hourly rate and they say goodbye, I wonder if I should have postponed answering this question. Perhaps I could have given them free information to identify their legal issues. This would have helped them find a proper fit for their legal needs. Time and Money Let's be frank. Everyone, thanks to Ben Franklin, knows that time is money. But when you must hire a lawyer, time may be more important than money. Let me explain. You may think you re getting a bargain if you hire a lawyer with a low hourly rate. But if an inexperienced lawyer takes twice as long as an experienced one, are you really ahead in the end? More Relevant Questions Before hiring lawyers, you should ask for particular information, such as: Do you provide a flat fee for the services I need? Do you have experience in cases similar to mine? Are initial office or telephone consultations free? What documents must I bring with me? What results have you achieved in similar cases? Will my meetings be with you, another lawyer or a clerk? Is there anything I can do to keep my costs down?
19 19 You may need a lawyer who will consider a flat rate, contingency fees or no initial consultation fees. Action: Do not be afraid to ask for a written fee quote. You should receive a written retainer agreement once you hire a lawyer to explain how fees will be charged. Never confuse good marketing for good lawyering.
20 20 Mistake #5 Thinking All Lawyers Are the Same Lawyers litigate, negotiate or mediate. Decide which service is best for you, because every lawyer will have their own individual approach to help you.
21 21 You make this mistake when you assume that: Lawyers have similar qualifications, experience and abilities The cheapest lawyer in town is as qualified as any other Every law firm has the same overhead and operating costs All lawyers solve problems in the same way There has always been a difference between theory and practice. Do you know what counts in the real world? Why Experience Counts Experienced lawyers can usually satisfy your needs in less time. That can be more valuable than saving money when you are living under stress and uncertainty in a lawsuit. Does this mean that price/cost is not a factor in choosing a lawyer? Not exactly. If you have a limited budget, you may have no choice but to hire younger, less experienced lawyers. Now, let s move on to the top ways to find the best lawyers. Action: When you can, go with experience.
22 22 2 The Top Seven Ways to Find a Good Lawyer Here are the best ways to find lawyer who s right for you. Use the resources indicated to create a master list of possible candidates. I ll explain in this chapter what to do once you make your list. You may find that two or three lawyers in your neighborhood show up more than once. These are the people you want to investigate further. Here, then, are the Top Seven Ways to Find Good Lawyers. 1. Personal referrals Your friends may have had a positive experience with a lawyer. This is a good lead for you, but you still need to interview the lawyer, since your needs and expectations may be different. 2. Local bar associations Contact these associations and ask for the names of prominent lawyers, certified specialists or those lawyers who provide free initial consultations in the area of law where you need help. Be careful of referral services not sponsored by professional bar associations or ones that charge large fees and are really advertising agents. 3. Professional referrals Your banker, broker, financial planner or tax advisor will usually have a list of lawyers they recommend. 4. Advertising Yellow Pages and community ads can help you identify lawyers that focus on your particular needs. 5. Free seminars Financial institutions or related professional groups in your neighborhood may hold public or private presentations that will enable you to meet lawyers personally to assess their suitability. 6. Internet search Use the Internet to check law firms websites and to research the qualifications of lawyers, including relevant memberships, accomplishments, experience and publications. 7. Ask other lawyers Call lawyers you know and ask them for names of lawyers they refer work to.
23 23 Invest some time to compose a master list before you hire. Then make a short list of potential lawyers. A Case Study There are different questions to ask in every area of law. For example, here are some questions to ask a lawyer if you are planning to make a will. Imagine you want to make a basic will and you want help from a lawyer. You want to make a list of what you need: General information Help choosing executors Help making a will Signing powers of attorney Help finding guardians for minor children A trust Of course, you may not be able to prepare such a detailed list until you do a little research on your own. Armed with a better idea of what kind of help you are looking for from a lawyer, you will be able to make a better decision regarding candidates for taking your case. Perhaps you feel comfortable with Anne, the lawyer who has just completed your divorce or the purchase of your new home. Does that mean you should let her prepare your will? Having a good relationship and rapport with a lawyer is important for trust and communication. But these are not the only factors you need to consider. Does Anne regularly prepare simple or complex wills for clients? Will she be able to identify the complexities in your estate plan? Will she willingly refer you to experts or consult with tax and estate experts for help? Could Frank s Nephew Be the Answer? Frank s nephew is a good criminal lawyer, but he may be little or no help to you if you need a lawyer to contest a will.
24 24 I asked you to identify the type of lawyer you need. Do you need wills before you jet away on a vacation Saturday? Do you need a simple codicil to amend your existing will? Then you definitely need a lawyer experienced in estate planning and estate administration and lawsuits. You may need to speak to a lawyer to learn what type of lawyer and expertise you require. What to Ask Lawyers Staying with our estate planning example, here are some examples of questions you can ask your estate planning lawyer as you set up your first appointment: What should I budget for my will costs? How long will the process take? What materials do I need to bring to our meeting? Will you give me draft documents to review prior to signing? Is there anything I should read before my appointment? Will I meet with you or your law clerk? May I bring someone to the meeting with me? You'll want to hire an estate planning lawyer who, for example, spends no less than twenty-five percent of his or her time preparing wills and estate planning documents. If you have sophisticated corporate holdings, complex tax issues, dependents or beneficiaries under prior marriages or relationships, you may need additional expertise. How to Interview Your Lawyer A good reason to interview lawyers you re thinking of hiring is that you cannot always rely on the recommendation of friends and family.
25 25 Often their inexperience with lawyers does not guarantee that you will have a similar enjoyable relationship. Personalities, chemistry and even your gut instinct all play an important role in your hiring decision. If you do not feel comfortable with a lawyer, it will be difficult for you to maintain a comfortable relationship. Without a relationship based on trust and mutual respect, how can you follow the advice you receive? Use the next part of this chapter to record your notes when you interview lawyers who make it onto your short list. In many cases, your initial interview can be done by telephone. Lawyers come to know the practical side of life. People who read too many books should always talk things over with them." Marcus Tullius Cicero, B.C. Roman barrister, philosopher and master orator
26 26 Lawyer Interview Notes 1. Lawyer s Name Firm Name Address Telephone Website recommended relevant experience interviewed Notes yes no undecided 2. Lawyer s Name Firm Name Address Telephone Website recommended relevant experience interviewed Notes yes no undecided
27 27 3. Lawyer s Name Firm Name Address Telephone Website recommended relevant experience interviewed Notes yes no undecided 4. Lawyer s Name Firm Name Address Telephone Website recommended relevant experience interviewed Notes yes no undecided
28 28 3 What Every Lawyer Owes You No one is perfect. Not even lawyers... You can t expect any lawyer to have all the answers. Often, as in medicine, you can only expect a lawyer to be able to diagnose your problem. That alone can take time and cost you money. Your lawyer then may be able to make a referral to another expert or lawyer who is better able to handle your particular needs. What you should expect from a lawyer, however, is complete honesty. You have to trust the advice you receive. Are you in a position where you don't feel that you can trust your lawyer? You may be forced to consider changing lawyers sooner than later. Should You Trust Your Gut? Yes, you can. This happens all the time. People often feel there is a problem either in communication, understanding of objectives or determining the best strategy to follow. Often, some of these communication problems can be resolved and your legal relationship can be saved. This will help you avoid incurring the expense of transferring your file to a new lawyer, who must become acquainted with your facts, issues and particular needs. Changing lawyers will cost you in other ways as well. You must invest more of your time and dollars in bringing your new lawyer up to speed. Much of the friction caused by personality conflicts or breakdown in communication could have been prevented if you trusted your gut when you hired a lawyer. When you conduct your preliminary searches and prepare your short list of lawyers, look at their website closely in order to interview the lawyer about the firm s mission statements and memberships in professional organizations.
29 29 You can even check the lawyer s professional standing on any public section of your local bar organization websites. This can tell you if they have been the subject of any disciplinary action. It is important that you find a lawyer with a style you like a lawyer who s a good fit for you. This may be difficult if you don't first talk to or meet the lawyer. Remember that not all lawyers will approach your legal problem with the same strategy. You want to find someone you feel comfortable with. You must accept the advice you receive as reliable. It helps when you see it as coming from a source that has your best interests as a priority. The Right to a Second Opinion I encourage clients to obtain a second opinion on any significant decisions in any lawsuit. This is often beneficial to both the client and lawyer and ensures that nothing is overlooked or misunderstood. Some lawyers may be defensive in a situation like this. But a true professional realizes the benefit of a second opinion. You should be able to obtain your lawyer s cooperation in this process. Should you be concerned about alienating your lawyer? Some lawyers have huge egos and you may need to worry about this. You should have copies of all relevant documents in your file. This will help you to obtain a confidential second opinion. If you still have doubts, don t sign papers until your lawyer resolves any difficulties between you. Professionals and Profit Some lawyers manage money as if their lives depended on it. In reality, without making a profit, no business or law firm can continue to operate. Without profit, law firms cannot hire and keep the necessary talent, technology and support staff needed to properly serve clients. Whenever I see a lawyer quoting ridiculously low fees to attract clients, I wonder how long they will stay in business.
30 30 Paying for quality pays off. You know that's true when it comes to your major purchases. You should be prepared to invest in professional advice that will pay off in the long run. A Statement of Clients Rights What else should you know to protect yourself? Here are some basic entitlements that you should receive from your lawyer: 1. Respect This includes common courtesy and addressing your concerns in a timely and professional manner. 2. Competence Lawyers have a professional obligation not to accept your case if they cannot provide the necessary level of professional service. They are required to provide you with professional opinions that are free of any conflicts of interest. 3. Confidentiality You have the right to know that your secrets and privacy will be protected as permitted by law. 4. Full fee disclosure This includes being advised what to do in the event of any fee dispute that would involve resolving issues through mediation or arbitration. 5. The truth about your case You want the truth, not lies, about your chances or options. 6. Professional treatment Lawyers aren t just running a business. They are professionals who play vital roles in the justice system. The legal system relies on lawyers to protect your liberty and rights. As professionals, lawyers have special fiduciary duties to put their clients needs ahead of their own. Fiduciaries must also not take advantage of their relationships. Now let s move to a critical checklist to help you commit to hiring the right lawyer for you. Some lawyers spend more time practicing law than serving clients.
31 31 4 The Critical Checklist for Choosing a Lawyer Use this checklist in making your final decision. Yes / No 1. Will personally meet with me 2. Spends thirty percent of time in this field 3. Certified as a specialist in field 4. Will discuss fees at first meeting 5. Told me what to bring to first visit 6. Charges for initial telephone consultations 7. Agrees to disclose extra costs in advance 8. Member of professional associations 9. Has at least seven to ten years of experience 10. Is recognised as an expert by media or professionals 11. Publishes and speaks in his field of expertise 12. Has capability or educational website 13. Found on Google or Yahoo 14. Appointment set without unreasonable delay Now add up the two columns and subtract the No from the Yes. The higher the score a lawyer gets, the better.