Running a successful business can lead to legal disputes. Imagine, your supplier, client, or competitor wrongs you (the “Harm”). No matter how hard you try to settle the Harm, the wrong-doer continues to dismiss your concerns, ignore you, or even worse, insult you. The Harm starts to eat at you: you think about it on the drive to work; you think about it at lunch; and when you get home at the end of a long day, you find yourself obsessing over it while brushing your teeth. It infuriates you. You decide that you need to take action. You decide to enforce your legal rights.
Litigation and alternative dispute resolution are stressful topics. To make the matters worse, how do you find a good lawyer? Maybe you ask a friend for a referral. Maybe you scour the internet and find a blog posting related to your case written by a lawyer. However it happens, you settle on the name of a law firm or a lawyer. You schedule a meeting at the firm. You attend and find yourself sitting in a conference room surrounded by leather-bound books across the table from a lawyer.
(a) Does the lawyer have a good resume?
You want your lawyer to have the right training. Where did the lawyer go to law school? Where did the lawyer train? Did the lawyer work at any other firms before joining his/her current firm? What is the lawyer’s reputation? What is the law firm’s reputation?
You want your lawyer to have relevant experience. Has the lawyer handled cases similar to yours? Has the firm handled cases similar to yours?
You want to ensure that your legal team is going to be equipped with the right number of players and the appropriate level of experience. Just as you would not bust open a Domaine Leroy Musigny for a Tuesday-night dinner, you do not necessarily want the most experienced (and expensive) lawyer handling your case.
The complexity of your case should dictate what the legal team looks like. You should discuss with the lawyer which members of the firm are going to work on your matter and what the partner to associate ratio will be. Too much partner time can be prohibitively expensive; too little partner time can lead to inefficiencies.
(b) Will the firm offer you a billing arrangement customised to suit your needs?
The billable hour is inherently problematic. It ensures that a lawyer’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of its clients. It rewards inefficiency and provides an incentive to undertake make-work projects. Over billing is a real issue.
Consider this: if, unbeknownst to a client, a lawyer makes a mistake and then spends hours correcting that mistake, that lawyer may bill more money than had the lawyer done the work correctly in the first place. The billable hour should not be the only option.
(c) Will the firm offer you a customised legal experience?
Customisation is king. The best products are bespoke: houses, suits, and coffee; why should law be any different?
Discuss the following topics with the lawyer: location of meetings; timelines you expect for the proceedings; court location in which the proceedings will be commenced; and, frequency of updates. Make sure that you are entering into a legal relationship that makes sense for you.
Again, your first meeting with a law firm is an interview. A law firm should be vying for your work, aiming to please you. Ask the right questions.