Professional advice, of any kind, is never cheap. But there are number of things you can do to make sure the cost of your legal support doesn't outweigh the benefits you receive from it.
1. Don’t wait until the last minute.
A lot of people will avoid speaking with lawyers unless they absolutely have to. There are three problems with this approach.
First, the longer you wait, the fewer options you are likely to have. There is not much point seeking advice "after the event", as a lawyer won't be able to change what has already happened. So yes, avoiding lawyers might save money on legal fees in the short term. But this saving can be dwarfed by your commercial exposure, depending on the circumstances.
Second, if you wait too long, your preferred lawyer might not be available or have sufficient time to deal with the issue properly.
And third, if you face a serious problem that cannot be resolved quickly, the cost of your legal advice is likely to be significantly greater than could have been the case, had you spoken with your lawyer earlier.
In this article here, we talk more about the best (and worst) times to engage a lawyer. We explain that there is a difference between discretionary legal spend (spending money on systems, training and other matters that are designed to avoid problems), versus mandatory legal spend (where you have no choice but to engage a lawyer because of the circumstances).
You will get far greater value out of your discretionary legal spend than any mandatory legal spend – which, again, is why you shouldn't wait until the last minute before speaking with someone.
2. Make sure you’ve got the right lawyer for the job.
The right lawyer for the job usually isn't the one with the lowest charge rate. As we explain more in this article here, it’s all about fit.
There are a number of things you need to take into account when selecting a lawyer, such as:
- area(s) of expertise,
- depth of expertise,
- work capacity, and
- cultural fit.
The right lawyer for the job is someone who has the necessary expertise, who is willing and able to commit their time to listen to you and to think about your problems, and who will be able to advance your interests in a way that is consistent with your organisation’s culture and values.
Finding the right lawyer can take time – and yes, it may take you a few attempts before you find the right fit. But this is another good reason to build a relationship with a good lawyer early (and even before you have a pressing legal need) – so that you know you have a trusted advisor you can turn to, when you really need them.
3. Agree on a clear brief upfront
Before speaking to your lawyer, you should be able to do two things:
- provide a detailed background of the situation you are faced with; and
- identify, at least in broad terms, what you would like the outcome to be.
When you speak with your lawyer, they will ask questions and present options that you won’t have thought of. It is this discussion that tends to lead to the lawyer’s brief being more clearly defined, along with the relevant deliverables. And, before this discussion ends, each of you should be clear around what needs to happen next, and how (precisely) the lawyer is intended to contribute to this process.
Having a clear understanding of your brief minimises the risk of the lawyer straying off track and performing work that you would prefer not to pay for. There may be times when work needs to be done that you might not be aware of – but this should be raised, before the work is done, so that you always understand what is likely to happen next (and how much it is likely to cost). If ever you’re in doubt, just ask.
When people experience frustration with their lawyers or shock at the amount of their invoice, it’s generally because there has been a misalignment, possibly from the outset, about the scope of the lawyer’s brief and how much work was expected to be involved.
4. Engage in the process.
Don’t expect your lawyer to do your job for you.
Lawyers provide advice, and they will identify the pros and cons of any given approach or solution. Good lawyers will often provide suggestions around what they think you should do next. However legal advice is not a substitute for commercial decision-making.
Your lawyer’s job is merely to equip you with the information you need to make a decision, and to give you some of the tools you might need to reach your desired outcome (often in the form of documents).
It will always remain your job to decide what to do next. And to make a truly informed decision, you will need to remain engaged in the process.
Listen carefully to what your lawyer is saying. If you don’t, you could misinterpret or miss the point of their advice, in which case you won’t be receiving the full benefit of their service. It sounds obvious – but if you’re not willing to make the effort to engage with your lawyer properly, you’re not likely to get full value for your spend.
When your lawyer asks questions, try to answer those questions as accurately and quickly as you can. Sometimes, even the smallest details can make a radical difference to the advice that a lawyer will provide. Therefore, if you add detail to your brief, or ‘change your story’ after the event, this will only result in the lawyer having to re-think the issues and therefore add to the cost of the exercise.
Speed can be important. Lawyers do not have perfect memories, and your matter will not be the only thing they are working on at any given time. Consequently, the more time there is between the lawyer asking you a question and you responding to it, the more time the lawyer will need to re-immerse themselves into the detail (and, consequently, the more cost that can be involved).
5. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
Finally, always stay focused on your core commercial objectives, remembering that legal avenues will never be the only way of reaching your desired outcome.
The more heavily you rely on lawyers to achieve your commercial objectives, the less likely you are to be satisfied with the outcome. This is because, on all but the most basic of legal matters, you will always have a greater understanding of the commercial context than they do, and you will always be considering more than just the strict ‘legal issues’.
Legal support is intended to be just that – support. The role of a lawyer is to help you achieve your objectives. But legal advice and legal documents will rarely be the only tool at your disposal. Engaging a lawyer doesn’t mean that all of your other options should suddenly fall away.
There’s no doubt that legal advice can be expensive. However people engage lawyers because it can be significantly cheaper than the alternative. And there will always be positive actions you can take to get the best value out of the process, including those set out above.
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