The high price of justice is putting a squeeze on clients and attorneys alike these days. On the client side, individuals are postponing legal work and businesses are taking more legal work in-house. Consequently, a number of firms nationwide aren’t hiring as many associates as they used to; others have been forced to lay off employees. LN asked several top St. Louis attorneys what clients can do to tame the beast of billable hours.
SAM HAIS OF HAIS, HAIS, GOLDBERGER & COYNE
• Look for experienced representation. “To save time and avoid costly mistakes, hire a lawyer who has a reputation for results and a solid crew of associates and paralegals,” Hais notes.
• Learn the basics of divorce law. “Knowing the basic procedures and the difference between ‘petitioner’ and ‘respondent,’ for example, can save your lawyer from time-consuming explanations,” he says. “You can also minimize costs by using e-mail instead of the telephone when you contact your legal team. Phone conversations always take longer.”
• Revenge may be sweet, but it’ll cost you. “Don’t go for the kill,” Hais says. “It leads to long, drawn-out, expensive legal battles that benefit no one. Be firm about what you want, but also be flexible and fair-minded.”
• Don’t second-guess your law firm. “It complicates issues and drives up costs,” Hais says. “If you’ve hired a reputable firm, your lawyer is on your side, so why start taking advice from your Aunt Tilly?” And speaking of advice, “never take legal advice from your soon-to-be ex,” he says. “Believe me, his or her interests don’t coincide with yours.”
CARL LANG OF ROSENBLUM, GOLDENHERSH, SILVERSTEIN & ZAFFT
• Be organized. “The more organized the client, the more efficient the attorney,” Lang says. “When you go to your attorney’s office, know exactly why you’re there and what you want to accomplish. Come equipped with relevant papers and information. It saves time, and time is money when you’re being billed by the hour.”
• See if your firm will consider alternatives to billable hours. “If you’re involved in a litigation matter, for example, your lawyer can take a percentage,” Lang says. “You also might be able to arrange a fixed fee; just be sure the scope of the attorney’s responsibilities is clearly defined before you proceed. Or you might try some kind of hybrid arrangement, such as a reduced hourly fee with a bonus based on results. Again, make sure all terms are clearly understood by all parties before you begin.”
ALISSE CAMAZINE OF PAULE, CAMAZINE & BLUMENTHAL
• Be honest with your attorney. “Come in with all the relevant financial records,” says Camazine, who co-authored Divorce in Missouri, a consumer-friendly guide, with legal partner Alan Freed. “Don’t play ‘hide the ball’ with your assets. Concealing assets from the other side will cost you more money in the long run.”
• Beware of attorneys who promise you the moon. “If your divorce lawyer says he can get you 80 percent of the property or a huge settlement because your spouse had an affair, run like the wind,” Camazine says. “Lots of lawyers are willing to take advantage of your pain and anger, but the law doesn’t work that way. Judges don’t like attorneys who foster unrealistic expectations in their clients.”
• Do everything possible to avoid a protracted legal battle. “Your lawyer should be an agent of reality; someone who will sit down with the other side and negotiate a fair settlement,” she says. “Endless depositions and delays don’t get better results, they cause more stress and cost you more money.”
• Think about what you want, and how you want to get there. “Yes, you’re hurt; yes, your ex is a lying, cheating jerk,” Camazine says. “But take the high road. You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in a custody battle to get revenge, but a ‘win at all costs’ attitude ends up losing, especially when your children are involved.”