Communication is a prerequisite for hiring a lawyer! Before a company and a lawyer can effectively begin dealing with one another on legal issues, they must be in communication with one another as to both parties’ goals and expectations. Either a lack of or breakdown in communications causes an inordinate amount of disputes (e.g., over time deadlines or fees) between clients and their lawyers. A business owner, or an in-house General Counsel of a corporation, explodes when presented with a bill for professional services that, regardless of merit and validity, comes as a complete surprise. Communication is the best method to manage your lawyer.
Clients do not like surprises! The General Counsel, or business owner, cannot afford to be kept uninformed or in the dark on a legal matter. He or she must report to an executive, or board, level that expects information that is accurate and up-to-date.
Communications is gaining recognition as an important service component in law firms. However, lawyers are not generally known for being proactive communicators with clients. Communication is often limited to a standard reporting letter sent out with a monthly bill or an after the fact report that a service milestone has been reached. This does not meet with the communication standards often placed on a General Counsel, or business executive. Typically, they are expected to keep other executives abreast of all current legal developments. The source of this problem is that lawyers do not have a professional level communications program in place.
General Counsels, and business owners, can change this. Start making communication one of the fundamental criterion in the relationship with your lawyer. Then, insist on a line of communication that is open and proactive. Finally, stipulate that you will respond to any inquiry on a legal matter within 24 hours. There is no reason that your lawyer can not respond with information that will at least inform you on the general status of a legal issue within this time frame.
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