Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Manager's Morning 

Manager had another visit with the attorney, trying to get everything finished up that he's been dragging out far too long.

Two months.  It's been two months, and $550.00, for a simple task.  Manager thought if he could handle this simple task well, he'd be a decent attorney to consult for other business needs - rental contracts, expansion and construction contracts, assorted other things.

But he hasn't been able to do what she paid him to do.

Strike that - he was able to do it, just, apparently, unwilling.  And he's been doing it in as unfriendly a manner as possible.

We finally got him to complete and file the basic incorporation papers, and thought we were done with him.

However, he sent Manager an email yesterday telling her he needed her signature on some contracts he'd drawn up for her.  She didn't ask him to do this, so she went in this morning to find out what contracts he meant.  Turns out he meant the by laws, which was acceptable.  However, he said she had to pay the filing fees. What, that wasn't part of the $550.00 we'd already paid him?

She took out the paper in which she'd written what she'd hired him to do:  File incorporation papers, fees to cover filing costs.

They are still debating who owes that fee.  I say it was covered in the fee we already paid, as this is apparently part of filing the incorporation papers.

Then, in addition to that, good old Manager, she confronted him about the fact that he hadn't notified her in a timely enough fashion to properly file her tax paperwork and she had a late penalty because of his tardiness.

They are still negotiating whether he has to pay her for that penalty.

I say he does, since it was his fault it was imposed on her due to his tardiness in notifying her that her papers were filed and she was officially in business.

She still hasn't managed to drag out of him exactly all he thinks she paid for, because it is certainly at variance with what we know we hired him to do.

When did attorneys become adversaries of their clients?  I always thought when you paid an attorney, they were there to take care of the legal need for which you hired them - your advocate not your adversary.

I have a few things I want to say about the attorney-client relationship.

If you are an attorney working with a start-up business owner, this is how you should handle things:

Tell me, up front, everything my money will cover.  Be honest.  I am bootstrapping this business, mortgaging my house, cleaning out my savings and the savings accounts of relatives and friends, and anyone one else willing to support me.  Money is really tight right now, so I need to know exactly what my dollars will do for me.

Don't nickle and dime me to death.  I'd rather be quoted a slightly higher price that includes "billable hours" than to get a charge for 1/12 of an hour.  How cheap and desperate that makes you look.  You should already know how long it will take you and/or your staff to file straightforward paperwork and you should have a flat rate for that.  If you encounter unusual circumstances or difficulties, call me to discuss it - on your nickel.  If I feel it's justified, I'll offer to pay the extra - and you can then include the cost of the phone call in that.  But it should always be my choice, not yours, to pursue this avenue or that, and to accept the charges.  I can't afford to give you a blank check.

And that goes for photocopies and faxes, too.  I work in an office, I know how much photocopies and faxes really cost.  If you must, include the costs  in the fee, don't inflate your fees by charging for each and every page.  If the documents are really long, call me.  I might surprise you and agree that it is worth an extra charge.

Make sure I have all the correct documents up front.

I know my own business inside and out, baker's formulas, inventory control, wastage, inspections, and so on.  I expect you to know yours as competently as I know mine.  I hired you to help me with a legal issue.  That means I expect you to inform me of everything that pertains to that issue up front, all the related documents and forms I will need to fill out and file.  That's your job, that's what I'm paying you for.

And while we're here, help me develop a long term legal plan.  Think of the benefit to you:  you inform me up front about legal issues I may encounter in the future and the projected costs in dealing with them, then I can make plans to set aside the money to pay you.  because you informed me ahead of time, I will retain good feelings about you and when those needs arise, who will I pay to deal with them? 

You, of course.

 Let me do a lot of the gruntwork myself.

  Put templates of documents in a client-only area of your website (you know you use templates, don't deny it.  I've written enough to recognize a form when I see one) so I can make my own drafts on my own time, which could be at midnight!  It will save you time so you can concentrate on more interesting aspects of your business, it will increase my familiarity with that part of my business, and it will incline me to trust you when big expensive issues come up.

And while we're discussing fees and expenses, why not help me be more successful?  If you have other clients, vendors or people in related businesses, who can assist me or whom I can assist, take the tiny step to introduce us. We'll both remember how helpful you were, and that can only be good for you.  We'll reciprocate by referring people to you.

The most important thing you attorneys have to remember is this:  Customer service.  You are in a service industry, and if you haven't figured that out yet, I bet you have a lot of unhappy clients.  If your clients are not happy, they aren't giving you all the business they could be passing along to you and they may just be waiting for an opportune moment to abandon you for somebody better.  Somebody who will listen to them and do for them what they pay you to do.  Treating your customer well, you know - the person who is paying you - is the most important part of your business.  If you don't treat me well, I will take my money and give it to someone else.

If you can't do these simple things for me, you won't last as my attorney.  And I won't be sending any business your way.

But if you can minimally meet these expectations, I will be pleased, and will refer others to you.  Exceed them, and I will actively promote you among my business associates and acquaintances.

Advocate for advocate, agreed?

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