•1. Get a consultation. A good legal consultation is essential and well worth paying for. This 30 -60 minute block of time is going to help you decide the course of your entire legal situation. This is your chance to ask questions, get information, and evaluate the lawyer and law firm. In short, you are going to be a thirsty sponge, soaking up all the information you can get, and using it to make intelligent, informed decisions
•2. Organize yourself. Take notes, snap pictures, keep a diary, separate papers by subject and date into folders. Make a summary of events. The more information that you condense for use by yourself and your lawyer, the better chance of success. Your intelligent “summaries” will help save you legal fees. Don’t ever give your lawyer unorganized “shoeboxes” full of junk to wade through. Organize it yourself, you’ll save legal fees.
•3. Don’t give tons of unnecessary information. Trying to help, clients may give reams of paper or stacks of disks that are irrelevant and unrequested. The lawyer will spend many billable hours reviewing information that isn’t necessary and then will have to charge for his/her time. The same goes for repetitive information given by email or phone.
•4. Do for yourself when you can. In some cases, you may not have to “retain” a lawyer to handle something, but may choose instead to visit the attorney periodically for assistance in handling the matter yourself. (Example: taking your own case to small claims court, negotiating changes in a contract you have been given, or collecting a judgment you’ve won). Even if you have retained a lawyer, try to complete paperwork on your own first, rather than spending billable hours reading it for the first time while your lawyer sits and watches you. Make a “working copy” for yourself, and a “clean copy” that you can use in case you have to meet with your lawyer again.
•5. Don’t “do for yourself” when it makes the situation worse. We’ve all heard the expression “pay me now or pay me more later” (I’ve had a plumber and an auto mechanic tell me this- it was true). It can apply in a legal situation. There are certain times when you absolutely should not be handling your own case. (Example: when you have to file documents with the court that you don’t have the training to prepare, when a lot of money or emotional well-being is at stake, and when you are too emotional or exhausted to do yourself justice.) There is a reason for the phrase “The lawyer who handles his own case has a fool for a client”. We even hire each other when we have to! Recognize those times and hire a lawyer before damage is done.
Following these few guidelines can significantly reduce the amount of money spent in legal fees!