10 Biggest Mistakes in Choosing Their Employment Lawyer
1. Not knowing how to find or qualify a good employment lawyer.
With everything going on in your life, who has time to search out and build a relationship with a knowledgeable and experienced employment and labor lawyer. Plus, you’re not a lawyer (most likely anyway) so how are you supposed to know when one is any good? Unless you are one of the lucky few who know a good lawyer or know someone who knows someone who does (and even that can take some digging), good lawyers can be difficult to identify. Word of mouth (from your CPA, other business advisors, business colleagues, etc.) is often times one of the best ways to obtain a referral to a lawyer. The internet is also an efficient way to find your lawyer. Lawyers tend to be busy like you. So it’s difficult to bump into a lawyer at say a networking event. On the internet relevant content is one indication the lawyer has knowledge and expertise in the area of law you need help with. Other than that, keep an eye out for prospective lawyers who are attuned to your business needs and start building a relationship.
2. Not having a relationship with a good lawyer until you need one.
After your business is hit with an employee lawsuit is a tough time to start looking for a good lawyer. At that point you are under stress and time is of the essence to file paperwork to avoid a default judgment. And like we at Vision Law® say, “Once you have been sued, you’ve already lost.” That’s because even if you ultimately prevail you have to spend your valuable time and money defending your small/medium business in the process. Proactive businesses realize that utilizing an attorney to prevent time consuming and expensive litigation is far less time consuming and expensive in the long run. This concept also applies to day-to-day employee issues that arise. Often times in litigation, an employment lawyer finds out that if the company had handled things differently the litigation might have been avoided or the company would be in a better position to win, or at least get out of the case with the least overall cost. If you meet an employment and labor lawyer or firm you relate to, consider building a long term relationship with him, her or the firm so you already have an established relationship with your lawyer before something catastrophic happens or, better yet, to prevent the catastrophe in the first place.
3. Not demanding access to and responsiveness from your lawyer.
A recurring complaint about lawyers (or business in general it seems) is that many of them do not promptly return telephone calls. Failing to return telephone calls within a reasonable time tells the caller they or their call is not important. With urgent legal matters, the need to return calls promptly obviously takes on even more meaning. If your lawyer or law firm doesn’t take the time to return phone calls within a reasonable time, it may be time to consider another one.
4. Allowing the lawyer to nickel and dime you to death.
Traditional large law firms bill for everything. In addition to expensive hourly rates, they often will charge for faxes, photocopying, long-distance telephone charges, postage, overnight mail charges, electronic legal research time, mileage, and secretarial time above and beyond hard costs relating to out of town travel or litigation expenses. Many firms will not seek reimbursement at actual costs, but will include a mark up, sometimes as high as 100% to 150%. Find a law firm that keeps it simple and either absorbs soft costs in its standard attorney fees or a flat administrative fee designed to recoup certain soft costs at approximately cost. This will save your company substantial time in reviewing and approving legal bills. Besides, you are buying legal advice and service, not administrative services and expenses.
5. Using lawyers who are not in the information age and lack technology efficiency.
We are in the information age. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors (ability to store information) on an integrated circuit (chip) will double every two years. Gordon Moore made this statement in 1964 four years prior to co-founding Intel. Lawyers who know, understand and can use technology can perform more efficiently than lawyers who do not. Technology such as wireless communications, e-mail and the Internet allow you to stay connected to your attorneys and provides better access to them if your business desires to take advantage of the technologies itself. Seek a law firm that at least has a reasonable grasp on technology and appreciates the efficiency it creates.
6. Using lawyers who lack business sense and who fail to apply cost/benefit analysis.
Most lawyers are trained in the law, not business. The practice of law is a business, but many lawyers are either unaware of that concept or forget it from time to time, particularly when it comes to assisting business clients. A lawyer must provide value or benefit to the business. The value or benefit of the legal advice or representation must bear a rational and reasonable relation to the cost expended. In litigation, many business clients lose control over fees and costs because of a lack of communication between the lawyer and the business client and a failure to establish clear goals and expectations of the litigation. If the lawyer is told to win at all costs without a budget, the likely result is an open checkbook and “scorched earth litigation,” where no stone will be unturned in order to “win” the litigation. The same concept applies to prelitigation advice and legal work. For any project or litigation matter, use a competent lawyer who understands the concept of “cost/benefit” and is willing to work with your company to achieve its desired objectives and tailor the effort and associated costs accordingly.
7. Using lawyers who care more about themselves rather than client needs.
A law firm should be in business for one reason: to satisfy client needs or wants and achieve their goals and objectives. If you ever feel your lawyer fails to listen to what you want and/or fails to look for creative ways to achieving what you want, you might consider a different lawyer.
8. Working with lawyers who charge by the hour with no incentive to work efficiently and who require a certain amount of billable hours per year.
Traditional law firms generally charge by the hour and are very hesitant to provide estimates of the time it will take to complete a project or matter. This encourages over billing or overworking a case, particularly when the law firm may be short on work. Look for lawyers who are willing to provide flat rate legal services and who focus on preventing lawsuits versus just litigating them. Reasonable flat rates promote efficiency in legal services and also allows businesses to budget more appropriately for legal expenses.
9. Allowing the “tail to wag the dog.”
Don’t ever forget that your business hires the law firm and makes ultimate decisions concerning legal matters impacting your company. Look for lawyers who demonstrate respect towards your business and you. Lawyers are needed to provide sound legal advice, opinion and counsel. To do so effectively, the lawyer must listen to a company’s problems, issues, goals or needs before he/she can adequately advise and seek appropriate legal solutions. You are solely responsible for your company’s direction and its decisions. Lawyers are important advisors to help your business succeed, but don’t let the “tail wag the dog.”
10. Not using a lawyer.
This could be the biggest mistake of all. In a small/medium business survey, over 65% of small/medium businesses reported they rarely used or did not have a lawyer. Juxtaposed with that statistic the litigious mentality of California employees. In California, the average discrimination jury verdict between 1998 and 2008 was $472,872 (not including attorneys’ fees and costs) according to data in one report. Another survey reported that the number of civil lawsuits across the nation is increasing at a rate three times faster than the adult population. In California, that rate is likely to be much higher. A major reason small businesses do not use a lawyer is likely to be the cost. However, the more appropriate question is whether your business can afford not to have a business legal advisor on its team. Most small/medium businesses fail within 10 years. Don’t let a devastating employee lawsuit be the reason your business doesn’t make it to 30.