The best attorney mentors I had in my early years of practice emphasized that law is a service business. Attending to the basics like responding promptly to emails and calls is at least as important, to this way of thinking, as being able to come up with an ingeniously complicated transaction structure. While I therefore have a “the customer is always right” orientation, I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t matter whether the client was similarly responsive, organized, etc. With that in mind, here are a few tips for how clients can make the attorney-client relationship run smoothly:
- Read Everything – Yes, it’s my responsibility to draft or review your agreement, but you are signing it. I’m flattered that you trust me to tell you “OK to sign,” but it’s your responsibility to understand what’s in there, with my assistance when you can’t make heads or tails of the language.
- Communicate Early – I’m often brought into a transaction after the principals have formulated a deal, because the principals don’t want to have the lawyers spending the extra time. However, this often results in additional (costly) complications, because the lawyers could have identified issues during the planning process.
- Respond Fully to Requests – If I send you a long issues list or request for documents, read through it carefully and try to be as responsive as possible. For example, if I ask to review an old agreement, take the time to dig up the executed version, not some early draft that you were able to find quickly on your computer. It will just take extra time for me to follow up.
- Be Realistic About Timing – Clients will often announce a target date for completing a transaction before asking me what’s involved or whether the date is realistic. While I always try to do my part to “push out the paper” promptly, transaction timing depends on the number of players involved and how responsive and motivated they are.
- Don’t Expect an Immediate Answer – When I’m on the phone with you, I’ll often respond to questions by saying that I’ll need to get back to you on that. Some attorneys view it as part of their job to look smart and knowledgeable by having a top-of-the-head answer, but I’m happy to risk appearing inexperienced and ultimately come back to you with sound and correct advice.