Tips to Improve Law Firm Client Relationships

4 Ways to Build Strong Client Relationships for Law Firms EverSpark  Interactive

78 percent of lawyers say that acquiring new business is one of their top challenges, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters Solo and Small Law Firm group. In other words, if law firm business development is difficult for you, you’re not alone.

There’s more to building a business than buying a few online ads and praying for clients. You’ll need to spend time building relationships, while also keeping existing clients happy to ensure repeat business—all of which can be more difficult than it sounds.

We’ve rounded up a few best practices surrounding client relationships, based on our webinar, Business Development Strategies for Law Firms, held by Clio’s own Lawyer in Residence, Joshua Lenon. As he puts it:

Quite frankly, a lot of your own career development centers around your ability to bring in business, so it’s something that you should be focussing on from day one.

Whether you’re starting a new practice, or just looking to brush up on your law firm business development skills, this list includes several valuable tools to build positive client relationships and ensure sustainable growth for your law firm.

Client relationships and law firm business development

For any law firm—or any business, for that matter—it’s important to focus on building strong client relationships. Happy clients will keep coming back, and they may also recommend your services to others.

There are plenty of ways to build relationships, but some approaches work better than others. If you want to build the best client relationships possible, take a look at this chart from BTI Consulting, which outlines 17 activities to consider.client relationships and law firm business development

Source: BTI Consulting

The two activities in the Business Magnets quadrant are less important. As Joshua says:

For the most part, your clients aren’t searching for an innovative approach. They’re not searching for a law firm that anticipates their needs, because they know that information already. They know what their needs are. So if you’re marketing yourself solely on these two features, while you might stand out a little bit, you might not be able to close the business. To close the business, you have to at least meet the price of admission.

In other words, the six activities listed in the Price of Admission quadrant outline the basic expectations most clients will have for you. Clients won’t single you out as exceptional for keeping them informed and dealing with unexpected changes, but you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re capable of these activities to close new business.

So how do you build client relationships to reach relationship bliss? According to Joshua and BTI, there are at least five things that you as a lawyer can do to keep your clients coming back:

1. Reach out with unprompted communication

Joshua states:

Unprompted communication is something that I think is really easy for lawyers to do, but so few actually do it. Reaching out to a client with an update—whether it’s significant or not—is a great way to show involvement in a matter, but a lot of lawyers don’t necessarily do this.

2. Pay attention to regional reputation management

For lawyers responsible for business development in solo, small, and medium-sized firms, Joshua notes:

You’re going to be dealing with regional clients, and they’re going to be asking their colleagues whom they turn to. If you have a regional reputation—and that can be demonstrated in a variety of different ways, whether it’s by participation in community activities, or by coverage in the local news—your ability to demonstrate that reputation will help you build a stronger relationship.

3. Offer a breadth of service

Lawyers can’t claim to specialize under most states’ ethical advertising rules, but many still fall into the trap of keeping a narrow focus and missing out on clients.

As Joshua explains:

We tend to focus on a particular area of expertise and seek clients for that. But clients are actually seeking lawyers that can handle their needs, not necessarily just your expertise.

Make sure that you’re open to helping clients, even if it means referring or handing a client off to an appropriate source for aid.

4. Demonstrate your value

As a lawyer, you need to be able to demonstrate your value. But while some lawyers charge upwards of $1,000 per hour, demonstrating dollar value can sometimes be difficult. And, clients can sometimes see lawyers as interchangeable, regardless of their skill or expertise.

That’s a problem—in that scenario, clients see cost but not value.

“You need to show the client you’re actually saving them money or time or emotional grief because they’re hiring you,” Joshua states.

5. Show a commitment to help

“You need to be able to understand the client’s business,” Joshua says. “It may be family affairs, it may actually be a business, but you need to be able to recognize what they’re actually seeking, focus on it, and demonstrate a commitment to help.”

How do you demonstrate this? Dan Pinnington does it with a simple question for clients: “What’s your greatest concern?” He finds that this forces his clients into a moment of clarity, and allows him to reassure them that he can help with their greatest worries as they apply to the matter at hand.

“Dan didn’t arrive at this question because he was told about it,” Joshua says. “He arrived at this question because that’s what worked with the clients he was seeking.”

Key takeaways

How Law Firms Foster Better Client Relationships - Mike Gingerich

To sum up, here’s what you need to focus on to build strong client relationships for sustainable law firm business development:

  • Reach out. Unprompted communication does wonders for showing your clients that you’re involved.
  • Manage your local reputation. Get involved in your community to build relationships with potential clients.
  • Broaden your horizons. Be ready to help anyone who comes through your door—even if it means referring them to another lawyer.
  • Communicate value. Take extra care to explain how your services save your client money and/or time.
  • Focus on helping. Ask your client what their greatest concern is, and show your commitment to helping with that.

There’s a lot more to successful law firm business development beyond building client relationships. Traditional networking activities and online promotion should also be part of your plan. You’ll also need to track your efforts to ensure they’re effective.

What to Expect when Meeting Your Attorney for the First Time

What to bring for your first attorney-client meeting

Despite what some popular jokes insinuate to the contrary, lawyers are people, too. They understand that it’s common for potential clients to be nervous or anxious when meeting for the first time. Try to remember that attorneys are there to help you. Knowing what to expect can ease your mind.


Preparation

Being prepared will organize your thoughts, refresh your memory, and do wonders for your comfort level. It will also help to focus the meeting so your attorney can give accurate and relevant advice.

• Gather all significant documents. If your attorney has sent you forms to fill out, complete them in advance and bring them with you.

• Write down a brief timeline of events.

• Make a list of all the issues you are concerned about and any questions you want to be answered before you commit to hiring the lawyer. Sample questions include: What kind of strategy would you recommend for handling my case? What are your rates? What additional costs am I expected to pay? Who else in your office will work on my case?

• Think about what you would like the outcome to be, which will help the lawyer determine whether your expectations are attainable.

Consultation

The meeting is an opportunity for you to tell your story, but it’s also important to get to know each other a bit to make sure you feel comfortable working together. Regardless of the reason you are seeking legal advice (personal injury, criminal defense, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.), be honest and as accurate as possible when describing the events. The lawyer will ask questions designed to focus the discussion on the background facts he or she feels are important.

If the lawyer is willing to take your case and you wish to proceed, you will be presented with a retainer agreement, which should be fully explained to you. Do not sign until you understand it. This agreement is a contract that describes your obligations to the lawyer and the lawyer’s obligations to you, including such details as to how you will receive updates about what’s happening with your case, how much the lawyer is charging to handle your legal issue, whether you’re required to make an upfront deposit and how frequently payments are due.

Payment

How to Prepare for Your First Meeting With a Lawyer - ANTHEM INJURY LAWYERS


If you need a lawyer for a case that doesn’t involve a claim for money (seeking a divorce, criminal defense, filing bankruptcy), then you will have to pay a “retainer” in advance for the work and then pay by the hour once the retainer is spent. Usually, attorneys with more experience have higher rates than novice attorneys, but the cost often evens out because they may take less time to do the same work. Some lawyers are willing to work out a payment plan so you don’t owe everything at once. If you can’t afford the costs that the lawyer outlines, ask if alternative arrangements can be made.

For cases seeking money, such as personal injury or workers’ compensation claims, the lawyer often agrees to accept a fixed percentage of the amount recovered by the client. This is called a contingent fee arrangement and although percentages vary, one-third (33 percent) is common. If you win, either through settlement or trial, the lawyer is paid for the recovery. If you lose, you don’t have to pay the lawyer anything (of course, you don’t get any money either). The lawyer’s fee is different from filing fees and similar court costs, and, win or lose, the client is usually responsible for their payment.

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By the end of your meeting, you should leave with a clear understanding of what you have accomplished and what is happening next. If all goes well, you’ve found an attorney with whom you’re comfortable and who wants to represent you. While meeting with a lawyer for the first time is a new experience, it doesn’t have to be an intimidating one.

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How to Find an Excellent Lawyer

If your legal problem is complex or involves lots of money, you might not want to attempt to handle the entire matter without a lawyer. After all, lawyers do more than dispense legal information. They offer strategic advice and apply sophisticated technical skills to legal problems. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a lawyer who’s willing to serve as your legal “coach” to help you educate yourself to the maximum extent possible and to take over as your formal legal counsel only if necessary.

How to Find the Right Lawyer

How to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer | Terry & Roberts

Locating a good lawyer who can efficiently help with your particular problem may not be easy. Don’t expect to locate a good lawyer by simply looking in the phone book or reading an advertisement. There’s not enough information in these sources to help you make a valid judgment.

Personal Referrals

A better approach is to talk to people in your community who have experienced the same problem you face — for example, if you have a claim of sexual harassment, talk to a women’s group. Ask them who their lawyers were and what they think of them. If you talk to half a dozen people who have had a similar legal problem, chances are you’ll come away with several good leads.

But don’t make a decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else’s recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer’s style and personality; don’t make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you’ve met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working with him or her.

Also, it may be hard to find a lawyer through a personal referral with the expertise you need (for instance, if your friend had a great divorce lawyer, but you need incorporation advice, the referral may not do you much good).

Online Services

Many sites, including Nolo.com, offer a way to connect with local lawyers based on your location and the type of legal case you have. You answer a few questions about your case and your contact information, then the right type of lawyers contact you directly. Talk to a local lawyer.

Nolo’s Lawyer Directory

Our service offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer’s experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer’s general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.

Business Referrals

Businesses that provide services to key players in the legal area you are interested in may also be able to help you identify lawyers you should consider. For example, if you are interested in small business law, speak to your banker, accountant, insurance agent, and real estate broker. These people come into frequent contact with lawyers who represent business clients and are in a position to make informed judgments.

Lawyer Referral Services

Lawyer referral services are another source of information. There is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, however, even though they are required to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those attorneys with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar who maintains liability insurance. Before you choose a lawyer referral service, ask what its qualifications are for including an attorney and how carefully lawyers are screened.

What you may not get from any lawyer referral service, however, is the insight into the lawyer’s philosophy — for instance, whether the lawyer is willing to spend a few hours to be your legal coach or how aggressive the lawyer’s personality is.

Other Sources

Here are a few other sources you can turn to for possible candidates in your search for a lawyer:

  • The director of your state or local chamber of commerce may be a good source of business lawyers.
  • The director of a nonprofit group interested in the subject matter that underlies your lawsuit is sure to know lawyers who work in that area. For example, if your dispute involves trying to stop a major new subdivision, it would make sense to consult an environmental group committed to fighting urban sprawl.
  • A law librarian can help identify authors in your state who have written books or articles on a particular subject — for example, construction law.
  • A women’s or men’s support group will probably have a list of well-regarded family and divorce lawyers.

Consider a Specialist

Most lawyers specialize in certain areas, and even a so-called “general practitioner” may not know that much about the particular area of your concern. For example, of the almost one million lawyers in America today, probably fewer than 50,000 possess sufficient training and experience in small business law to be of real help to an aspiring entrepreneur.

It can pay to work with a lawyer who already knows the field, such as employment discrimination, zoning laws, software design issues, or restaurant licensing. That way you can take advantage of the fact that the lawyer is already far up the learning curve. Sometimes specialists charge a little more, but if their specialized information is truly valuable, it can be money well spent.

Interview the Prospective Lawyers

When you get the names of several good prospects, the next step is to talk to each personally. If you outline your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet with you for a half-hour or so at no charge so that you can size them up and make an informed decision.

Personality

Pay particular attention to the personal chemistry between you and your lawyer. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two, you may never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship. Trust your instincts and seek a lawyer whose personality is compatible with your own. Look also for experience, personal rapport, and accessibility.

Communication and Promptness

Ask all prospective lawyers how you will be able to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. And don’t assume that because the lawyer seems friendly and easy to talk to that it’s okay to overlook this step.

Unfortunately, the complaint logs of all lawyer regulatory groups indicate that many lawyers are terrible communicators. If every time you have a problem there’s a delay of several days before you can talk to your lawyer on the phone or get an appointment, you’ll lose precious time, not to mention sleep.

Almost nothing is more aggravating to a client than to leave a legal project in a lawyer’s hands and then have weeks or even months go by without anything happening. You want a lawyer who will work hard on your behalf and follow through promptly on all assignments.

Willingness to Work With You

When you have a legal problem, you need legal information. Lawyers, of course, are prime sources of this information, but if you bought all the needed information at their rates — $150 to $450 an hour — you’d quickly empty your bank account. Fortunately, many lawyers will work with you to help you acquire a good working knowledge of the legal principles and procedures you need to deal with your problem at least partly on your own.

If you are hoping to represent yourself and use a lawyer only for advice, make sure the lawyer is open to that type of setup. Likewise, if you’re going into business and will draft your own bylaws or business agreements, ask the lawyer if she’s open to reviewing your drafts and making comments.

Sex Crime, Drug Crime, DUI/OWI, Violent Crime, and Other Criminal Case Defense in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Throughout Michigan

When you are investigated for a crime or charged with a criminal offense in Michigan, you need to start gathering information that will help you throughout your case. Hiring a lawyer is always the best first step to take, however, there is a variety of information available online that can assist you in the criminal justice process. Our criminal defense lawyers’ blog and sex crime defense blog can help you understand the laws and legal issues affecting your case, and provide you with some of the information you need to make decisions about your case.

Never take legal action without hiring an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer, and don’t speak with police or attempt to go through the early stages of your case without skilled representation. Our Michigan defense lawyers have assisted clients who face drug crime, sex crime, drunk driving, violent crime, and other criminal charges, and have the experience and knowledge needed to guide you through your case.

Contact Grabel & Associates now for aggressive criminal defense representation in Michigan. Our statewide defense lawyers will do everything they can to help you fight for the best possible case result, and we are available immediately to begin working with you in your case.

Michigan Criminal Lawyers Blog

Grabel & Associates publishes a criminal lawyers blog that has information about laws, prominent cases, and other legal issues in the state of Michigan and beyond. Some of the topics on our Michigan criminal defense blog include:

Michigan Sex Crime Attorneys Blog

For information about sex crimes cases, sex offense laws, sex crime registration, and more visit our sex crime blog. Some of the topics included in this blog are:

Michigan DUI and Drunk Driving Lawyer Blogs

If you have been accused of drunk driving, DUI, OWI, or any other intoxicated driving charge, contact Grabel & Associates now. Some of the pages below may be helpful in determining what charges you face, why you need an attorney, and what potential criminal penalties you are facing may be.

Michigan Sex Crime Defense Blogs

Sex crime charges are very serious, and if convicted, you could face jail time, fines, and sex offender registration among other penalties. Contact our MI firm now if you have been accused of a criminal charge, and review the blog posts below for more information about sex crimes in Michigan.

Drug Charges Defense Blogs

The following pages contain information on drug crime and drug charges in Michigan. Additional blog posts can be found on the Michigan Criminal Lawyers Blog.

Violent Crime Charges Blogs and Articles

Assault, homicide, and other violent crime charges are taken very seriously by Michigan police and prosecutors, and anyone charged with a violent crime charge should contact an attorney immediately. Our criminal defense blog has information on legal issues including the following charges:

Contact Grabel & Associates for Aggressive Michigan Criminal Defense

Our experienced lawyers know what it takes to earn great results for clients who are facing criminal charges, and we will dedicate as much time as necessary to your case. We care about your future and will protect your rights while fighting for your freedom no matter what charge you face. We believe every client is innocent until proven guilty, and will provide you with a dynamic defense strategy based on the unique details of your case.

Call 1-800-342-7896 now to speak with an experienced attorney, or contact us online. We are available 24/7 to take your call and can begin helping you as soon as you contact us. Never take legal action without consulting an attorney, contact us now and ask to set up a free consultation with trial lawyer Scott Grabel. The more you know about the charges you face, the better you will be able to defend against conviction.

Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Criminal Lawyer

6 Qualities Of A Good Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney at Law Magazine

Criminal law is tough—but if you’re willing to rise to the challenge, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exciting, diverse, or thought-provoking legal career.

From what criminal law entails to what you’ll study in law school to the skills you’ll need to practice in the real world, keep reading for expert insights into what it takes to succeed in this rewarding legal specialty.

What is criminal law, anyway?

Whether they’re prosecuting people who break the law, defending those who have been accused of crimes, or performing related work, criminal lawyers play a critical role in our society and in the administration of justice.

As New England Law | Boston Professor Victor Hansen puts it, criminal law is basically our saying, “the conduct you engaged in was outside of what we as a society approve, and therefore you should receive our societal condemnation.” Professor Hansen, who directs the school’s Criminal Practice and Procedure certificate program, says that “societal condemnation” is really the defining factor in criminal law.

Even though a crime may be perpetrated against an individual, it’s considered an offense against the state (aka society) and prosecuted as such. “That’s what distinguishes the whole line of criminal law as different from any other kind of law,” Professor Hansen says. Criminal law then focuses on what conduct should be punished and affixing the appropriate punishment for those wrongdoings.

Underpinning a criminal lawyer’s work is the heady responsibility of cases with potentially life-changing ramifications, as they fight for justice on behalf of their client.

“[Criminal law] made me feel like a detective, and that’s why it really resonated with me,” says Teniola Adeyemi, a 2015 New England Law graduate and Assistant District Attorney in Boston. While so much legal work is black and white, she was fascinated by the gray areas in criminal law. “You’d establish a standard and then you’d have to figure out, well, what does that mean for my case? How does that help or hurt?” she says. “It’s thought-provoking.”

Professor Hansen adds that certain interests and personality traits are particularly well-suited for the law. As with any legal professional, criminal lawyers need to have solid critical thinking, interpersonal and written, and verbal communication skills. The ability to analyze complex information is also a must, as is the ability to deal with potentially disturbing situations, such as discussing or viewing evidence related to a violent crime. Last but certainly not least, underpinning a criminal lawyer’s work is the heady responsibility of cases with potentially life-changing ramifications, as they fight for justice on behalf of their client.

Challenging? Yes. But this can all add up to an incredibly rewarding career.

Upon entering the workforce, criminal lawyers enjoy many diverse job options. Some focus on defense, working as private attorneys or public defenders. Others serve as prosecutors at the local, state, or federal level. Later in their careers, these lawyers might become judges or enter the political arena, effecting change at the highest levels.

How do you become a criminal lawyer?

6 jobs for criminology majors - Insight Digital Magazine

Whether you hope to become a criminal lawyer or enter another practice area, your career path will begin to take shape once you enter law school. You’ll complete a combination of required courses and electives, many of which will expose you to the practice and particulars of criminal law. It all starts with a first-year course covering the foundations of criminal law (required by virtually all accredited law schools).

In the criminal law course, he teaches first-year students, Professor Hansen focuses primarily on two key crimes: murder/homicide (where students look at relevant statutes, different degrees of murder, and the elements of proof needed to prove the guilt) and sexual assault (where students learn how that crime and the law itself have evolved). The class also covers potential defenses to those crimes as well as mitigating factors.

Though such horrific crimes might spring to mind when you think of “criminal law,” there’s more to the specialty than the cases ripped right out of a Law & Order screenplay. In fact, there’s a surprising universality to criminal law. “It really touches on a lot of the different areas that any lawyer would be interested in,” Professor Hansen says. “Plus there’s the added component of working with people, whether it’s victims, defendants, family members, or organizations within governmental institutions.”

Then, as an upper-level law student, you might take such classes as Juvenile Law, Mental Health Law, Prosecutorial Ethics, Trial Practice, and White Collar Crime. You’ll also have opportunities to get hands-on experience in criminal law through law school clinics, internships, moot court/mock trials, and more.

At the end of all that coursework, the big prize is your Juris Doctor (JD). After law school, some students go on to pursue advanced degrees such as the Master of Laws (LLM) or the Doctor of Science of Law (JSD or SJD), but those individuals are typically planning to conduct scholarly research or teach law. For most students hoping to pursue criminal law, the JD is what they need to practice—after passing the bar exam, of course.

Where can you learn more about studying criminal law?

“Most students have been exposed to some aspects of criminal law through books, television, and movies,” Professor Hansen says. “While that can be helpful to some degree, it can also be somewhat misleading.” Naturally, the examples found in entertainment are designed to be just that: entertaining. The realities are often more subtle.

To gain a better understanding of the real-world practice of criminal law, students should take advantage of internships, summer programs, and experiential coursework in law school. They might also consider participating in professional organizations that support students as well as working professionals. Just one example is the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association. It provides students the opportunity to network with their peers as well as professionals, plus access to resources such as videos and journals.

Other resources for students curious about criminal law include the National Center for Law Placement, which offers helpful information like average salaries in the private and public sectors, employment trends, and more. A section targeted to law students and graduates provides plenty of career advice. Another organization, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers serves private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors, and judges.

Students are also strongly encouraged to network and seek out mentoring relationships, which might involve attending professional events on campus, reaching out to law school alumni, and simply tapping into personal connections. For example, sitting down for an “informational interview” with a family friend who happens to be a criminal lawyer can be immensely helpful in clarifying your career choices!

All this being said, even if you’re strongly considering criminal law, it’s best to keep your mind and options open in law school, Professor Hansen says. “Keep your eyes open, particularly entering into your first year,” he says. “Don’t shut any doors.”

How Much Does a Criminal Lawyer Cost? A Simple Guide | Attorney at Law  Magazine

Students frequently discover previously untapped interests through their law school courses and experiential learning opportunities, Professor Hansen says. He notes that the first-year criminal law class consistently inspires students to pursue this path. At the same time, students who start law school focused on a particular area often end up changing their plans. In any case, it’s important to be realistic and gain as much experience as you can in the legal areas that interest you so you can make informed decisions.

From the LSAT to the bar exam, from that first criminal law class to the day you get your diploma, becoming a criminal lawyer takes a great deal of time and effort. But wherever they end up, criminal lawyers invariably have a significant impact on the clients—and society—they serve.

Getting an Attorney to Handle Your Criminal Case

What Is Power Of Attorney?

Within the complex criminal justice system, a defense attorney serves as the defendant’s guide, protector, and confidant. (At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.) Defense attorneys are usually grouped in two camps: court-appointed attorneys paid by the government and private attorneys paid by the defendant.

Some criminal defendants can afford to hire a private criminal defense attorney. For those who cannot afford an attorney (approximately eighty percent of all criminal defendants), the court may appoint counsel to represent the defendant (assuming certain qualifications are met). These court-appointed attorneys are either public defenders who are on government salary, or they are so-called “panel attorneys,” local attorneys chosen from a panel. A small fraction of criminal defendants (approximately two percent) represent themselves and are referred to as “pro se” or “pro per” defendants.

What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do?

Criminal defense attorneys (private and court-appointed) research the facts, investigate the case against their clients, and try to negotiate deals with their adversaries (prosecutors). These deals might include reduced bail, reduced charges, and reduced sentences. Because of a number of factors—political and public pressure, overcrowded jails, overloaded court calendars—deal-making has grown in importance and has become an essential element in unclogging the criminal justice system.

Criminal defense attorneys also examine witnesses, help formulate a plea, analyze the prosecutor’s case, assess the potential sentences (and the likelihood of a particular judge awarding such a sentence), review search and seizure procedures, question witnesses, and gather evidence. Defense counsel can also advise on potential immigration consequences or other consequences of a plea, conviction, or criminal record.

Defense counsel also provide more personal services by giving the defendant a reality check as to the possible outcomes and by helping the defendant to deal with the frustrations and fears resulting from being thrown into the criminal justice system. And of course, if no plea deal can be made, the defense lawyer represents the defendant at trial.

Cost of Legal Representation

4 Reasons Why You Should Hire an Experienced DUI Lawyer

A huge factor when it comes to legal representation is the defendant’s financial status and whether the defendant can afford private counsel.

Private criminal defense attorneys charge either on an hourly basis (expect to pay $150 an hour or higher) or by a fixed or set fee. They are prohibited from charging contingency fees, which are payments that depend on the outcome of the case. If the defendant is indigent (cannot afford private counsel), the court may appoint a government-paid public defender or panel attorney.

Some—but not many—folks have enough money so that paying for a lawyer isn’t a financial strain. But arranging for legal representation often isn’t as straightforward for those who fall in between these groups of people.

The bottom line for judges is that the right to free (government-paid) defense counsel generally kicks in whenever an indigent defendant faces a jail or prison sentence. If there is no possibility of incarceration—for example, a judge states on the record that she will not sentence the defendant to jail time—then the defendant might not be entitled to free counsel (depending on state law).

Note that the right to free representation does not mean a right to the lawyer of choice. A defendant who’s been appointed counsel normally doesn’t get to pick and choose in the way that a paying defendant does.

Is a Private Attorney Better Than a Court-Appointed Attorney?

Defendants sometimes believe that private attorneys possess a distinct advantage over the overworked public defender’s office or panel attorneys who are paid a minimum fee. But do private attorneys provide better representation than court-appointed government-paid defense counsel?

Many private attorneys are former prosecutors or public defenders. Based on studies that evaluate the outcomes of having a private versus court-appointed attorney, data seems to indicate that the results for defendants are often the same. For example, one study indicated that defendants represented by private counsel and public defenders fared similarly in conviction rates and sentencing (although those represented by panel attorneys fared worse). Such statistical evidence is not always reliable or clear because of complicating factors. For instance, clients represented by private counsel often have short or no prior criminal records, while indigent defendants are twice as likely to be repeat offenders. What is also unclear—and what creates one of the biggest uncertainties of the criminal justice system—is whether private attorneys can negotiate better plea deals than court-appointed counsel.

Ultimately, the experience, skills, and commitment of the particular attorney at hand—regardless of whether he or she is a public defender, panel attorney, or private lawyer—are the best indicator of the quality of the representation.

Self-Representation (Pro se)

What is clear is that being represented by a lawyer is almost always the best option. Nevertheless, some criminal defendants represent themselves. The decision of whether a defendant can self-represent is ultimately made by the judge, not the defendant. The judge is required to determine the defendant’s competency. That’s because a defendant who cannot provide a competent defense cannot get a fair shake, even if the defendant is adamant about not accepting the services of a court-appointed attorney. When determining whether a defendant can go pro se, a judge will consider factors such as:

  • the seriousness of the crime
  • the defendant’s language skills and education
  • whether the defendant understands the nature of the proceedings, and
  • whether the defendant is knowingly giving up his right to counsel.

Finding an Attorney

Lawyer (Attorney) - Dream Meaning and Interpretation - Dream Glossary and  Dictionary

When looking for a private defense attorney, look for an attorney who specializes in criminal defense and practices in the jurisdiction (city or county) where charges are pending. A local attorney will be familiar with the judges and prosecutors in that area. Learn more in our article on what to look for in a private criminal defense attorney. You can also find more information on our home page, www.criminaldefenselawyer.com.

If you don’t have the financial resources to pay for an attorney, you will typically need to ask for court-appointed counsel (before or at one of your first court hearings) and fill our paperwork on your financial resources. Learn more in our article on public defender representation.

Ethical ‘Dos and Don’ts’ Attorneys Need to Know

Types of Lawyers | legalzoom.com

My partner Matthew Conroy and I recently presented a continuing legal education seminar called Ethical Dos and Don’ts for Attorneys. That seminar is available online at Lawline. During the seminar, we covered a lot of topics including the top five examples of attorney conduct that can lead to the filing of a grievance.  Here they are:

1. Misuse of client funds:

As a lawyer, I encourage you to be very cautious regarding client funds. If the funds aren’t yours, don’t touch them unless you have an absolute right to them, typically for hours billed under an hourly fee agreement, assuming your jurisdiction allows you to take undisputed amounts of money. Even in this case, practice cautiously, obtaining client consent if possible.

Obtain and keep a record of writing from a client,or whoever is entitled to the funds, authorizing and/or directing you as to what to do with the funds. If you’re able to demonstrate a good history with your escrow accounts and can show that the mistake was a clerical or bank-related error, ordinarily you can avoid a potential problem with a grievance committee.

Another potential grievance can arise into escrow without authorization from the payee, typically the client. Ensure you have the appropriate authority, either through a retainer agreement or other writing, to deposit money on behalf of clients or third parties into your escrow account.

2. Inattention to client matters:

This is another classic area that results in grievances. Every matter has a certain timetable. A documented failure to take timely action on behalf of a client in any particular matter can lead to a grievance. Ensure you have an appropriate diary system that reminds you of timelines, deadlines, and keeps an appropriate list of client matters that you or your firm represent. The system should be able to alert you to any “hot potatoes”—matters that have not received attention for a sufficient length of time.

3. Lack of communication:

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Timely communication with your clients is essential. If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, don’t avoid them because you haven’t had time to do the research. Call and explain what’s going on, and if you can’t provide nor engage, get another attorney to help you find the answer; inform the client of this. Don’t ignore the matter because it will only besmirch your reputation and could lead to a grievance.

4. Notary stamps:

Lawyers in New York can fill out a form, pay a fee, and automatically become notaries. A notary stamp is a dangerous tool in the hands of a lawyer, however, if not used properly. Don’t do your clients or anybody else any “favors” and notarize a signature on their behalf when they are not in your presence. This can get you in trouble.

If you’re going to notarize something that will be sworn to in the form of an affidavit, pleading or something else in court, understand that you may be charged with all of the knowledge contained in the document, by virtue of your decision to notarize and swear to the signature on that document. For this reason, I would caution lawyers to make sure that their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed when notarizing that kind of document on behalf of a client. As a general rule, I would suggest that you avoid the problem by having someone else notarize those documents.

5. Communicating with a client who’s represented by another lawyer:

We know the rule—don’t talk to a client who’s represented by opposing counsel. Nevertheless, sometimes things happen; an opposing client calls to confirm a meeting or to ask if you received what they sent to your office. Whether by accident or happenstance, you may communicate with a client who is represented by opposing counsel. Should this happen, the most important thing to do is to document that you received a call from the client, what the nature of the communication was, and then to convey the occurrence to the counsel who represents the client.

If you’re not clear whether the client is represented by counsel, document the conversation with the client and include that they had not advised whether they had counsel or not. If you document everything and instruct your staff that any communications can only be of the most basic nature, you should be able to avoid any problems or potential grievances.

This is not an exhaustive list. In day-to-day operations, any number of ethical questions may arise. The best way to be sure that you do the right thing is to contact an attorney who has the experience and expertise to guide you through your unique ethical dilemmas.

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Remember to practice with common sense and an appropriate abundance of caution, but not to practice in fear. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

10 Tips for Choosing a Law Firm

How to Outsource Legal Work at Your Law Firm?

Whether you need #legalassistance for your business operations or some criminal matters that you want settled, approaching the best law firm is the most vital step. Yet, drilling down to the right one is sometimes a hard rock to get over since many legal firms are available in the city. So, are you looking for a Law Firm in West Africa?

Getting down with some steps will assist you in hiring the best legal consulting services. Here are ten insightful points to ensure that you choose a reputable law firm for your case.
10 Tips for Choosing a Law Firm in West Africa

1) Know your case

The first thing you have to make straight is the case you want to present in a court of law. Be it an injury case, domestic or corporate case, choose the best legal presentation accordingly. Then, in your research, try and seek recommendations from friends and family members or a colleague who has an experience with the incident you are facing. Finally, by a button on your tablet, conduct due diligence by perusing the online reviews of a particular legal firm’s website and ensure you pick a top expert Firm.

2) How big is the legal Firm

Among the many factors to consider as you choose a law firm, the size carries a lot of weight because large legal firms mainly deal with corporate matters rather than individual cases. In contrast, small-sized legal Firms handle individual or business cases. Whichever legal assistant you choose, ensure you work with a Law Firm with all resources and lawyers to help you win your case.

3) Check the Experience of the Attorneys

Before choosing a legal firm, research to check the experience of their lawyers on the case you are presenting. You can also get more information about the lawyers by surfing through the Firm’s website and get a clear idea regarding their reputation. Doing such ensures that you hire only credible legal services increasing the chances of winning the case.

Also Read – “Tips for Hiring Business Formation Attorney in West Africa

4) Consider the Budget

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Be keen to hire legal assistance from a law firm within your pocket power. While doing individual research, get an idea of fees charged by different law firms or attorneys so that monetary disagreements don’t arise in the middle of a case. Additionally, it’s wise to work with a law firm that imposes a bill on their day-to-day calls or emails. Ensure to clarify the Firm’s billing method before hiring the services.

Make sure the law firm you are choosing falls within your budget. It would help if you had a clear idea about the fees charged by the lawyers so that you do not face any monetary issues later. Also, enquire about the billing method accepted by the law firm whether they charge payment per hour or a fixed amount before hiring the lawyer.

Different legal firms have different billing processes. Avoid the ones that are way cheap as they will possibly offer shoddy legal assistance. If you are looking for a law firm in West Africa, get the one that will give top results despite their charges.

5) Client Reviews

Understanding what former clients of a said legal firm have to say is a wise move. The reputation of a company hides in the minds of its former clients. The past customer testimonials will help you get a clear insight into the capacity and capability of the law you want to engage. Avoid firms that their clients complain about and work with those that their presentation is credited.

6) Check the customer service of the Firm

Amidst stress and anxiety, all you will need is a partner who offers an ear and assures you of a better day. The same applies when you are seeking an attorney to represent you in a court of law. Choose a legal firm that will effectively listen and communicate with you on the court proceedings. A right legal firm should inform you on the merits and demerits of the measures that may occur and assist you in making the best decision.

Also Read – “Advantages of Hiring a Business Lawyer when Starting a Company

7) Locality

It is one of the most vital decisions that people forget to consider. The location is paramount when selecting a legal firm. A legal firm near your place would offer you better and comfortable legal services than a faraway Firm. If you live within the West Africa region, ensure that you source legal assistance from a law firm conversant with the region’s court laws. Also, consider the nature of the case before hiring a law firm.

For instance, if you need the legal assistance of a real estate matter, involving a local legal firm is ideal for you. On the other hand, for those seeking legal assistance on cases dealing with federal law, national attorneys would serve better.

8) Availability

Most important is the reachability of a law firm. How easy or difficult is the Firm to reach? Do they respond to phone calls or reply to emails in time? These and many more are the vital queries you should demand responses to. Also, investigate to know the current lawyer’s workload. If a law firm is engaged in many cases while utilizing a few of their attorneys, then their availability will not be what you expect.

9) Flexibility

Sometimes, during legal proceedings, there may arise unprecedented situations that would need particular attention. At such moment, the legal Firm you have contracted will be required to bear with you and have a rescheduled program for the same. Therefore, it is worth knowing whether the legal Firm is ready to offer its services flexibly.

Also Read – “When and How to Hire a Business Lawyer: The Complete Guide

10) Licenses and Registration

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When looking for a law firm in West Africa, you must work with the one that is legally authorized to operate. Unfortunately, there are several quacks in the streets, and you may never want to fall in their hands. So, conduct due diligence about the Firm’s operationalization and their age in the industry. This way, you will comfortably trust them with your case and money without worrying about their legality.

Suppose you are looking for legal assistance in West Africa. In that case, you must check on the experience, cost, availability, and legality of the law firm before signing a contract with them. So take your time and ensure the above-listed key points feature in the Firm that is about to stand in the bar for you.

Ready to discuss your needs and thoughts? Contact us and our team will be ready to assist you in your journey.

The Benefits of Working in a Large Law Firm

The Inconvenient Reality of Law Firm Security Challenges

The legal industry offers a wide range of job opportunities for attorneys across both private companies and government institutions. Many attorneys have a targeted plan for the sectors they seek to work in but others may be open to different varieties of work. Regardless, there are several characteristics and unique benefits that can come with getting a foot in the door at a big law firm.

Large law firms (also known as mega-firms or big law) are typically the most competitive when it comes to hiring. As such, these firms are also known to offer some of the greatest perks.

Read on for some of the top benefits and advantages gained from working in a large law firm.

High Salaries

Big law firms are known for paying the most. In 2018, the median annual salary for a lawyer was $120,910, according to the Department of Labor. In 2019, big law firms exceeded that level by approximately $35,000 for first-year associates. Big law firms often also have the resources to offer more comprehensive and substantial compensation packages including health care plans, wellness plans, reimbursements, and stock options.

Well-Credentialed Colleagues

Competitive hiring at large law firms means a collective workforce of highly accomplished, successful, and credentialed colleagues. Large law firms have shown they are willing to pay employees more and this filters to all levels of the firm often resulting in some of the most talented lawyers, paralegals, administrators, and operational professionals in the industry. Typically, large law firms will recruit from the best law schools in the world resulting in a full roster of lawyers and employees with prestigious credentials.

Sophisticated, Challenging Work

Large law firms are known for winning some of the most elite cases. This often results in high profile representation on sophisticated, complex matters. This can give lawyers at large law firms a wide range of superior experience. This also provides an intellectually challenging environment for law firm attorneys and paralegals. These firms attract high profile class action suits that require strong, large staffs to manage and try in court.  

Large, Diverse Client Bases

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The clients of large law firms tend to be more plentiful and diverse than those of smaller firms. A large, diversified client base makes it less likely that the firm will encounter financial difficulty if a client takes its business elsewhere.

Diversity can also add to a broader range of experience and knowledge. Moreover, many of the mega-firms have multi-jurisdictional practices and multiple locations across the globe, allowing lawyers and paralegals to serve international clients as well.

Extensive Firm Resources

Large law firms are usually built out with a very robust infrastructure of resources from both a technological and collective networking perspective. Advantages may include mentoring, cross-referenced advice, comprehensive on-site copy and mailing centers, and in-depth research access.

Lawyers at big law firms also usually have the benefit of a comprehensive support staff for assistance including administrators, secretaries, proofreaders, project managers, paralegals, marketing specialists, documentation clerks, and more. 

Luxurious Offices in Prime Locations

Large law firms often invest in luxurious offices, usually located in many of the world’s legal and business hubs. Buildings are typically spacious, easily accessible, and built with many added amenities such as full-service cafeterias, in-house gyms, restaurants, and elaborate meeting rooms for clients and recruits.

Well-Developed Training Programs

Large law firms often invest in comprehensive training and mentoring programs for all of their employees and specifically the lawyer base. Examples of these training programs may include elaborate summer associate programs, new employee onboard training, in-house educational programs, support for continuing education, groups for various initiatives, and a variety of sessions for continued growth and learning opportunities.

Significant Advancement Opportunities

Many large law firms are based on clear organizational hierarchies with defined opportunities and milestones for advancement. This can lead to more opportunities for growth as well as clearly defined steps for promotion. Many lawyers enter a big law firm with a long-term career plan that includes progression from several associate and partner levels, ultimately becoming a senior partner. 

Pro Bono Initiatives

Large law firms frequently establish pro bono and public service programs that encourage lawyers and paralegals to commit a certain number of hours to help the community and under-served populations, such as children and the elderly. This can be helpful because many bar associations require ongoing pro bono participation for membership.

Name Recognition

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Large law firms get a lot of attention in the legal industry and their company names are associated with a certain level of prestige. This is usually justifiable given the sophisticated caseloads, credentialed case teams, superior training, and publicized thought leadership.

Oftentimes, large law firms are highly regarded for their name brand as well as the many high-profile clients and complex cases they are involved with. Comprehensively, the name recognition can look very good on a resume if lawyers decide to move on to other opportunities.

Contact us for more information.

Understand the importance of law firm efficiency

The Inconvenient Reality of Law Firm Security Challenges

Attorneys at small- to mid-sized law firms know there is usually more work than time in most days. That’s just how it is when you are staffed to provide legal services, but not necessarily marketing, office administration, accounting, or any of the other responsibilities that larger law firms can delegate to dedicated personnel. This is more than just an inconvenient fact of life. It’s a potentially fatal flaw, because administrative duties pull attorneys away from profitable work, thus dragging down a firm’s efficiency and putting its overall viability at risk.

“Efficiency” can be defined as the time it takes to complete a given task. In a law firm context, it pertains to the time and effort needed to carry a matter from intake to paid invoice. Obviously, the more efficient this process, the better a firm’s bottom line. And yet, an overwhelming majority of firms have ignored streamlining this area of their operations.

In a report from the Thomson Reuters Institute, 74% of the 400 law firm respondents said spending too much time on administrative tasks was at least a “moderate” challenge. That’s up 2% from the previous year. While it’s a small uptick, it shows that firms failed to make headway on this challenge. Not only that, it is becoming more of a problem.

That point is underscored by how law firms define “success.” 85% say it’s based on overall profits. By clogging a lawyer’s day with non-billable work, inefficiency corrodes profits and dilutes the most important measure of success for many firms.

If any further proof is needed, consider these 3 areas where a lack of efficiency creates serious structural problems:

How Can Your Law Firm Benefit From Managed IT Services?

Client dissatisfaction: In the era of on-demand entertainment and restaurant-to-door delivery service, is it any wonder clients want results immediately? That may not be possible, of course, but it’s still true that a lawyer who is not able to operate efficiently cannot attend to client matters quickly. The less time a lawyer has to spend on non-client work, the more quickly any given billable task can be handled.

Lower-quality work product: Quality legal work demands focus, and that’s hard to do when you’re dealing with issues other than practicing law. Attorneys who focus primarily on their clients’ matters produce a much higher-quality finished product that leads to happier, more loyal customers.

Attorney burnoutBurnout is a tremendous issue for the legal profession. For lawyers at small- to mid-sized firms, a major cause is trying to do everything alone. When “everything” includes too much non-billable work, lawyers become exhausted performing tasks that don’t bring in any money. That is inefficiency at its worst.

In the end, no attorney needs another thing on his or her plate. Efficiency is worthy of special consideration, however. Because, in its absence, the prospect of ultimate failure increases.