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Nine things your construction lawyer won’t tell you (but should)

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Today’s legal system is complex. Which is why you want to feel comfortable that you have the right lawyer on your side when you have questions or need legal representation in a case. Here are nine things your construction attorney may not tell you but you should pay attention to when selecting and working with your legal counsel:

I’m not really qualified to handle your case.

Not every lawyer is suited to handle every legal matter. How do you know if a lawyer is the right choice for you? First, find out if they have experience in the construction industry. Next, put their name into Google. What comes up? Do you see articles and other examples showing their expertise in the topic you want them to work in? Do they understand the legal ins and outs of liens, construction defects, contract disputes, or other issues you may be facing? Finally, go to your State Bar’s website to see if they have any history of disciplinary action. Here are some other useful places to find a construction lawyer:

I’d prefer to be paid hourly, but . . .

There are various ways to pay your lawyer—hourly, contingent, even some type of success bonus with a lower hourly rate. It all depends on what works best for both of you. The key is to have that conversation early on so there are no surprises. And because legal fees are hard to compare, here is an infographic on legal billing rates by region, firm size, and lawyer’s experience.

My young associate will do all the work.

Make sure you understand from the start who is going to do the work on your case file. Is it going to be the attorney that you met with, or one of his or her partners or associates? Make sure that the attorney performing the work is up to your standards.

My fees are negotiable.

The first number out of your attorney’s mouth isn’t necessarily the last one he or she will take. If a proposed fee seems unreasonable or are outside what you can pay, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns with your lawyer. Most attorneys are willing to negotiate a fee that is acceptable to both parties.

So are your out-of-pocket costs.

Don’t be caught off guard by unexpected costs for copies, scanning, transcripts, court reporters, expert witnesses, and other costs associated with prosecuting or defending your case. These costs are in addition to your attorney’s fees and can quickly add up. Talk to your attorney to get a clear understanding of all costs and how to minimize these out-of-pocket expenses.

You don’t need to understand my bills.

If you don’t understand a bill from your attorney, call and ask about it. You can also request specific formats or information to be included in the bill. Some of the information you should expect to see include:

  • A description of the task performed
  • The date the task was performed
  • How much time was spent on the task
  • Cost for the task.

I don’t have insurance.

As in any business relationship, you need to protect yourself if something goes wrong. Always ask before you hire an attorney if he or she has malpractice insurance. If the answer is no, you may be the one on the hook to pay even if it is the attorney who made a mistake.

I’m not your type.

The relationship between you and your attorney is very personal. Do you feel comfortable that your lawyer understands you, your position and your company? You need to make sure the attorney you select properly represents you both in the court and outside of the court.

I’m replaceable.

You may get to the point where you need to make a change in legal counsel. How do you do it? First, inform your attorney that you are unhappy with his or her services and that you are going to be transferring the files to another lawyer. It’s important to note that attorneys in many states have a right to assert what is called a charging and retaining lien. As a result, if you don’t pay your lawyer, they may not need to give you the file back. So always keep copies of all records you gave your attorney.

Of course, if you have open and honest conversations with an attorney you trust, none of the above will be issues. If not, it may be time to look for another attorney.

Editor’s note: This post is derived from Alex’s presentation at the 2016 Sage Summit. For more information about the event, visit the Sage Summit website.

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