3 Signs You Need to Fire Your Attorney

Date: May 13, 2014

All lawyer jokes aside, great ones are available for your small business.

Does a bill for “researching precedents” sound
vague? It is. If a small business owner receives such a bill with unclear
descriptions of services from his or her lawyer, it may be time to find a new one,
says Victoria Pynchon, co-founder of She Negotiates, a consulting and training
firm in Los Angeles.

Pynchon spent 25 years practicing high-stakes
commercial litigation before starting her own business as a negotiation
consultant—a role in which she helps other small business owners hire
and manage lawyers
. Here, she shares the top three
complaints she hears from small business owners about their relationships with
their attorneys.

“My
lawyer never returns my phone calls.”

The industry standard for returning phone calls and
emails from clients is 24 hours, Pynchon says. If you regularly wait much
longer to hear from your lawyer, make an in-person appointment to ask about the
delays and insist on more prompt replies in the future. “If the lawyer’s not
returning phone calls, then he or she isn’t managing his or her case load well,”
Pynchon says—and if that’s true, do you really trust that person with your
business?

Unreturned phone calls are a symptom of poor
communication in general, Pynchon says. You should feel that you’re in a genuine
partnership with your lawyer, and a good one should ask questions about your
business and show interest in learning as much as possible to best represent
you. If your lawyer isn’t doing this, move on. 

“He
keeps saying he can accomplish (fill in the blank), but I don’t know what he’s
doing to get there.”

When you first consult with a lawyer, you should
work together to create a written plan concerning his or her engagement with
your business. Depending on the services you need, a lawyer should complete his
or her work for a flat fee (especially with paperwork such as copyright applications
or employment contracts) or an hourly charge and be able to closely estimate
the number of hours the work will take. A lawyer should never deviate from this
plan without consulting you first to explain why.

The bills you receive should include detailed
descriptions of the lawyer’s activities with explanation about how they fit
into your agreed-upon plan. Watch out for bills with round hours and vague
descriptions, Pynchon says, such as “Reading documents, 8 hours.” Instead, the
bill should read, for example, “Phone call with opposing council to get answers
to interrogatories, 0.3 hours.” If your bill doesn’t include a written report, request
one that outlines the progress to date and explains how billed items fit into your
plan. If your lawyer won’t provide clear explanations of his or her actions,
find a new one.

“My
lawyer doesn’t listen to my concerns.”

Does your lawyer make comments such as “That’s
irrelevant” when you talk? If it’s relevant to you, it should matter to your
lawyer, too. This feeling of not being heard often stems from a business owner being
intimidated by “legalese,” Pynchon says—but remember that you’re entitled to
expect accountability, efficiency and great customer service from your lawyer,
just as you are with other vendors. “Talk to your lawyer like the
businessperson you are,” Pynchon says. “You need to manage the lawyer even as
the lawyer manages the problem.” Still feel that your lawyer is dismissive of
your questions and concerns? It may be time to find one who’s better suited to
help with your business’ legal matters.

Related Content: Resources | Legal | Lawyers and Legal Aid

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