Saturday, September 6, 2008

When Your Lawyer Doesn't Call Back

What do you do when your lawyer doesn't call you back? How long should you wait for your lawyer to call you back?

Is one message to call you enough? Should it be necessary to call and call and call as legal deadlines near?

"No news is good news." Does anyone still believe that?

If your lawyer is your lawyer, then he should be returning calls. Within a day. It should not be necessary to call repeatedly and to become more desperate as legal deadlines approach. Courts are often inflexible when it comes to doing things on time. How often do you read in the newspaper that a case was dismissed because a deadline was missed (or a statute of limitations had expired)?

If your lawyer has a habit of not calling you back, leave messages with a specific requested call-back-by time. Tell the secretary you want him to call you back by "Thursday, September 4, 2008, not later than 4:03PM." At then, at 4:04PM, call him back.

Do allow enough time, but you can shorten the callback times if it is necessary to call back repeatedly. After all, the clock started ticking when you left the first message.

It might help to leave the reason for your call, not just a "call me" message. Tell him you want him to leave an answer when he calls back, not just a "call me" message. Or, if he does leave a "call me" message, then to leave also at what time you should call to reach him. Stop the game of "Tag, you're it" in its tracks.

If he just can't squeeze in the time to talk for 15 minutes, at the very least he (or his legal assistant) should return the call and schedule a time to discuss the matter with you. Failure to return telephone calls and render service to a client is likely to create an even bigger problem for the lawyer than the stack of messages on his desk.

When something must be done within 30 days, does that mean 30 "calendar days" or 30 "business days"? Does it really matter, unless research critical to document preparation is continuing right down to the wire? When a decision is to be appealed and must be appealed within 30 days, why would a lawyer wait until the 11th hour to file it? Why not file it within the first week and get it over with?

Be clear with your lawyer what you expect him (her) to be doing for you. Since he is the lawyer and you're not, he should be explaining what he will be doing. Then you tell him whether you want him to do that. And ask what it will cost.

If your funds are limited for legal work (and whose aren't?), ask him to be specific about his fees and expenses. If his hourly fee is $250, ask him how many hours the matter will take. Ask what work can be done in his office by a paralegal, whose billing rate is lower (and ask what that billing rate is!).

Do the math. If you are fighting a $75.00 traffic ticket, is it worthwhile to spend $500 fighting it? Sometimes, the answer will be "Yes."

Sometimes you might benefit just as much from your lawyer's advice as from his representation in court. Ask! Ask if you can buy his advice, counsel and direction, but not his time beyond that.

If you buy 30 minutes of his time (say, on the phone) to learn how to handle a fairly straight-forward matter yourself, tell him you want his undivided attention on the phone (just as if you were sitting in front of him in his office) and that you will ask questions and you want straight answers. And that you will pay him for those 30 minutes.

Now, if your lawyer doesn't call you back, send him an email and tell you of your calls and that you expect a call back by a certain day, date and time. If that doesn't work, send him a Certified Mail letter with a Return Receipt Requested. They hate those things. Proof, you know? A paper trail.


DownByTheRiver said...

Hi Gus -

This really is a pisser, isn't it?

As a young pup with a generally sunny outlook on life, I was seldom skeptical about "professionals'" intent. A very good older friend of mine got me to believe I could trust a banker or a lawyer as far as I could throw him - and these can be BIG fellas (and gals) LOL!

While I reserved my need to believe him in these matters, his tips on negotiating the "customer service" gauntlet worked, and so I had to believe his screeds against bankers and lawyers.

Now, as a volunteer with a community group, in the last few months alone, by "working it" on my own, I have saved my organization thousands upon thousands of dollars, as time-wise, I am in a position to do so, and would do so again. Utlimately, if we have to sign an agreement, or appear in court, of course we will need our lawyers, but still......

Something I've also learned "the easy way" from lawyer debacles that friends and acquaintences have endured - GET A LAWYER THAT SPECIALIZES EXCLUSIVELY IN THE FIELD THAT YOUR REQUIRE! You wouldn't want a GP to provide heart surgery, nor would you want a speech pathologist to do a biopsy. Searching for the right specialist will more than pay for itself!

I laughed at your statement:

>>>> If he just can't squeeze in the time to talk for 15 minutes, at the very least he (or his legal assistant) should return the call and schedule a time to discuss the matter with you.

Think about this. At $200-$300 per, he or she is not willing to "earn" enough gas for a fill up on their Cadillac or SUV? For a simple phone chat, or to read a letter? They're willing to pass up on a manicure or a nice steak at Don Roth's? 15 minutes of cruising in their cabin cruiser on Lake Michigan or on the Chain? Please!

Face it - they're overbooked and greedy, so do you think they really care what YOUR OUTCOME is?

All they know is what THEIR INCOME is.


Gus said...

Thanks, DBTR. There was only one thing wrong with your recommendation about getting a specialist. In addition to all caps, it should have been italicized, in bold print and underlined!

A specialist will charge a higher per-hour fee, but he'll take less time and he'll get it right the first time! And so your cost will be less.