In my career I have counseled many clients in the selection of attorneys and law firms as well as assisted clients in litigation management and cost reviews. I have also taught ‘laypersons’ some tips on hiring a lawyer as part of various courses I have taught or lectured in.
If we are successful at DroneLawyer.com, you will have easily searched for and obtained the contact information of a variety of drone lawyers who might serve your personal and/or business needs. Perhaps, you have received a term sheet from an investor in your start-up Drone/UAS/UAV company and are looking for the right lawyer. Or perhaps, someone’s quadcopter fell on you or your car and you are looking for a lawyer to help you recover for personal injury or property damage.
It is also possible you are a business owner seeking an FAA Section 333 exemption for your quadcopter so you can use it commercially without violating the law. Again, there are a variety of lawyers in DroneLawyer.com’s database that can help you with that. Assuming that you have selected one or more lawyers or law firms to assist you and/or your business, and assuming you are unfamiliar in the art of hiring a lawyer, feel free to peruse the following:
A. Client Rights: As a client, you have rights (which are sometimes dictated by the state bar rules applicable to that lawyer or law firm) but which in general include the right:
To be treated with respect by lawyer and staff;
To receive itemized statements of services rendered and a full explanation of billing practices;
To be charged reasonable fees that have been disclosed in writing in advance;
To receive a prompt response to emails, texts, phone calls and letters;
To have confidential legal conferences, free from unwarranted interruptions;
To be kept informed of the status of your case/deal;
To have your legal matters handled promptly, diligently and competently; and
To receive clear answers to all questions until you understand the details of whatever you are being asked to do/sign/execute and any and all strategic decisions involving your case/deal.
B. The Initial Interview
Free (Or Limited Cost) 1/4 Hour – 1/2 Hour – (rarely 1) Hour
Tell Your Tale: Be Honest (include the ‘bad’ parts) – the attorney-client privilege and duties of attorney confidence apply during the initial interview even if you don’t hire the lawyer
Do not be coy or try to ‘work’ your potential lawyer – chances are this ‘ain’t their first rodeo’…;
‘Jus the facts, ma’am’…: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How and How Much? Or in the case of transactional work: who gets how much when?
During the Initial Interview –
Lawyer Is Evaluating:
Your Case/Deal (For His/Her Purposes)
Your Case/Deal (For Your or Your Business’ Purposes)
You and Your Business (As A Potential Present and Future Clients)
You Are Evaluating:
Lawyer (As Potential Counsel and Representative of You and Your Business)
Lawyer’s Skill Level and Experience
Your Kind Of Case/Deal
Law Firm – how are cases/deals staffed, managed, billed?
Avoid double billing or padded billing or billing for travel, waiting, etc.
How many of their lawyers does it take to change one of your light bulbs in your particular case/deal? Avoid situations where you get billed for junior lawyers reporting to senior lawyers who report to partners who bill for reviewing the summary and handing administration.
About Your Case/Deal:
Do you have a case/deal?
What usually happens in your kind of case/deal?
What is the process?
What is this likely to cost?
About The Attorney Client Relationship:
Billing process and payment requirements
What is charged for and what is not?
C. Hiring and Working With a Lawyer
Representation Agreements – Written
Almost all attorney client relationships should be in writing, make certain that yours is.
Writing can take many forms: Contract Form, Letter Agreement, Confirming Letter
If the lawyer does not raise the issue, be wary and raise it yourself.
Read and understand before you sign.
If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask.
Types of Representation Agreements
Hourly Fees for Services Agreements
Advanced Payment of Fees “Retainer”
True Retainer Agreement
Exchange of Services Agreements
Common Trouble Spot For Lawyer-Client Relationships
Make Certain Its In Writing
Be Willing To Lose The Cost Of Your Services.
Paying Your Attorney
Advance deposits usually must be deposited into state bar monitored trust accounts unless the deposit equals the amount of any minimum number of hours being charged in which case it is a prepayment in full
It is almost always better to use money to pay your bills instead of offering stock, options or other forms of equity
Try to get the best value for each billable hour you agree to pay for and pay for each billable hour on your invoice promptly unless you have grounds to believe it is outside your agreement and shouldn’t have been billed.
D. Disputes with Your Attorney
Complaints go to State Bar – but first try to work it out informally if possible.
Mandatory Fee Arbitration
Attorney required to offer fee arbitration in lieu of litigation
Client has limited time to elect arbitration
Terminating the Attorney-Client Relationship
An attorney whose employment has terminated is ethically obligated to:
Return Client Property – promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property.
“Client papers and property” includes: correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert’s reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client’s representation, whether the client has paid for them or not.
Refund Unearned Fees – promptly refund any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned. This provision is not applicable to a true retainer fee which is paid solely for the purpose of ensuring the availability of the lawyer for the matter.
There may be limits on the ability of an attorney to withdraw if such withdrawal would prejudice the client and there may be applicable court rules that bar withdrawal during certain phases of representation (e.g., pre-trial and trial, etc.).
E. Conflicts of Interest
Attorneys are required to avoid actual and potential conflicts of interest and the appearance thereof, and to obtain a client’s informed written consent when such conflicts or potential conflicts can not be avoided.
One form of conflict of interest involves the lawyer investing in a company that is a client or in a deal or the payment of all or part of a lawyer’s fee with stock or options. Such transactions should be reviewed carefully for fairness and compliance with applicable state bar rules.
Another form of conflict of interest involves representation of multiple parties which might take the form of dual representation of a founder/executive and the company, on the one hand, and the representation of multiple partners or founders in one company, on the other hand. These types of conflicts must be reviewed for compliance with applicable state bar rules as well as the inherent waivers in the attorney-client privilege as among the parties and possible implications under applicable evidence codes.
F. Referring New Business to Your Lawyer if You Are a Happy Client
Believe it or not there are many happy clients out there (or else there wouldn’t be so many lawyers out there and in DroneLawyer.com’s database). There is no better way to reward and continue to incentivize your lawyer than have some new business for him or her (or in the case of a law firm, it). If you are happy with the performance of your drone lawyer, then by all means refer to that drone lawyer additional business and that person will be ever more grateful and keep doing great work for you in a mutually uplifting, positive spiral.
As my Grandma used to say, ‘Comes Around Goes Around Three Times Over.’
So if you are a happy client, my recommendation is to send it around.