Quality, Clarity, Trust, Value for Money, Passion and Compassion

Whether you live in the UK, the USA or the Dutch Caribbean, almost every lawyer (attorney) or law firm claims to be the best, the leading, etc. Why are they all trying so hard? And does this do the trick for you? Even more importantly, does your lawyer meet your expectations? What may you expect from your lawyer after all? I will only address a number of the relevant issues here.

In many cases and for many clients, the size of a law firm is not of much importance. What is important may differ from client to client, however the following more or less general concepts will undoubtedly play a role: the attitude of the professional, the quality of the services provided, timely response, personal attention, the ability to stand in their client’s shoes, creativity and pricing.

Law is a people’s issue. Clients prefer people to buildings. They are seeking assistance from an expert they can trust. An expert who is able to really listen and who actually adds value to their case.

We all make mistakes. Period. However, there is a difference between making mistakes and intentionally doing something wrong. Many people believe that it is a lawyer’s second nature to do wrong things on purpose, especially lying and subverting the truth. I have met such lawyers (who hasn’t?), but I have also met many more who adhere to high standards of integrity. If personal integrity is lacking, a lawyer’s reputation will eventually be destroyed regardless of how competent he may be. Competence and integrity are necessary keys to long-lasting success.

A lawyer should attempt to speak your language. Communication skills are particularly important for lawyers. On the one hand lawyers have to accurately debate legal issues with like-skilled/trained people and on the other hand they have to explain all this to people who have no legal training, many of whom are in a vulnerable position. That is not as easy as it sounds: legalese vs plain language. Does your lawyer speak your language? And does he really care about you and your problem? You may certainly expect him to!

Big is not necessarily better. It is not necessary to have a presence in every region of the world to operate across borders and cultures. One can work together with other reputable local law firms in foreign countries. It saves time and money not having to be bothered by issues related to organizing ones foreign offices, how to compete in a global legal arena or how to manage ones staff on a global scale. You may expect that a lawyer specializing in international matters is able to communicate efficiently with other lawyers in countries relevant to his practice.

And last but certainly not least, money should always be an issue to talk about, simply because it almost always is an issue. In the very first meeting with a new client, I bring up the topic of money myself. No one likes surprise invoices. Clients can never be warned too soon about any high costs involved. They should therefore be properly informed upfront, so that they can make an informed decision as to whether to hire you or not, what they want you to do and what not. Since this topic is of such importance to both lawyers and clients, I will elaborate on it a bit more.

You may expect of your lawyer that he sends his invoices on a regular basis, for instance every month, and that he informs you in good time when he expects costs to be higher, for example as a result of unforeseen developments in the case at hand. Asking for a reasonable retainer not only diminishes the risks a lawyer runs of bad debts, but it also makes his client aware of the fact that hiring a lawyer will really cost him money. There is nothing wrong with paying money to a lawyer, provided you get value for money. A lawyer should understand that in many cases a client sees only part of the work done in his case. Explaining to the client what the lawyer expects and what has actually been done is therefore of importance. If the matter at hand can be divided in phases, it may help to define each phase and to estimate the related costs involved upfront.

Most law firms charge their fees on the basis of hourly rates, which are determined by the seniority of the attorneys involved. It is standard practice for Dutch Caribbean law firms to also separately charge office disbursements as a percentage, e.g. 7%, of their legal fees. Such disbursements comprise phone and fax costs, secretarial support, including overtime, photocopying etc. Only particular expenses and disbursements, e.g. bailiff costs, court costs, courier costs, translation costs and travel costs, are charged at actual cost. Most clients expect a law firm to have obtained prior approval with respect to all major ‘unexpected’ disbursements, e.g., business class tickets, limousine rentals and the like.

If you after reading the above feel that an import issue is missing or has not been properly addressed please let me know. Feedback really is important and I do listen! Help me discover how we might learn from your experience.

Karel Frielink
Attorney (Lawyer) / Partner

(25 January 2011)


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