Do you have questions, concerns, or a complaint?
The law is complex. Full of its own jargon, latin phrases, and procedural traditions. We don’t expect our clients to understand all of that. After all, that is why you hired an experienced attorney, right? However, it can be the case that your attorney gets stuck in “work mode” and continues to use confusing language, or unfamiliar terms, to talk to you about your case. We always want you to understand what is going on in your case. If you are having trouble understanding what is going on in your case, the first remedy that we suggest is to speak to one of our staff. Staff are a great bridge between the legal world, and those of us who don’t speak legal jargon. Staff are typically also more available to clients as they do not manage court schedules, depositions, or client meetings.
Another resource for getting some answers about legal questions would be http://www.ohiolegalhelp.org which was set up to provide free information on some common legal issues. These are grouped into blocks of topics including; housing issues, money and debt issues, crime and traffic issues, available health and public benefits, and what to expect when going to court.
If you have a concern that your questions aren’t being heard, or you feel that your legal representation isn’t meeting your expectations, then we would invite you to send a message directly to our Operations Manager, Andrew Cook. You can do this by using the contact page and writing “Attention Operations Manager” in the adverse parties block. By using this communications method, we find that we can resolve a majority of the concerns and frustrations that our clients are having. It is important to us that we act on feedback, but there is little we can do to help if feedback is vague, anonymous, or lacking in details.
Typical concern that we deal with might be explained in the Q & A below:
Q: Why are things taking so long?
A: This is, perhaps, the concern we hear most. Clients are understandably eager to be done with the legal issue they are dealing with, and it feels like it is taking forever. Unfortunately, the legal process isn’t like the process to fix a clogged drain. For most of the problems we face, such as the clogged drain, we are used to calling a plumber who then gives us a date when they will do the work, and after some hours in our home the clog is fixed and we get a bill. Legal work, with few exceptions, never gets wrapped up so neatly. In many cases your case requires research, which takes time. While two similar cases may look the same, they often have very small differences that make a big deal in terms of how a case is handled. It is your lawyer’s responsibility to ensure that your case isn’t derailed by a technicality or oversight. After the research, there is typically a period of writing out the findings, and filing of paperwork with the courts. After cases are filed, they are reviewed and scrutinized by the court system which ultimately results in a response back to the attorney. Depending on the court’s observations, there may be more questions that need answered, more evidence, a further review of law, and so on. There are also many times when an attorney needs to send a letter to opposing counsel, and opposing counsel has a number of days to review, research, write, and respond. We try to predict how long the process will be, but it is only ever an educated guess. Behind the scenes, our staff and attorneys are always working to move your case forward; even if you can’t see it. If you are starting to feel like someone forgot about you, it is best to call and check with the support staff handling your case to see what is going on.
Q: Why won’t my attorney return my phone calls?
A: Your attorney, whether at Dagger Law or elsewhere, is busy. Between time in court, time interacting with other clients, time conducting research, and time drafting written correspondence, your attorney probably doesn’t have a lot of time for “drop in” calls or visits. That isn’t to say they don’t have time for you, but most attorneys manage their time each day so that the important things that are “moving” get attention before those items that are “waiting” (see above) for someone else to take action. There are times when we get clients who want to call daily to see how things are going with their case. While you have the right to call, you have to be aware that constantly requiring your attorney’s time might lead to running up a large bill. We recommend that if you want to check in with someone about your case, get to know the support staff who is handling it. Many of them can field a quick phone call or respond to an email without running the risk of creating a bill for their time.
Q: Why is this so expensive? You just wrote one letter/met with me once/did something easy for me.
A: Working with an attorney is often like the story of the elves who make the shoes. You leave a pile of materials out overnight, and return the next day to find shoes. Easy, right? Only we don’t see all the hard work that the elves put in. A single letter might require considerable research to ensure that all the legal arguments presented are valid and factual. Your one simple meeting might have entailed an hour’s worth of legal advice that you can take action on, and that easy “thing” that your attorney did is almost never easy. It is our policy to bill a fair rate, in-line with industry averages given experience and length of practice of the attorney, for billable work. Keep in mind that the work we do, whether it is for a divorce, creating a will, or establishing a new business, must eventually stand up in court. The cost to you, if our work isn’t of a high legal standard, will be much greater if a problem is found under a legal test than the cost for getting it right the first time.
The law is adversarial, at times, and there will be winners and losers.
We understand that things don’t always go the way we expect, or hope. While our primary goal is to bring about the best outcomes for our clients, there are days when “the best” doesn’t feel so great. The law is a complex tool, and there are countless examples where the law doesn’t run a parallel course with what we might view as fair, compassionate, or kind. In many cases, legal cases are adversarial by their very nature. In a divorce, matters of child custody, criminal charges, and many other legal cases; your lawyer is pitted against an opposing counsel. The two opposing sides of the case are both kept in check by a judge, and in some cases a jury determines the final outcome. Needless to say, there are a lot of moving parts in most cases, and few of them are truly predictable. Because of this, we know that some portion of legal clients won’t end up happy despite an attorney’s best efforts.
We uphold your right to be angry, and your right to voice your opinion. However, we would prefer to work with you to make the situation right for you, and we hope that you will reach out to us to work through a resolution, as a first step.
Explaining Some Common Misconceptions About Attorney Fees: The Retainer
When I started working at Dagger Law, four years ago, I was admittedly a bit naïve about how a legal practice runs. There are aspects to the business that are common among all businesses, and then there are those areas that are unique to Law firms. As I interacted with our clients, and others who were seeking legal help and had not yet made a decision on what to do about it, I began to see some common threads in the misconceptions about what happens when you hire an attorney. I would like to discuss an area that causes frequent misunderstandings, and that is the retainer fee.
First, I should point out that not every legal case requires a retainer and that there are many pricing structures that exist within the legal world. From the traditional flat rate model, which sets a single price for a single service, to the infamous “I don’t get paid unless you get paid” contingency fee model. There are a wide range of tools that lawyers can use to set a value for their services. In cases where a retainer is requested, it is almost always based on an hourly pricing model.
So, if you are getting billed for work based on an hourly rate, then why ask for a retainer? One of the most common misconceptions I run into is that a retainer is like the down payment when you buy a new car. $2000 down, and then you pay $500 per month. This is not the way a retainer works. It might be better to think of a retainer as putting gas in the tank before you take your car on a long trip. Just as a full tank of gas allows you to drive for a while without having to pullover, a retainer allows your attorney to move your case along without hitting you up for gas money every 15 minutes. Most people wouldn’t put just enough gas in the tank to drive for ten minutes and then pull over to add a few bucks to the tank and continue that way until they reach their destination. While that analogy seems a bit silly, the reality is that legal cases rarely have a convenient map which tells you how long the trip will be and where the traffic jams are located. A retainer is your attorney’s way of telling you that the trip is going to be a long one and he/she doesn’t want to leave you in a position where you are stranded on the side of the road.
With the above analogy in mind, there are a couple other things you should know about your retainer. First, a retainer fee is an estimate. It shouldn’t be assumed to exactly match the money required to handle your case. While most cases require more money than the retainer, a few require less. In these instances, the money not used to complete the case is refunded to the client. Try that at a gas station! Second, your retainer is kept in a trust account that is uniquely yours. No part of your retainer can be applied to help fill someone else’s gas tank. Lastly, you will receive statements which outline how your retainer money was spent so you can understand how your legal journey is progressing.