Since you’ll be discussing topics like death, incapacity, and other frightening life events, hiring an estate planning lawyer may feel intimidating or morbid. But it definitely doesn’t have to be that way.
Instead, it can be the most empowering decision you ever make for yourself and your loved ones. The key to transforming the experience of hiring a lawyer from one that you dread into one that empowers you is to educate yourself first. This is the person who is going to be there for your family when you can’t be, so you want to really understand who the lawyer is as a human, not just an attorney. Of course, you’ll also want to find out the kind of services your potential lawyer offers and how they run their business.
To this end, here are five questions to ask to ensure you don’t end up paying for legal services that you don’t need, expect, or want. Once you know exactly what you should be looking for when choosing a planning professional, you’ll be much better positioned to hire an attorney who will provide the kind of love, attention, care, and trust your family deserves.
1. How do you bill for your services?
There’s no reason you should be afraid to ask a lawyer how he or she bills for the work they do on your behalf. In fact, questions about billing and payment should be among the very first subjects you bring up when you first contact them. No one wants surprises, especially when it comes to the bill.
If you call the lawyer’s office and they are reluctant or refuse to give you clear answers to questions about how they charge for their services or what they expect certain services will cost, this is a big red flag. When someone is hesitant to discuss their billing practices, you could be in for some major surprises about what things cost down the road.
Find a lawyer who bills for all of their services on a flat-fee, project basis—and never on an hourly basis—unless it’s required by the court for limited purposes. In any event, be sure the lawyer you choose promises to never send you an unexpected bill in the mail simply for answering a quick phone call or email.
2. How will you respond to my needs on an ongoing basis?
One of the biggest complaints people have about working with lawyers is that they are notoriously unresponsive. Indeed, I’ve heard of cases in which clients went weeks without getting a call back from their lawyer. This is all too common, but totally unacceptable, especially when you’re paying them big bucks.
That said, in most cases, these lawyers aren’t blowing you off—they simply don’t have enough administrative support. Far too many lawyers believe they can take care of everything themselves. From paperwork and client meetings to scheduling and returning phone calls to connecting their clients with other advisors, there are just too many responsibilities for one person to manage all on their own.
The truth is, if a lawyer is a solo practitioner without administrative support or works for a firm that doesn’t provide adequate support, sooner or later, they are almost certain to become overwhelmed and unresponsive. Given this, it’s vital that you ask your lawyer about how they will respond to your needs if you decide to become their client.
Ask them how quickly calls are typically returned in their office, ask them if there will be someone on-hand to answer quick questions, and ask them if you should expect your call to go right through to your lawyer when you call the office.
A great way to test this is to call your prospective lawyer’s office and ask for him or her. If you get put through right away—or even worse, your call gets sent to voicemail—think twice about hiring this lawyer. This means they don’t have effective systems in place for managing and responding to calls or answering quick questions.
Instead, what you want is for the person who answers the phone—or another team member—to offer to help you. And if that individual cannot help you, then he or she should schedule a call for you to talk with your lawyer at a future date and time.
simply can’t be effective or efficient if he or she is taking every call that
comes through. Ideally, all calls to your lawyer should be pre-scheduled, so
that you both can be ready to focus on your specific needs.
Next week in part two, we’ll talk more about the ways
in which your attorney should communicate with you and list the remaining three
questions to ask before hiring your estate planning lawyer.
This article is a service of Kristen Wong, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge