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Episode 139 - 7 Tips to Save Money When Working With Your Lawyer

Episode 139 - 7 Tips to Save Money When Working With Your Lawyer Image

09/16/2019 9:05 am

We strive to maximize the benefit we can bring to our clients. In this show, Leh and Todd lay out seven ways that you can improve your communication with your lawyer while saving money at the same time. If you want to make sure your legal dollars stretch as far as they can, then you really must listen to this show.

Transcript

Lee Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Lee Meriwether and with me is Todd Austin. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to the Meriwether and Tharp show here. Here you learn about divorce, Family Law, tips on how to save your marriage, if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Ready Todd?

Todd Austin: I'm always ready. Born ready.

Lee Meriwether: You sure?

Todd Austin: No.

Lee Meriwether: That's what I thought.

Todd Austin: Yeah. Ready for what?

Lee Meriwether: Ready to talk about something incredibly exciting.

Todd Austin: Superheroes.

Lee Meriwether: We're going to talk about Marvel and [inaudible 00:00:55].

Todd Austin: Yeah, unfortunately, my kids will get mad at me because I probably get half the facts wrong.

Lee Meriwether: No, what we're really talking about is something that I actually like this subject, it's not the most exciting subject, but I think it can save people a lot of money.

Todd Austin: No, it's good at the beginning of the show to tell listeners, it's not a topic I really like, you may actually fall asleep in segment three but whatever, stick around.

Lee Meriwether: Well we're not talking about celebrity divorces or family law cases, but what we are going to talk about today is seven ways to communicate with your lawyer to save money and properly prepare for your case.

Todd Austin: Yeah. It's important to me also because hiring an attorney, it's not like, let's say you need to have some work done on your car, you pick the mechanic, you pick the shop, you drop your car off, and for the most part, you're done. The next time you communicate with them, you pick up the car, and hopefully, the work has been done and it's been done well. When you hire an attorney, it's a relationship. So, you can't just say, hey, I'm going to hire you to handle this family law matter, here's my box of documents, call me when it's all done. It is an ongoing working relationship that needs to be worked on just like we always say, a marriage needs to be worked on. You need to work on that relationship and it's based on trust, it's based on communication. If you don't have a good working relationship with your attorney, then you're going to be missing things. You're not communicating, it's going to be inefficient, and you may not even accomplish all the things that you want to accomplish.

So, it is important for both of us, it's important because we do recognize having that good healthy relationship it's absolutely going to make this process easier on you and may even improve the chances of a good outcome.

Lee Meriwether: And we hear a lot of complaints from, I wouldn't say our clients, but from clients in general of lawyers. So one of the top bar complaints is that my lawyer won't return my call. And I wanted to talk about that for a little bit and what's going on there, break down what's going on behind the scenes. And then sometimes clients won't call their lawyers because they're worried they're going to be charged money for the telephone call, which is true, we do charge for our time unless it's a flat fee matter which some lawyers do that, some lawyers do break it up, they have some parts of the case are flat fees, but we want to give you some behind the scenes, talk about what's going on, what's going on in your case, and how you can effectively communicate with your lawyer so you feel comfortable that things are proceeding forward as they should, and it's not costing you an arm and a leg.

All right, so let's first talk about that number one complaint that bar associations receive across the country, my lawyer won't return my call, I left them messages, they're just ignoring me, what's really going on?

Todd Austin: Probably they're not getting calls. That's why you brought me on the show, right, because I have the answers. Well, look, we as a firm, Meriwether and Tharp, we have rules in place that we make sure all of our attorneys understand and staff understand that not responding to clients in a timely manner is unacceptable, all right? It's unacceptable on many different levels, but at the end of the day, you need to have that good working relationship with your client. And if your client is calling because they have a question, and they say, "Hey, give me a call when you have a chance", and the first chance you have is a week and a half later, I can tell you, I'd be annoyed.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah.

Todd Austin: So I can't blame [crosstalk 00:05:00].

Lee Meriwether: I get annoyed when you do that to me all the time.

Todd Austin: Well, I do that on purpose. I'm two steps away from a restraining order. Yeah. So no, but I can understand the frustration. But you have to think of it in different ways. I mean, a week and a half, that's obviously unreasonable. But sometimes you have to think of it in terms of, okay, I'm not the only case and therefore, is it less than a day that's gone by, did I call in the morning and granted I didn't get a call that afternoon but maybe tomorrow morning I'll get a call. That might be more reasonable, more understandable.

Once you get into the two day, three day plus time period, I can tell you right now, it's not reasonable, but it also goes to the heart of who is the attorney and what is the firm that you hired? If you hired a solo practitioner and they have no staff, and that's great. I mean, there are some fantastic solo practitioners out there. But they have no staff, they have no support in place, so that means if you call and they're in court for the next four days, getting a call back might be difficult if not impossible.

Lee Meriwether: Right. And it's not because they're ignoring you, it's just they have to report to court first thing in the morning at 8:00, 8:30, 9:00 o'clock in the morning, and sometimes they're there till, I mean, I've been there past midnight before and then had to show up the next morning at 9:00 AM.

Todd Austin: That's right.

Lee Meriwether: And part of the reason I was there till midnight was because something happened during the course of the trial and wounded up stay up the rest of the night just being prepared to be there at 9:00 o'clock. So I didn't even have time to check my emails, or my voicemails, or anything like that. So you can have court appearances, you can have depositions, you could have mediations. And sometimes they all fall back to back, and your lawyer could quickly get pulled away from sitting at their desk. And then when they do have a moment of breather, they're typically meeting with their client for the next hearing, or the next mediation, or deposition. So it's really easy for someone to suddenly not be available because of a schedule. And it's not that they have too many cases either, often you don't have control over those schedules. If the court says, the other side ask for a court date, and they get that court date, you've got to show up and you don't have control over that.

Todd Austin: Yeah. But of course, the flip side is that's not always the reason. There are some attorneys and there are some people that, unfortunately, they're not going to be as good and as timely getting back to you, and responding to emails, and calls and all that. And then it's really just an issue of, what is your pain threshold, right? What is acceptable to you? Because if at the beginning of that relationship you see that the attorney is taking two days, three days, four days, five days to get back to you, and it's an ongoing thing, then you know that's just the way that attorney operates. And I'm not going to sit here and say it's right, it's wrong. I mean, I feel that, that's inappropriate to go long periods of time, but it's not for me to judge, it's for you to decide whether or not that's acceptable to you.

Lee Meriwether: Can you work with that?

Todd Austin: That's right. And if not, there are other choices.

Lee Meriwether: Yep.

Todd Austin: And go somewhere to another firm, another attorney, a bigger firm, where if you can't reach your attorney, okay, but they have a paralegal, they have another attorney working on the team, there's a bunch of other staff, your questions will get answered.

Lee Meriwether: And there's times when the person doesn't get the return phone call. So they become nervous that their file is not being worked on. And perhaps they haven't heard anything for a week or two, or a week and a half, like you gave that example. I know, in our firm, that doesn't mean that someone's file is not being worked on. I know recently I was incredibly busy for about a week period, but I had another lawyer who works with me, who was diligently working on putting together a very complex settlement agreement to present to the client. But just because I wasn't directly in communication with the client, didn't mean that our firm wasn't doing some really good work for that client. And she was in touch with her, I'm just saying. She was not able to get ahold of me, but she was able to get ahold of the another person on the team.

Todd Austin: But that comes back to the point that I was making at the beginning of the show, it's a relationship, it's based on trust. If you don't have trust in your attorney, then going one day, two days, three days, no phone call, no emails, you're going to start to question whether or not that attorney is truly fighting for you. But if you've built that trust, and you have a better working relationship with the attorney, then you'll be more comfortable because you'll know, okay, I haven't heard in three days from anyone at the firm, okay, but I'm not going to panic because I have confidence they are working on my file, they're not gonna let anything fall through the cracks.

Lee Meriwether: Exactly. Up next, we're going to break down the seven tips to communicate with your lawyer to save money and be better prepared. Now quick, I'll give a little teaser. So one is, always remember, time is money. Two, use your time with your attorney wisely. Three, be prepared with an agenda. Four, watch the email trap. Five, follow the plan. Six, be responsive. And seven, focus on the issues. And we come back we're going to break down what we mean by each one of those tips, how you can execute it so that you feel very comfortable with your lawyer, you're communicating exceptionally with your legal team. So the point where you don't have anxiety beyond a normal anxiety of the legal process, and you're setting yourself up for success.

Welcome everyone, I'm Lee Meriwether and with me is Todd Austin. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you are listening to the Meriwether and Tharp show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to listen to the previous segment of the show, you can always go back to divorceteamradio.com and listen to it there, read a transcript of it, subscribe to the show in iTunes, SoundCloud, there's all kinds of ways to even get past episodes there as well.

All right. Well today we are talking about something that's very important and can save you money. We're talking about the seven tips to effectively communicate with your lawyer, which will help you save money and be better prepared.

Todd Austin: I like it, I'm going to listen.

Lee Meriwether: I'm not supposed to talk the whole time. I think that would put people to sleep?

Todd Austin: Oh, yes. Finally we agree on something.

Lee Meriwether: All right. So the first tip is, remember that time is money. The more time your lawyer invests in your case, the higher the legal fees will be. So, it's really important to be cognizant of that. Ask your lawyer in the very beginning of the case, when you're just retaining him or her, make it clear what they charge for and what they don't charge for. You also want to clarify what the lawyer is doing on the case because you don't want the lawyer to be working on things that are going to cost you money and it's going down a path that you don't want to go down. So get some clarity with your lawyer about what the plan is.

Todd Austin: Yap. Look, at the onset of a case, you should be having a meeting with your attorney so you understand what their philosophy is, how they're going to approach your case, the kind of work that needs to be done. I can tell you, obviously, things can change, right, strategies change. We may, at the beginning of a case, think we need to do X, Y, Z, but then all of a sudden, we jump in, and we have to do, one, two and three something totally different. But at the beginning of the case, when you're having those initial meetings, or an initial meeting with your attorney, you should have an idea. Ask the right questions, go in, sit down with the attorney and say, okay, what I want to do, I want to leave this meeting, I want to understand, since I need a, let's say it's a divorce, I need to get a divorce, I know that what we call the four core areas all of them will apply, so there are custody issues, child support issues, spousal support issues, and division of property and debt.

Well, here are the sticking points. I think custody will be pretty easy. I think Child Support you're telling me is pursuant to a formula. So you just need some information about my income. Spousal support is going to be a little bit stickier, it's going to be a little bit more complex. You need to have that conversation. You should be walking out of that meeting, not with all the answers, meaning not knowing what the numbers are, but at least knowing what the marching orders are. What are you going to be working on? What are your responsibilities? What is the attorney going to be working on? What are they going to be focused on? If you do that, then you have set the stage for you to be successful. And I don't mean you win your case, but successful in being as efficient as possible, and being ready to prepare the best case possible.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah. In that vain, ask your lawyer what you can do to help save legal fees because sometimes, there's things that you can do on your own that a lawyer might have a staff person do. And if it's something that's maybe this issue is not that complicated, the lawyer can say, all right, here's what I need you to do, I need you to take care of X, Y, and Z. And that could save you a few hundred dollars right there.

Todd Austin: Yeah, here's a good example. We have people that will come in, we engage in discovery, discovery is where we are gathering documents and information that ultimately needs to be shared with the other party and we are making requests to get from the other party documents we need. We've had people that we will say, okay, we need a bunch of documents and information, and next thing you know, they walk into our office and they drop two, three, four ... Are you okay? Are you going to die? I just, all right.

Lee Meriwether: Sorry.

Todd Austin: Medic. And they'll walk in with like two, three banker boxes filled with documents. I've actually had them come in where, not only are they banker boxes filled with documents, but they're not even [crosstalk 00:15:18] They're just literally it looks like they throw them into the air and somehow the box caught them all, and then they're like, okay, here you go. Okay, that's fine. But it's now going to take, instead of one person spending 30 minutes working on something, now it's going to maybe take two or three of the employees [crosstalk 00:15:38] days to get ... So what can you do? Spend the time, organize the documents.

If you came to us, we might say to you, hey, look, you want to give us hard documents, perfect. If you want, scan them all. If you can scan them all, we'll do a share file, you can upload all of the scanned documents, that makes it much easier for us to organize and file everything, and you just saved yourself a bunch of money.

Lee Meriwether: Right. And I think you've just walked right into tip number two, use your time with your attorney wisely. So most lawyers, as I said at the first segment, they build by the hour and they often have minimum increments in which they bill. So we bill in point one or six minute increments, there are some firms that bill in 0.2, 0.5 I've even seen. So you call a lawyer and talk to him for two minutes, they bill you for 30. We don't do it that way but we do bill for six because we're getting pulled away from whatever we're working on at the time, and it takes us a few minutes to reengage in that other tasks, so you get billed for that loss of time when we were working on another file.

So here's a good example. You call a lawyer with an important question, you talked to him for two minutes, maybe three minutes, you get billed, let's say they're 200 bucks an hour. So 10 minutes 0.1 that's $20. Well, if you calls throughout the course of the day with four separate questions that each one takes two minutes, now you're looking at $80. Whereas if you pulled all those questions together and call just one time, and maybe it took eight minutes, but that's $40. So that's a real life example of how you just saved $40 by being a little bit more prepared with your questions and calling only one time rather than four times.

Todd Austin: Well and also understand that a phone call is usually less efficient than an email because when you're on a phone call, I find that you end up talking about a whole bunch of other things and it's a conversation. So, I could be more long winded or I can get right to the point to answer a question, right? I mean, somebody says, what color is the sky? I could say it's blue? Or I could say, it really depends. And if I'm looking at the sky on this day, it's a little bit gray, and there's clouds, so that answer could take 10 minutes as opposed to 10 seconds.

So conversations can be less efficient, an email can be incredibly efficient. Dear so and so, I'm preparing for the temporary hearing we have in a week, and I just wanted to know what documents you need me to gather and that's it, thank you very much. Well, that took you a minute to write that email and it might take your attorney one, two, three, four minutes to respond to that email, that's incredibly efficient, as opposed to you picked up the phone, talked about that, talked about some other things, 30 minutes went by and now you have, to your example, that's $100 bill for that one conversation.

Lee Meriwether: Right. But I'll challenge you with in regards to tip number three. So tip number three we're talking about being prepared with an agenda. And what I've noticed sometimes is, sometimes I'll get a question that I can answer very quickly, so I fire back and answer it. But sometimes I'll get a question that I need four or five more pieces of information from. So I'll spend 15 minutes writing out all those questions and setting up and then I'll get it back, and then the answer, I've got four more questions that arose out of that. So sometimes it's much more efficient with an email, and sometimes it's less efficient with an email.

Todd Austin: I know. I agree with that. And that's where common sense has to come in. And it's common sense on the part of the attorney and the client. I agree with you. There are times when I know they'll ask a question and it's not a basic question. It is, hey, I know we have some experts and how are we going to approach our cross examination at the temporary hearing or at the final trial of those witnesses? And it's like, okay, it took you two seconds to write that email, I can't do a two second response discussing the strategy on how we're going to cross examine other parties witnesses.

So I might say, hey, great question, I really think we need to schedule some time to talk on the phone because it'll take me 45 minutes to write an email to respond. So, are you available this afternoon, we can talk? But that's being very deliberate. And that's what we're talking about or at least that's what I'm talking about.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah.

Todd Austin: Be very deliberate in how you communicate. Understand that an email, usually, as long as it requires or doesn't require a complex answer, an email can be more efficient. And if you can get away with an email, great. If you have 10 questions, don't send 10 different emails. Send one email with 10 questions, and that way because if let's say, think of it this way, if every email, let's say it's a simple question, but if every email requires a 0.1, okay, you have 10 emails, that's 0.1 times 10. That an hour's worth of time. As opposed to you send one email, and even if it takes me a 0.3 or 0.4 you saved yourself a lot of time because all I had to do was respond to the one email, it's just more efficient.

Lee Meriwether: At one time.

Todd Austin: At that one time, it's more efficient.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah, much more efficient. And up next, I'm going to give an example of how a client saved literally thousands of dollars on her divorce by using both email and telephone to develop a very effective way of communicating with me in her case, that not only saved her money, but got her incredibly prepared for her case to the point that it helped actually settle the case which saved money, because we didn't have to try it.

Welcome, everyone. I'm Lee Meriwether and with me as Todd Austin. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. And you're listening to the Meriwether and Tharp show, if you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Well, today, we're talking about the seven ways to communicate with your lawyer to be more efficient, save money, and be better prepared for your trial. And so far, we've talked about the first few tips we've talked about, remember time is money, use your time with your attorney wisely, and be prepared.

So, being prepared, how do you do that? How do you get prepared so that, I've always heard good questions lead to good answers, great questions lead to great answers. So you'll get better information out of your lawyer, if you have a better question. So, how do you get better questions? Think about what they are ahead of time and look, use the show, listen to episodes of the show. So if there's a general concept, perhaps a temporary hearing you've heard about, listen to our show about temporary hearings. Get an idea because that show will give you all kinds of questions that you would not have normally been able to think about to ask your lawyer because you have no idea what a temporary hearing is about. But you can listen to that show for free, there's actually two shows ... Do we have two shows about temporary hearings? I know we have two shows about testify in court.

So, listen to those shows, write down all your questions, and then your meeting with your lawyer is going to be so much better, you're going to be so much better prepared, and the level of anxiety is going to go down significantly. And now, let me share the story about a client that, In fact, I love the way ... she did this on her own, I didn't even ask her to do it. It made my life easier because in the day, you and I, we like to be efficient, we don't like to bill a client, if we can get a divorce done for $3500 bucks, I would rather get it done for $3500 bucks and $10,000. It is frustrating for me to spend time that I could have avoided if the client had been more cooperative.

And I'm not trying to throw it on the client but I am trying to share this information so if you listen, it will save you money. So here's what she did. She would call my staff ahead of time and say, "I need a phone conference with Lee. I think it's going to take about an hour." And so, she wouldn't get billed for that call and she talked to someone because our staff have access to our calendars, and she put it on my calendar. And so it may be the next day, maybe four or five days away. And then the day before my conference call with her, she would send me an email, here's the agenda for our phone conference. Here are the questions I would like to have answered. And so, the wonderful thing about getting that in advance, she'd usually send it about 24 hours in advance, is that I had a chance to process her questions, look at her file before the call, and I was able to just dig right in and answer her questions.

Todd Austin: And most importantly, she was prepared. She literally. So it's not just you were able to get prepared, she clearly was prepared, she was able to feed you, here are the questions, so this is what I'd like to accomplish in this meeting. Great, I'll see you or I'll talk to you at that time. I think it's a fantastic way to approach it. Okay. So much value can be obtained, if you're going through this process, by just educating yourself. That's why we have the website that has 5000 plus pages of free information, right. There are no strings attached. It's not like you go on to the website and then you have to hire us, okay. That's not the way it works.

If you go online, and if it's our website or another, but if you go on to our website, you can educate yourself and we will sometimes, I know I have, I will tell people, Hey, I know we're ... they'll call and they'll say, I'd like to meet with you, or I'd like to talk with you. Great. You may want to go on to the website. Just get some background information about whatever is important to you. That way, when you come in, we're not starting at ground zero, we're actually three, four, five, seven, eight, nine, 10 steps ahead because you're like, oh no, I already know that, because I'll actually say to people on the phone, if I start talking about something, and any of you listening know, I can talk. Okay. And you can tell me to be quiet if you want me to [crosstalk 00:26:21].

Lee Meriwether: Something else you and I can [crosstalk 00:26:22].

Todd Austin: Yeah, exactly. No, but I'll tell them, if I just start talking about a topic and you already know about it, just tell me to be quiet. Just tell me to move on to the next topic. Great, fantastic. If you educate yourself, you can actually tell me to be quiet a lot. And you can say, here are my specific questions, I can jump right to the heart of the issue, give you the answers that you need, and you move on without it turning into a one to two hour meeting where you're really just starting from scratch.

Lee Meriwether: Right. And this circles are all the way back around to what we started the first segment where you said how phone calls can actually be inefficient. But if you use the email to outline your agenda, it makes the phone call, which can be more efficient in complicated situations, but it makes it more efficient because you are hyper focused on only those issues.

Todd Austin: Yeah, to your, again, I don't want to repeat what we already said. But sometimes you need a phone call. You can't get all the information or it'll take too much time to put everything you need to say in writing.

Lee Meriwether: Yep.

Todd Austin: But now, let's say you have gotten to a point where you think a phone call is absolutely necessary, there are efficient ways and inefficient ways to have that phone call, what you're talking about is a fantastic way to efficiently speak with, communicate via phone with your attorney.

Lee Meriwether: So we've actually inadvertently covered tip number four which is, watch the email trap, about going back and forth, and back and forth.

Todd Austin: Oh, I did it on purpose.

Lee Meriwether: I knew it. All right. But I want to share one element of that that one of the things I like about email. So let's say you talk to your attorney, and you have you set the agenda, you have a very good conversation. And at the end of it, the two of you say, all right, what's the next steps? What's the plan? All right, we're going to do X, and then we're going to do y, and then we're gonna go Z, and then we're going to go alpha and the beta, it's like, okay. Well you can help yourself and your lawyer in their staff, when you get off the phone, you type up those steps, email them to your lawyer, and CC your lawyers, paralegal or the whole legal team, depending on what your legal team is made up of. And here's why because I've seen this happen before where I'm guilty of it, I'll admit it. Where we had a very good conversation, we came up with a plan, but my phone call was actually squeezed in.

And as soon as I was off the phone, I was hopping in the car, driving to the courthouse. And this was, so maybe I had to be there at one o'clock. Well the whole rest of the afternoon, my paralegal could have been working on that task, but I didn't have time to give it to her. And she was at lunch when I was driving, so I couldn't call her. But in this particular case, the client actually told the client, can you write this for me? So they wrote up the agenda and emailed me and the paralegal working on the file. So when the paralegal got back, she saw this and goes, oh, I'll start working on it. And talk about, I didn't have to type it and tell her and bill my client for it, but it was an efficient use of both the phone call, the agenda, and then a follow up email after the phone call.

Todd Austin: Well and it goes both ways. If you need the attorney to do things for you putting it in writing, it's a great way to ensure that you're on the same page, this is what I expect, Thank you very much. And the attorney does the same thing. I mean, doctors do that, right? You go in, you're not feeling well, you get a treatment regimen. They don't just tell it to you and hope that you absorbed what they said, they put it in writing, and they're like, okay, now you're going to do A and B and C and that's it. And take this medicine, and take it this many times a day. You put it in writing, why? Because you don't want there to be misunderstandings.

Well, litigation, you don't want there to be misunderstandings. All right, because it just creates frustration, and can also open the door for mistakes to happen. Things get missed. Oh, don't you remember I asked you to get this document for me. I don't remember you telling me that? Well, if it was in writing, then there's less argument there, right?

Lee Meriwether: Yeah.

Todd Austin: You can say, well, hold on, you did send me that email. That's right. I apologize. I'll get that to you and we're all on the same page and we have what we need.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah. I've even had situations where a client sent me the email confirming the plan, and then two weeks later, part of that was we scheduled a follow up telephone conference. And so the phone conference, I say, hey, I noticed that you didn't complete the financial affidavit. I was supposed to have it so we could talk about it during this conference. I wasn't supposed to do that.

Todd Austin: Oh, contraire.

Lee Meriwether: Are you by your computer? Yeah. Hold on one second. Five seconds later, sorry. Can we reschedule? Which I did saved them money.

Todd Austin: [crosstalk 00:31:18] But that's better because would you rather spend an hour on the phone trying to talk around a financial affidavit, as opposed to just put it off, hey, no harm, no foul, can you do me a favor, work on that, because that's really important. And then let's circle back, we'll have that conversation, and we'll get accomplished what needs to be accomplished?

Lee Meriwether: Exactly. So, using common sense, using technology to help facilitate conversations, facilitate commemorating plans, and I wish I had more time to sit down and type things up like that but I mean, truth with with family law, the Family Law Lawyers, we're in court a lot or mediation a lot. Whereas other areas of the law, perhaps business law, you're behind your desk a lot. I used to practice business law so I know. You're behind your desk, you're at your computer, you have more physical time to type those things up. Not so much in family law, there's a lot of court involved.

Todd Austin: But very quickly, I will also say remember, with a bigger firm, with a bigger team, there are other people on the team that you can ask those questions of. It doesn't always have to be the attorney. You can be going to the paralegal, even sometimes a legal assistant asking questions and getting answers.

Lee Meriwether: And up next, we're going to answer more questions and we're going to talk about tips five, and six, and seven.

Welcome, everyone. I'm Lee Meriwether and with me is Todd Austin. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you are listening to the Meriwether and Tharp show. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And as a quick reminder, if you have got questions that you would like for us to answer on air, please use WSPS open mic app, you can download it from the App Store, Google Play Store, and there's a function on there where you can click a button, it'll record any questions that you may have and of course, if you don't want us to play your question on the air because you're afraid your spouse might hear your voice, then we won't, we'll just transcribe it and we'll ask the question Without your voice.

Todd Austin: Did you just say, [inaudible 00:33:31] without your voice? Right. Yeah. All of us. Me and the listening audience are going to pretend like you didn't say that. We're going to pretend like we don't hear your voice right now.

So anyway, we're talking about efficient ways to communicate with your attorney. All right. And I just want to make sure that I am very clear, the point I was making before the break is that, if you're working with a team that there are other people that you can talk to on the team. All right. Sometimes people, they'll be like, well, I need to talk to my attorney. Well, okay, that's fine. What is this about? Well, I need to know what the best way to provide some discovery documents that I have? Well, no, you don't need to talk to your attorney. Why do you need to be billed talking with your attorney about something that one of the secretaries, one of the paralegals can answer very quickly and very efficiently for you?

So, be thoughtful, be mindful about what your questions are, this goes to preparedness. If you understand what the information that you're trying to get, you may want to even start with the paralegal because paralegals are very good. They will tell you, if it's a question they can't answer, they'll tell you that. If you're like, look, I have a few questions. I just need to know where I can drop documents off? Where is the courthouse? And what strategy are we going to use when we're in trial and we're crossing examining the other party?

That paralegal should be saying, all right, I can answer number one, I can answer number two, and I'm going to have to schedule a time for you to speak with the attorney on number three. But you may just have a bunch of easy questions and you never have to incur a charge talking to the attorney. And once we explain it that way, most clients not just understand they appreciate the fact that, no, we're not going to put you on the phone all the time with the attorney to answer questions that are going to cost you more money than you want to pay.

Lee Meriwether: Exactly. All right. So tip number five, follow the plan. If you and your lawyer or your legal team come up with a plan of action, follow the plan of action because not only do you not want to have just wasted that time coming up with the plan, but you don't want to change it unilaterally not inform your lawyer, they keep working according to what y'all previously agreed to, and you do something that winds up costing you more money because maybe you make a mistake in communicating with your spouse and that upsets your spouse, and then they want to file for an emergency temporary hearing or something like that. So, when you come up with a plan with your lawyer, stick to it.

Todd Austin: Yeah. From an attorneys point of view, if we come up with a plan, then just like you have expectations, a client has expectations of what their attorney is doing and will do for them, I then have an expectation as to what I'm waiting for from my client. And that means a lot of my effort then goes into trying to communicate with the client, follow up on the to do list. Hey, I'm still waiting for this, hey, I'm still waiting for that. And if you haven't redirected the attorney, if you haven't said, well, hold on, I know we talked about one, two and three. And those are things we were going to do, I want to get rid of two and three. I want to do one and then do a couple of different things. If you haven't had that conversation and redirected the attorney in terms of setting expectations, then I've had to and my staff has had to spin their wheels significantly trying to get what we think needs to be done, done.

So, if you come up with an agreement, follow through because otherwise everyone is spinning their wheels and you're just wasting time and being inefficient.

Lee Meriwether: Yeah. And so if you change the plan, talk to your lawyer about it. All right. So the next one is, be responsive. Now, I could best illustrate how a lack of being responsive can cost you money. I know I've given this example before, but I think it really applies here and I'll be as quick as possible. The other side asked for a temporary hearing, they were asking for temporary support alimony. Our client couldn't afford to pay that alimony because he was paying all the bills. The problem was, the wife wasn't aware of the bills that he was paying. So I said, all right, give me all the documents to support your position, there's no money left over. All right, I'll get those to you. That was six weeks ago, or two weeks ago by, I still haven't gotten those documents, oh, I'm going to get to you.

Another two weeks go by. Where are those documents? And so sometimes our paralegals are billing the client for this follow up. So he's getting billed for these follow ups because he had promised to have them in a week. The week before the hearing, I really have to have these documents otherwise, knowing your income, you will be paying alimony after this temporary hearing. Oh, gosh, I'll get them to you tonight.

Todd Austin: And meanwhile, the other attorney, opposing counsel, is starting to think more and more that you are lying, that these statements of my client can't do that because there's no money there, maybe that's not true because if it was true, wouldn't they have gotten that to me in week one so that we could figure this out and avoid a trial or a hearing?

Lee Meriwether: Yeah, great point. So paralegals leave our office about five o'clock in the afternoon, some say a little bit later but that's time they get off work. 6:30 that evening, we get the documents. And the lawyer on the case, who is nearly twice the hourly rate of the paralegal had to process all those documents, prepare them for trial, make copies of them, and that mistake of not being responsive, not getting back right away when he said he was, probably cost him an extra $3,000-$4,000. Had he sent it in early on ... But maybe more than $4,000 because the lawyer wound up preparing for the hearing. Opposing counsel was willing to discuss settlement if there was documentation to support his position.

Todd Austin: Here's another thing where people not being responsive, not acting quickly. I've had temporary hearings where they were talking about the ability to use affidavits at a temporary hearing. Oh, I have witnesses and they'll say X and Y and Z, that's great, get me affidavits. I will help you, here are forms, just have them write something to me. Oh, I'll get them to you. And they wait, and they wait, and we follow up, hey, you said you had five witnesses that can talk about this. Oh, yeah, I'll get it done. And next thing you know, we are within a very short period of time of that hearing, that unfortunately, the deadline passed. I can't even use them anymore because there are obligations to turn those affidavits over prior to the hearing in a timely fashion so the opposing party can have time to review them and be prepared to cross examine, and basically deal with how they're going to respond to them.

So, you can be unfortunately put in a position where documents that you came up with, you can't even use at a trial because the court says no, I'm not going to allow them in because you're not going to sandbag, you're not going to basically trial by ambush turn them over that they've been asking for these for weeks, and now all of a sudden, you get to use them at trial just because you didn't want to turn them over. No, sorry, they're not coming in.

Lee Meriwether: Exactly. They are not and you're in trouble.

Todd Austin: Yes.

Lee Meriwether: No. last tip, focus on the issues. So, one of the things that we see is, I mean, divorce, it's very emotional. They say that it's the second most stressful thing you can ever go through followed by the death of a loved one because it is a death of the relationship. So it is easy to allow emotional aspects run away with you and then you spend a lot of money and time on the phone with your lawyer that could be better spent with a counselor. And then one of the questions you need to ask yourself too sometimes is, let's say we're talking about stuff, so things in the house, furniture or that sort of thing. You can buy more of that. So a lot of times people will spend more money on their lawyer than it would to be replace all the furniture in their house.

Todd Austin: Yeah, look, the bottom line is, figure out what you want to fight for. And the joking item that I always say is, you're going to fight over a toaster, right. I mean, I've seen people fight over something that is an equivalent to the toaster, where it's like, hold on one second, for $50 you can have a new one. And we're not talking about an air balloon. So, figure out what you want to fight for. What issues do you want to be an issue in the case? And if it's the toaster, okay, I mean, that's up to you, it's your case, you're the client. And so I'm not even throwing stones, and I'm not making fun, but if you're fighting over the toaster just because you don't want your soon to be ex to have the toaster, step back.

Figure out whether or not this is really coming down to just an emotional reaction or is it really something you want to be a pivotal important issue that needs to be resolved in your case?

Lee Meriwether: Yeah. And one of the things you could do is ask this question, do I really want or need this item or am I simply asking for it because I want to hurt my spouse? And if the answer is, it's because I won't hurt my spouse, move on. Drop it. It's not worth the money.

Todd Austin: Well, especially if you want to throw the toaster, you don't want to hurt your spouse that way. Oh, okay.

Lee Meriwether: Use the divorce process to get out of the marriage, don't use it to get even because usually when you see people using it to get even, they wind up just in a lot of debt.

Todd Austin: It costs a lot of money to focus on that hatred rather than on just getting a resolution that allows you to move on with your life.

Lee Meriwether: Exactly. And I wish we had more time but we don't. So, hey everyone, hope you got a lot out of this show and thanks so much for listening.