Client Empowerment 1: When should you ‘play lawyer’?

I always try to focus my client on figuring out how to best utilize my legal services in the most efficient and cost effective way possible.  In the attorney-client relationship, inefficiencies happen in 2 ways.  In one scenario, the client does too much on their own and ends up putting themselves in legal peril because of their lack of legal knowledge and support.  For example, I have taken over many a trademark filing that a client filed on their own only to find out that the client made critical mistakes that undermined their application and compromised their trademark rights.

In the other scenario, I have seen clients on tight legal budgets delegate too much to their lawyer and pay much more than they needed to for work they could easily do on their own. For example, a prolific artist paid a lawyer $12,500 to have 100 paintings copyrighted.  However, this client could have easily filed the copyrights on their own at the United States Registrar of Copyrights at for a filing fee of $35 for each work of art.  That same client hired me to help her understand the copyright form, to ensure the right information was entered on the form, and to show her how to file on her own.  My client then filed her next 100 copyrights for $3,500 in filing fees plus $500 for my services for a total of $4,000.  The difference was $8500!

If the client is a very busy executive with tons of resources, then paying the extra $8500 is no big deal. However, if they are on a tight budget, or if the client has an assistant who can do most of the work, the client likely would choose to do it on their own.

In my opinion, this is a business decision the client can only make if they know what the total effort entails.  By empowering my clients and letting them know they could do certain work on their own, I’ve enabled my clients to make a business decision: Is it worth an extra $8500 to have the lawyer handle the matter?

In both ways, we both win. By empowering my client, she is grateful that I saved her a ton money and knows that I have her best interests in mind.  This sets a foundation for a long term legal relationship.

Have you had a time when you would’ve wanted your lawyer to explain to you the full heft of what you’re asking to be done? What would you have done differently?

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