07 Jul Understanding Your Lawyer’s Team
When you hire a lawyer, you take care to find someone experienced and skilled in the area with which you need help. You probably seek a good personal rapport, as well. However, clients sometimes assume that they will be working with that one lawyer all the time. Actually, law is an intricate, intensive job, and requires a team. If you trust your lawyer, you can and should trust his or her legal team too. It helps to understand the different people who make up your lawyer’s team and know who you to speak with when.
Who’s Who on the Legal Team
When you first sit down to consult with your potential law firm, you will want to ask a lot of questions. Chief among them is, which lawyer will handle your case? The firm probably employee attorneys with different levels of experience and areas of expertise. A lawyer may be referred to as an attorney or counsel. If multiple lawyers handle a case, the lead counsel acts as point-person.
Partners and Associates
Both Partners and Associates are employees of the firm. Partners are part owners of the firms and usually the most experienced. More experience equals higher fees. If the firm designates one of them as Managing Partner, you can think of this person as the CEO. Associates may be just as experienced, or nearly so, but do not own a piece of the firm. Their fees are lower than the partners’, and the partners generally review the associate’s’ work.
A Contract Lawyer doesn’t work for the firm, but the firm may hire one on an hourly, as-needed basis. If your case is complicated and requires highly specialized skills in a certain area, a Contract Lawyer may provide those.
You might think of Law Clerks as interns. They work for academic credit and minimal payment. They can conduct research related to your case, potentially saving you significant money.
Virtually all law firms use Paralegals. A Paralegal does not have a license to practice law. However, they generally have a Master’s degree and a paralegal certification. A lawyer supervises his or her work, but again, you save money through lower hourly rates. A Paralegal cannot give legal advice or represent a client in court. They can draft legal documents under supervision by an attorney. They may also schedule hearing dates, set appointments, or take notes during a trial.
Legal Assistants, Secretaries, and Receptionists
Law firms vary in what terminology they use for their support staff. Support staff will be the ones taking, and sometimes returning your phone calls, setting up meetings, and greeting you when you arrive at the office. These individuals may have varying degrees of legal knowledge themselves, sometimes working their way through school to become Paralegals or Lawyers. That being said, remember they are not there to dispense legal advice. Do treat them with respect and courtesy.
Working With Your Team Effectively
At the outset, ask about whether law clerks, assistants or paralegals will be handling some tasks associated with your case. Understand what each of these people does. Remember that shifting duties off of the lawyer’s desk is usually done to save you money.
Lawyers at different levels of their careers will charge different fees. Understand that your lawyer might not always be the one returning your calls, but you may save money by speaking with another member of the staff.
Also ask, at the start of your case, how often you can expect to hear updates and from whom. Ask who you will be talking to–a Paralegal or other member of the support team–when you have questions or updates.
You may experience long periods where you hear nothing. That probably means there is nothing new to report. But, as mentioned above, you may have a Paralegal or support team member as a point person. Check in regularly but not too often, perhaps monthly. Calling too often does not get results.
Sometimes, a client involved in a case wonders why they are hearing mostly from a Paralegal rather than from their Lawyer. The website lawyers.com advises, “if you feel like you’re not getting the kind of time or attention that you need from your attorney, it’s time to discuss your concerns with your lawyer. Your attorney may not be trying to avoid you, but may simply be shifting some of the workload to a paralegal.”
When you arrive at a meeting with your legal team, anticipate any documents or records they might need. Organize and label everything clearly in advance. Remember that different members of the team may need to review your information, and you don’t want each one having to start from scratch to figure out what’s what. Rather, save yourself money by saving them time. Arrive on time for meetings, whether in person or by phone. Bring a list of questions and take careful notes. All of this preparation streamlines the process of working together.
As your legal team, we are here to help you during what is likely a difficult time in your life. We work together, with you, to help make your case progress as smoothly as possible. We bring a wide range of backgrounds and expertise to the table. Click here if you would like to schedule a consultation.