Let’s face it – no client enjoys receiving their attorney’s bill at the end of the month. We as attorneys love to joke by saying clients hate us until they need us – then they hate us again after the bill arrives. There is hope. You can lower your attorney’s fees bills by one simple act – keeping your files organized.
Here is a perfect example. In representing commercial and residential developers, I had to deal with numerous construction defect and/or breach of contract lawsuits. In my earlier days, we would receive hundreds of thousands of pages of documents for each case, the majority of which were merely placed into a file for a specific subcontractor and all subcontractor files placed into a series of banker’s boxes for each development. This did not include all the individual change orders, insurance documents, correspondence and accounting information. In order to review these documents, many, many attorney and paralegal hours were utilized and billed to get the files in a useable format for litigation.
Now, fast forward to the present day – we now have much more volume in what we do as business owners, particularly in construction and manufacturing. If you are large enough, the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act will impact your record-keeping as well. On top of all the other documents mentioned above, we now have multiple strings of emails, texts and posts. Add to the fold the thing we call eDiscovery, whereby a forensic analysis of your company computers can be allowed pursuant to a court order. This may include allowing a forensic analysis company to place a computer algorithm onto your firm’s computer to secure the documents needed. Companies now hire forensic data analysis companies for the sole purpose of record-keeping. These companies can take your daily generation of documents and organize them into specific files in the event of government audit and complex litigation. The complex has gotten more complex. These services are expensive, but they pale in consideration of the potential attorney’s fees associated with a law firm organizing your files for litigation or audits.
Most of you reading this will likely not require a forensic data collection service in your business. Most businesses these days have already experienced the bane of litigation – they vow never to go through it again. It is, unfortunately, a likelihood which will occur time and time again. There are avenues to mitigate the stress and expense associated with audits and litigation – create a business plan that organizes your internal systems for smooth transition and compilation of data for outside vendors such as your attorneys or consultants. By doing so, you can reduce your attorney’s fees for file analysis upfront.
Organization is the key to reducing your attorney’s fees. As mentioned above, construction projects are wrought with huge amounts of documentation – they make an excellent example for our purposes herein. We can anticipate about 20 to 30 subcontractors, comprising the majority of trades on a construction project. You can then compartmentalize at least 30 files with subfiles you will need to ensure all data for a given project is at your immediate fingertips. Under each subcontractor, you will need the following subfolders:
- Master Agreement/Addendums
- Insurance/Declaration pages (PLEASE)
- Change Orders
- Accounting/Progress payments
This list is not exhaustive – as a matter of fact, you can use the same or similar file folders in any business, to include shipping and manufacturing. These files will be job-/project-specific and separate from your corporate record-keeping.
Let’s add into the mix that, should you keep hard copies of documents, you should also maintain mirrored computer files. Today, we are seeing fewer and fewer hard copies coming into our office and more usage of Dropbox dumps of file documents. If you have a good process down, most businesses are opting for the eStorage methods – but be careful about breaches, data mining, etc. We will save this topic for another blog, including a discussion of cybersecurity and errors and omissions insurance in case your cloud has a rainy day.
How does this all save me on attorney’s fees? I can tell you firsthand that a well-organized client file will dramatically cut the time I spend organizing client files into discoverable form for litigation, audit or compliance review. By taking a little bit more time internally on the front-end of a new project, establishing internal procedures which anticipate events such as litigation, audit or compliance review, your attorney and the paralegal will have less to do and bill you in lower amounts. Those clients I represent that are organized in their files allow me to concentrate on litigating their case rather than organizing their files for them. For instance, I recently requested a project file from one of my clients – it was sent within minutes into a Dropbox file, organized, and delineated into separate files. I did not have to spend hours reviewing and organizing the documents into a useable form for discovery purposes.
I hope this gives you a starting point for changing how you handle file organization. No more can you as the client afford not to be organized. You have the power to control your fees in many ways. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We always love seeing businesses succeed and improve!