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#615 The Retainer Agreement

June 3, 2014

615 Post Depositphotos_2400666_XS.jpgAnd now, we come to the third document that my potential clients read - the retainer agreement. This is the newly-streamlined version and it only runs six pages. One can easily read it within five minutes. Over time, I've found that potential clients were much more concerned about the various costs of legal representation than anything else. Makes sense.

And, over time, I've come to realize that the best way to give my clients the biggest bang for their collective bucks is to do something that might, on its face, seem counter-intuitive: I've decided to cap most of my legal fees. Not all, but most.

Think about it: how tough can it be to represent someone in Family Court? I've been an attorney for almost 22 years and I've been a family law practitioner for over 12 years. I think I now have enough experience that I can achieve a settlement for my clients, on reasonable terms, for a guaranteed maximum fee. And, in the event that the legal matter is incapable of settling on terms that my client thinks are reasonable, then I will charge a specific amount for each and every day, or part thereof, of trial.

My billing rate is extremely reasonable - and now my retainers are as well. Take a look ...

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#614 The Statement of Client's Rights and Responsibilities

June 2, 2014

614 Post Depositphotos_2400666_XS.jpgThe next thing any potential client reads, upon entering my office, is a simple three page document called the "Statement of Client's Rights and Responsibilities". It is so important that it is provided to the potential client prior to any discussions regarding the retainer agreement.

As you might guess, this document is also prescribed by the Rules of Court, namely in Part 1400, specifically section 1400.2.

This document is, like the Statement of Client's Rights, quite commonsensical and self-evident. Still, I always find it helpful to reacquaint myself with this document from time to time, to keep it fresh in my mind.

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#613 The Statement of Client's Rights

June 2, 2014

613 Post Depositphotos_2400666_XS.jpgThe first thing any potential client reads, upon entering my office, is a simple one page, ten clause document called the "Statement of Client's Rights". It is so important that it is both framed and posted on my law office's wall and it is placed on coffee tables throughout the office as well. I also make a point of handing it out to each and every person who enters my office.

Why is this document posted on the wall of my law office? Simple: I am required by the Rules of Court to do so. Specifically, Part 1210 of the Rules of Court spells this out in detail:

"Every attorney with an office located in the State of New York shall insure that there is posted in that office, in a manner visible to clients of the attorney, a statement of client's rights in the form set forth below. Attorneys in offices that provide legal services without fee may delete from the statement those provisions dealing with fees. The statement shall contain the following ..."

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#601 Website Under Reconstruction

May 15, 2014

601 Post Depositphotos_3921391_XS.jpgEvery now and again, changes have to be made and that's certainly the case with this website. While it is generally structured the way I want it to be, some serious modifications are in order, especially with regard to the listings for my practice areas.

I practice almost exclusively in Family Court, Supreme Court, and the Appellate Division, working on family law matters, matrimonial law matters, and a variety of appeals. My primary market is the county in which I reside, Saratoga County, together with the more populous counties of the Capital District, namely Schenectady County, Albany County, and Rensselaer County.

While fellow attorneys might understand what practicing in these areas entails, most non-attorneys really don't have any idea. And, I find that my website pages for Practice Areas is somewhat deficient in that it fails to fully convey all of the many aspects of the law in which I am regularly involved.

And I need to change that with a simple click of the mouse.

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#405 And Now For Something Completely Different ...

August 20, 2013

405 Post Depositphotos_8910556_xs.jpgA man with three buttocks! The over-40s in the audience will certainly catch that Pythonesque reference. "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was an amazing thing to discover as a kid and it almost certainly guaranteed my geek status in college when I could quote large chunks of dialogue from memory from various bizarre skits and movies (read: "The Witch Scene" from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"). In fact, if memory serves, one of the requirements for my getting into a fraternity at M.I.T. was to engage in a spontaneous reenactment of The Witch Scene in Boston Common, in full view of the public. The brothers' hope was one of public humiliation. Instead, it was one of public acclamation, since, as we all know, Bostonians are some hep dudes. I got bettah!

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#201 Retainer Agreement, Part 25 of 25

July 14, 2012

201 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 71 through 75:

And here we come to the end of it at last. This last series of articles accomplishes two important functions: it specifically spells out what the client is retaining the attorney to do for the client and it makes clear to both the client and the attorney when and how the attorney-client relationship is concluded with regard to the litigation at hand.

And, really, this is what any decent retainer agreement is always about: when do services commence?; what are those services?; how much do those services cost?; what is the objective of those services?; and when do the services end?

It's that simple.

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#199 Retainer Agreement, Part 24 of 25

July 12, 2012

199 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 68 through 70:

The remainder of the retainer agreement includes what is known in the profession as "boilerplate". This is merely contractual language that is commonly found in many or most retainer agreements simply because it so perfectly captures specific aspects of the contractual arrangement between an attorney and his client.

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#197 Retainer Agreement, Part 23 of 25

July 10, 2012

198 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 64 through 67:

Here are four more articles which deal with matters that are patently obvious to fellow attorneys but may not even occur to clients. These articles basically deal with the inevitable obstacles one encounters in litigation. Those obstacles can be quite annoying when they turn out to be specific individuals with a reputation for being "difficult". And, for the client, "difficult" almost always translates into "expensive".

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#194 Retainer Agreement, Part 22 of 25

July 3, 2012

194 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 61 through 63:

Just like the previous blog post in this series, these articles are included to apprise the client of the possibility of "hidden" fees when the judge decides that it might be a good idea to order the client to do something as a part of the ongoing litigation.

If there are allegations (or worse: testimony) that the client has a bit of a temper - and very young children are involved - then it is not at all surprising to have the judge order the client to register for, attend, successfully complete, and follow the recommendations of an anger management class.

The same holds true if the judge suspects that the client has any sort of substance abuse addiction - even if it's something as "harmless" as regular marijuana use or drinking as little as a can of beer a day. Anything potentially harmful substances that smacks of regular use is a red flag - again, especially if young children are involved in the litigation. This should not be surprising at all, given that children are so vulnerable and judges will do everything that they can to protect children.

However, because many clients have been taken by surprise by these sorts of things, I've decided to include these items in my retainer agreement.

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#192 Retainer Agreement, Part 21 of 25

July 2, 2012

192 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 58 through 60:

One thing in particular that clients (and attorneys) hate, more than anything else, is surprises. Attorneys build their reputations on being able to divine likely outcomes to cases given a certain set of facts, laws, and personalities. Being thrown a curve ball which results in the destruction of your case is the stuff of nightmares.

With clients, they don't like "hidden" or unanticipated fees. So, why not be as candid as possible about the likelihood of auxiliary fees in the litigation. Expert fees is a big issue in matrimonial matters. However, there are also fees in Family Court matters as well. Two such fees are psychological evaluations (which often start at $750.00!) and parenting classes (which are much less expensive but often much harder to schedule).

These fees are often mandatory if the judge issues an order directing psychological evaluations and/or parenting classes. If the client fails to pay the fee to take the evaluation or the class, then the client would then be in violation of a court order - with the possibility of the judge sending the client to jail for contempt of court. While judges strongly prefer not to do this, I have actually seen it done on rare occasions, usually where the party has repeatedly failed to obey a court order.

Jail has a wonderful way of making people get their priorities straight.

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#189 Retainer Agreement, Part 20 of 25

July 1, 2012

189 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 54 through 57:

These four articles cover the initial and middle stages of the litigation, giving the client a basic overview of what to expect. Again, this is painfully obvious to all litigators but it is often a revelation to clients, which is why it is included here.

Clients seem to perceive litigation as mostly occurring in court when, in fact, very little actually occurs in court. The overwhelming majority of litigation occurs outside the courtroom, on paper and in phone calls. I try to persuade clients to view court appearances as a way for the court system to force everyone into the same room so that everyone can be brought up-to-date as to the status of the litigation. The judge is there to nudge the litigation forward and to act as the referee for any disputes.

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#187 Retainer Agreement, Part 19 of 25

June 30, 2012

187 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 51 through 53:

We're in the home stretch now. These three articles are also self-explanatory and could have been omitted from the retainer agreement. They are included, however, because I believe it is very important for the client to get to know the "third attorney" in most Family Court and Supreme Court litigation involving children.

Attorneys for children play an important role in both representing their clients and protecting their clients. In fact, I am one myself, being a member of several panels in several counties throughout the Greater Capital Region.

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#185 Retainer Agreement, Part 18 of 25

June 30, 2012

185 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 48 through 50:

Part Four of the retainer agreement is extremely self-explanatory and needs no preface. Just read it. Once more, this could easily have been left out of the retainer agreement, but for the fact that I want all of my clients to be as fully informed as possible before the litigation commences. It just seems to be the most responsible thing to do. I do this sort of thing every day. Hell, I even dream about it (yes, I know, I need to see a therapist for this; all the more reason for me to go on vacation ASAP!). But most of my clients have never been involved in the court system before - and they don't have a clue. I'd therefore feel much more comfortable if they had at least some small measure of information concerning what they are about to confront - and pay for.

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#183 Retainer Agreement, Part 17 of 25

June 29, 2012

183 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 46 and 47:

These two articles should also be self-evident but they are included within the retainer agreement because they are apparently not at all evident to many of my clients (which, frankly, I find surprising). As such, I find that a great deal of my retainer agreement contains helpful hints for and aspirational requests to clients. In many ways, the retainer agreement serves as a briefing tool for the client: this is how the system works and this is what you will need to do to increase your chances of success.

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#181 Retainer Agreement, Part 16 of 25

June 27, 2012

181 Post Depositphotos_1291876_XS.jpgArticles 42 through 45:

Because I so often find myself describing the substance found in these articles to almost every one of my clients, I just thought it would be easier to just encapsulate it within the retainer agreement itself.

At my most cynical (which, lately, has pretty much become daily life), I often tell my clients that litigation is like appearing in a play - and the client had damned well better rehearse for his or her role and know all their lines. Clients seem to think that they have control over so little in litigation, without realizing that they actually have control of the most important part of the litigation: themselves.

As with almost everything else in life, this section can be distilled down to a single idea and word: respect. Clients should have self-respect and act accordingly. And, as always, one should dress (and groom) for success.

In court, as in life, appearances - and especially first appearances - mean absolutely everything.

And as for respect ... yes, there are often times when I would absolutely love to tell a judge precisely what is on my mind. However, out of self-respect, I will never - ever - let a judge place me in such a vulnerable position. And neither should you!

Think before you speak! A very great deal depends on it.

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