Legal writing piece is good advice…for plaintiffs

Recently, I was asked by a woman who was involved in two lawsuits to give her some advice. She wasn’t happy with her lawyers and when I asked about the stage of one case, I found what she was saying confusing.

I advised her to sit down with her lawyer and ask him questions — especially the questions she was asking me. I’m not a lawyer, couldn’t advise her and she could not determine whether her lawyer was doing a good job if she didn’t talk to him about her case and get answers that were meaningful, to her. If you don’t know what a lawyer is doing for you, at what stage your case is, how do you know whether he’s doing a good job? Although it’s certainly a lawyer’s job to make sure he’s communicating accurately with his client, it’s also his client’s job to make sure she understands.

Eventually, at this woman’s request, I met with her. She brought with her many, many pages of e-mails and communications between her and one of the lawyers.

One relevant complaint she had: why was the lawyer charging her for over 400 e-mail communications? I was slightly surprised. Apparently clients don’t understand that lawyers working on a retainer and hourly rate actually do charge for the time they spend communicating with the client.

I explained to her that of course a lawyer will charge for e-mail communications, just as he would for the time spent on each phone call. And lawyers typically charge a minimum of 6 minutes, even if reading an e-mail from a client takes only 1 minute, and even if all he does is read it. So every time she sent him an e-mail, he was charging her one-tenth of his hourly rate, at minimum.

I did find those over 400 e-mails startling. As I looked at her papers, I realized that she had been producing most of these e-mails. So I told her, in fact, that when I consider e-mailing a lawyer, I first think, “Is my e-mail question or comment worth 35 bucks?” Then I decide whether I really really need that exchange or can postpone it or answer it myself.

But what made me rather gloomy about this whole “advice” thing I was doing was, reading all those communications. They were not stringently written. They were full of (legal) irrelevancies, misunderstandings, directives, repetitions. Any lawyer who had to read them all deserved his hourly rate.

So today, when I saw this article on lawyerist.com, a blog that advises lawyers, I grabbed the link: Scrubbing Adverbs From Legal Writing. I offer it to you here. It could equally be renamed Scrubbing (Expensive) Adverbs From Writing To Lawyers. It’s good advice for plaintiffs, as well as lawyers, and it’ll keep your bills down.

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