Brian K. Tackett

When I started practicing law there were no websites with reviews, there was no AVVO, or no Google Maps. If you couldn’t get a referral from a friend, you went to the World Wide Web or cracked open the yellow pages. Both are forms of advertising created to show the law firm in the best possible light with content approved by the firm. You were lured by the flashiest ad or coolest website. Now, there are a number of different websites to find reviews which can be extremely helpful to clients.

Today I was looking at AVVO.com which is a great starting point for clients searching for a lawyer. AVVO has an abundance of information. You can search for a lawyer by city and area of practice, and learn about that lawyer’s qualifications, education, and experience. One really cool feature is that AVVO has a rating algorithm that rates attorneys on a scale of 1 to 10. So you can see what a cold, impartial computer formula thinks of any particular attorney.

Like other sites, AVVO allows client reviews. Reviews are great because they’re not necessarily controlled the lawyer. I read a lot of reviews. Actually, I read very few good reviews. Instead, I focused on the bad reviews because frankly, they’re a lot more interesting. The most common complaint was that the client spent considerably more money than expected.

This complaint can be prevented, to a degree, if the attorney and the client do three simple things:

1. Discuss cost in terms of a range of possibilities

One of the most common and most difficult questions I get is, “How much is it going to cost?” The total cost is extremely difficult to predict. We, the attorneys, tell clients, “It depends.” That’s not a good enough answer. The lawyer is in a much better position than the client to understand how much it will likely cost.

Attorneys cannot predict the ultimate cost, but they should be able to give you a range for each of the various phases of your case. For example, if you need temporary orders, I can tell you how much it might cost if all goes smoothly, and if it doesn’t go smoothly I can give you a range for that as well. I can do the same thing for mediation, discovery, trial and a host of other activities. These are conversations that need to be had both at the initial consultation, and throughout the case.

2. Do a cost-benefit analysis

If you understand the likely cost, you can do a cost benefit analysis. You can decide, “Is it worth the cost to do discovery?” You can decide to forego discovery if the potential benefits do not justify the cost. Again, this needs to be a consideration throughout the representation. When you and your lawyer talk about what to do next, you need to discuss how much it’s likely to cost

3. Don’t make emotional decisions

Let cooler heads prevail. Don’t make decisions when your outlook is clouded by emotion. There’s nothing more personal than the end of a marriage, and there’s nothing more important than preserving your relationships with your children.

As a family lawyer, I see my clients at their worst. They’re upset, stressed, angry, anxious, and often depressed. It’s natural for their reactions to be based on emotion. The slightest issue is often addressed by an emotional response, often an outburst.

When you’re being controlled by your emotions, you can’t see the big picture. You don’t think about the cost until the end of the month when you get your bill. If you find yourself angry or upset, give it a little time before you decide how to respond. Speak with your lawyer about your options and the risks, benefits, and cost associated.

There are a number of reasons why a client might post a negative review. Cost is one that should be addressed during the representation. It’s not fair for the client to be surprised by an exceedingly large bill. Most people don’t want to discuss the money, they just want to hope for the best. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s a necessary conversation.