An attorney and a client’s relationship should be one of mutual respect and trust; one that requires transparency, honesty, integrity, availability, respect for the financial aspect and timeous responses to missed calls and emails.

To assist in formulating a plan for the relationship, PJ Veldhuizen, commercial attorney, litigator, arbitrator and mediator at Gillan and Veldhuizen Inc. provides a non-exhaustive list of points that will help both the client and the attorney as they make headway.

Provide instructions before the initial consultation

The client should not wait for the first consultation to provide background information and instructions to the attorney.

It is most helpful to receive instructions in writing, in chronological order, indexed and paginated.

A good method is to, in advance of the consultation, drop off a hard-copy file at the attorney’s office for the attorney to prepare for the first consultation. In urgent matters, the client may email written instructions to the attorney. The client should avoid the unfortunate practice of simply forwarding the attorney all correspondence or documents that the client believes should be considered, without any background explanation or sequence.

Under no circumstances should the client forward emails with further embedded emails to the attorney. This is a recipe for disaster, as vital attachments can be missed – furthermore, the attorney sells time, and deciphering emails within emails is a time-consuming effort for which the client will ultimately have to pay.

Voice notes and WhatsApp instructions are strongly discouraged and often cost the client additional hours billed as the attorney then has to spend time forwarding these communications to an email server to capture to the client’s file.

The attorney should:

  • Provide the client with the firm’s client onboarding documentation as soon as the appointment has been made for the first consultation. This documentation should include:
  1. The firm’s terms of business;
  2. The hourly rate that is charged by different attorneys in the firm;
  3. The firm’s FICA requirements;
  4. Any pre-payments that are required for the first consultation.
  • Perform the necessary Conflict Checks.
  • Confirm the scope of the instruction, in writing;
  • Advise the client who will make up the team servicing the matter – it is often more appropriate to utilise more junior staff than a senior attorney dealing with every aspect of the matter. That said, the senior attorney remains responsible throughout the engagement.
  • Confirm the intended process, the timing thereof, and the report back schedule agreed upon.

The client should:

  • Agree to confirm the attorney’s mandate to proceed;
  • Confirm the amount of any trust deposit required and confirm banking details telephonically as well as electronically;
  • Make arrangements for any trust deposit to be paid;

The running of the engagement

Obviously, different matters will require different approaches. Still, the rule of thumb is that before the dispatch of any critical correspondence to an opposing attorney or the submission of a draft document to a colleague acting for another counterparty, the client should have sight of the documentation and provide commentary thereon.

The attorney should utilise a planner or diary system that ensures that matters do not fall between the cracks and that follow-ups are regularly made concerning outstanding information required from the client or a colleague acting for the counterparty.

Pet Peeves

There are of course some real no-no’s and high on the list of frustrating requests says Veldhuizen is receiving a document/agreement with general instructions –

‘Take a look at this and tell me what you think’ – that request lacks any instruction or direction – what is the attorney supposed to review?

Another pet peeve is sending a request that reads ‘Can you draft a one-pager, I just want to keep this simple?’ Veldhuizen says this is an impossible request and the client is better off doing the deal via handshake. If an attorney is to draft responsibly, he or she needs to deal with each aspect of the transaction in the agreement to reduce uncertainty and avoid the consequences for breach of contract, which is after all when the agreement will be most tested.

Veldhuizen stresses that preparation by the client and the attorney before any necessary consultations are paramount and will not only save time and money but by making the effort and providing or obtaining, as the case may be, a thorough brief you are fulfilling a critical aspect in the planning and preparation for a successful outcome.

Seems by failing to plan, you are planning to fail.