Most clients can be fairly level headed when it comes to their divorce. Yet there are a few that roll off the apple cart every now and then and rather than chalk it up to a bumpy road, they'd rather shoot the poor guy who is trying to navigate the apple cart around the bumps in the road.
The intention of this article is to help those who'd rather shoot the poor guy to do something a bit more productive, namely, to see the forest for the trees.
Yet let me be more direct for the sake of time. One complaint clients have is that their attorney costs too much or that their divorce was far more costly than it needed to be.
One problem that I ran into with a client was what I call "Cluster Calling". This client would call me at least every other day with an average of two to three calls per pay. Each call averaged perhaps about 15 minutes. This lasted for 6 1/2 months (including weekends).
Now I understand that some people want information faster and don't want to wait for a letter and a stamp. Further I understand that some clients want to hear from their attorney personally rather than by an impersonal letter and therefore they are constantly calling to get updates, to tell of new developments, and to give other details which may not be pertinent to the case at all even though the client thinks they do.
Yet Cluster Calling has had two effects that I've witnessed in practice. First, the more telephone contact you have with your Rhode Island Attorney, the more you see him or her as a "friend" and not as your hired counselor. Therefore the time you are on the phone with your "friend" is seen as de-valued in the eyes of the client.
Second, because the Rhode Island Attorney is perhaps sitting in a chair in his office or driving in his car and is only using his or her voice to speak with the client, he may be be seen as not really practicing law and therefore again the attorneys' time is de-valued in the client's eyes.
This leads to a clear issue and sometimes a confrontation between client and attorney that really does not need to happen. When the client gets the bill, there may be outrage at all the charges for the phone calls and time spent talking to the attorney.
Two things can help prevent this.
(1) It can be reasonably explained to the client that the attorneys services are his or her time and that the client gets the benefit of those services on whatever the issue is, whenever the client calls and that the attorney has no control over how indepth the call is or whether the client is just calling to "vent". Hopefully, the client will understand that it wasn't the attorney's desire to raise the bill, but that it was what occurred when the client continued to call the attorney on his or her case. Most clients will agree that it would not be reasonable for the attorney's clients to take the position that the attorney can't bill for phone calls made and received.
(2) The attorney can make it clear at the time he or she was retained that phone calls are something that is billed to the client. Specifically, the attorney can explain that if the client calls frequently the bill will rise more quickly but if the matters to be discussed are not urgent, perhaps it might be best to wait until the client has multiple reasons to call before calling the attorney. Most clients will see this in a positive light and appreciate that you are trying to keep their costs down.
Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
PEARSALL LAW ASSOCIATES
571 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, RI 02910
Phone: (401) 354-2369
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* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law and has no procedure for recognition of specialty in any area of law.