Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Legal Relationship: Two Points of View

by Jackie Eder-Van Hook, James M. Goldberg, JD | Oct 01, 2008
Jackie Eder-Van Hook and Attorney James Goldberg explore two points of view in the client-lawyer relationship. The first article clarifies what clients should and shouldn’t expect from their attorney. The second article written from the point of view of the attorney, helps us understand what lawyers expect from their clients.

What to Expect From Your Lawyer 

By Jackie Eder-Van Hook
Co-founder/Principal, Transition Management Consulting


Periodic, meaningful communication. Set up a communications strategy with your association's lawyer right from the "start” before the clock starts ticking. Get organized before you contact your lawyer; consider writing down a few talking points. 

You should expect compatible communication styles. If you can't resolve communication differences quickly, find a new lawyer; it isn't worth the time, money, or aggravation. 

Competence and expertise. Lawyers are obligated to comply with state and federal laws, and one of those requirements relates to competency. You have every right to expect your lawyer's firm is competent. Experience counts; you do not want the lawyers to be learning on the job at your expense. In the end, you should hire the right person for the job. You may not need a senior partner to review standard contracts, but you also do not want a lawyer who has limited practical experience in the issue at hand. 

Size matters and may cost more. When considering a firm, look at its "bench strength." Does it have a sufficient talent pool to do the work if the primary lawyer is unavailable or unqualified? Fees in a large firms tend to be higher, but they also have greater bench strength. A smaller firm may be a better value for most of your legal needs. When assessing a small firm, inquire about any relationships they have with other lawyers, which can add to small-firm bench strength. 

Fiduciary responsibility. Lawyers have a fiduciary duty to clients and are obligated to be upfront with you about fees, conflicts of interest, scope of services, and the terms under which work will be performed. 

Confidentiality. You should feel free to talk to your attorney as you would your minister or doctor, but make sure you understand your rights under attorney-client privilege up front. 


What Lawyers Expect From Their Clients

By James M. Goldberg, JD 
Principal, Goldberg & Associates, PLLC, Washington, DC 


Understand the relationship. When a lawyer represents an association, he or she is representing the organization, not individual members and not the individual chief staff officer. While the lawyer may take day-to-day direction from the chief staff officer, his or her fiduciary duty is to the organization itself, as personified by the board of directors. 

Consult in advance. An organization may often feel that it calls its lawyer frequently with what seem like minor questions. However, getting input from a lawyer before a contract is signed, especially one that commits the organization to a potentially large expenditure (such as a hotel or IT contract), may protect against a larger legal bill later. Consultation before terminating an employee may also be wise in order to minimize post-employment liability. 

Provide the total picture. Clients often do not provide all the information needed to render an informed, accurate opinion. When seeking advice, associations should provide complete disclosure, even of negative information. Remember, the communication is confidential under attorney-client privilege and cannot be disclosed to outsiders. Outside counsel should also have access to all relevant governance documents, such as bylaws, policy manuals, and so forth. 

Think about a legal audit. Associations generally conduct annual financial audits. But many organizations don't think about a periodic review of their legal status. Such a review can include such things as filing reports required in states where the association is incorporated and doing business and ensuring that trademark renewal dates and contract renewal or termination dates are met. 

Communicate. Sometimes mistakes occur. A lawyer appreciates it when clients call to raise the issue of any possible mistake, from billing to legal advice or otherwise. The lawyer-client relationship can only be strengthened if the client communicates openly rather than holding back.