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Face it: You will occasionally--and sometimes frequently--need to consult an attorney in the course of running your business. It's simply a way of life in business today. But what happens when the attorney's bill arrives and you disagree with the charges?
The best way to deal with such a dispute is to avoid it in the first place, says Gene Kazlow, a principal of New York City law firm Kazlow & Kazlow. That means reaching a clear agreement ahead of time about what the attorney is going to do and how much it will cost. But if you fail to do that, or if the bill just isn't what you expected, call the attorney and voice your concerns. "The lawyer should be prepared to itemize the services that were rendered," says Kazlow.
If you feel the bill is too high, Kazlow recommends taking a straightforward approach: Ask if the attorney will work with you to help you understand the bill and perhaps reduce the amount. "Lawyers don't like to reduce their bills, but any good lawyer is also a good businessperson," Kazlow observes. "If he's smart, he'll think of the big picture. It's a business decision."
To avoid fee surprises, Kazlow recommends watching the lawyer's regular (typically monthly) invoices to make sure they match your expectations. Any upward and unwelcome trends in fees can be caught and dealt with early on.
Kazlow also urges entrepreneurs to remember that lawyers cannot guarantee the outcome of any case--so don't base your fee dispute on the fact that a lawsuit or other action didn't go the way you wanted. And if you don't like the fees the lawyer quotes in your initial discussion, say so. "Negotiate," Kazlow advises. "This is America. It's not written in stone until you say yes."
Kazlow & Kazlow, (800) 772-9870, http://www.newyorkcollectionlaw.net