for attorneys who primarily handle court cases. For help
with transactions, seek out attorneys who practice contract,
business, and/or real estate law, depending on the type of
There are several ways to find an attorney. Ask for referrals,
either from colleagues who have used attorneys in the past
or from attorneys with whom you’ve previously worked. If
an attorney cannot assist you, he or she is generally willing
to provide referral to someone who can. Many construction
attorneys are members of construction industry trade associations and, therefore, such associations can be another
source of referrals. Another way to find an attorney is via
your state bar website, which usually has an attorney referral service.
Always make sure the attorney is licensed to practice law in
your state, which can be verified on the state bar website.
A quick online search of the attorney is another smart vetting step.
Treat your initial meeting like an interview and look for
the attorney’s expertise in his/her practice area, the attorney’s overall experience level, and a sense of the attorney’s
personality. Trust is crucial to a successful attorney-client
relationship. If for any reason you do not feel comfortable,
continue your search rather than trying to force an unnatural
relationship that will hinder an effective representation.
Another important item to determine is whether there are
any conflicts of interest that could arise during the scope of
the representation, such as disputes between clients, concurrent representation of clients who may be legally adverse
to each other, an attorney’s own position on legal issues, or
an attorney with a personal stake in the outcome of a matter. All attorneys are subject to stringent ethical guidelines
regarding conflicts of interest and most private law firms
have a system of checking for these potential conflicts.
Some conflicts of interest can be waived, meaning you and
your attorney can choose to waive the conflict and proceed
with the representation, provided both parties are confident
that the conflict will not impair the attorney’s representation
of you. There are also “business conflicts” that, while not
necessarily ethical conflicts, may present a conflict to the
attorney’s and/or your business interests.
For instance, an attorney who generally represents owners
against GCs in construction defect matters may not be the
best choice for a contractor seeking a defense in such a case,
even though the attorney has not previously represented or
been adverse to the contractor and therefore has no ethical
conflict. Ultimately, you need to have confidence that your
attorney can represent your interests to the best of his or
WORKING WITH YOUR ATTORNEY
Defining the Objectives
Once you commence the attorney-client relationship, it is
important to figure out how you and the attorney will work
most effectively together. Your attorney’s role in this regard
is generally three-fold: 1) to advocate on your behalf, 2) to
complete the project as efficiently as possible, and 3) to
advise you of potential outcomes vs. costs. As such, the first
step is to instruct your attorney on your objectives.
Define the scope of the representation at the very beginning to allow for proactive management of both costs and
expectations. The goals of achieving a desirable outcome
and keeping costs down can diverge, so make sure to discuss
potential outcomes vs. costs. Know what you are willing to
pay to achieve a given outcome. It can be hard to estimate
costs upfront, but your attorney should be able to give you
an idea of what your representation could cost. Beware of
mission creep; since you control the scope of the representation, you have the authority to set limits. Remember, though,
that there are no guarantees, and unexpected circumstances
that require you to revisit your attorney’s role in (and/or the
costs of) the project may arise.
Streamlining Communication & Information
Communication between you and your attorney should be
as efficient as possible. For any method of communication,
follow the same rules you expect your attorney to follow –
return messages promptly and be prepared for meetings.
Being prompt and prepared will help maximize your representation and reduce costs. For instance, in a construction
dispute, be familiar with the job file, the timeline of events,
and the matters in dispute. As a general rule of thumb, the
more information you give your attorney about your matter,
There are several ways to communicate the facts. Creating
timelines of important dates and events (e.g., calendars,
logs, or diaries) can save time so your attorney does not have
to do so. An accurate chronology is essential, and any effort
to streamline that process will allow your attorney to focus
more time and energy on the legal issues.