Help With The Hard Stuff: 'Smith’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods'
This column ends the 10-part Help with the Hard Stuff series on things to consider about yourself and about lawyers in finding a lawyer to help you.
Last week’s column emphasized that all forms of legal services, conventional or innovative, are very human, to me meaning that the practical, on-the-ground reality can be very different from the idealized or theoretical model. That’s okay, as long as we know that and don’t believe and trust that the on-the-ground reality matches exactly (or even closely) the theoretical model.
Legal services are performed within certain realities of a society that affect what kind, amount and quality of legal services are available and their affordability. There may be free or low fee services available to the indigent, for example, if the society supports legal aid-type services. There may be services available at low cost through the different branches of government, such as mediation or negotiation services through the administrative, judicial or legislative offices of government (offered by those offices to help them get their jobs done “better”.)
There are “in-house” attorneys providing services to their clients, whether corporate, non-profit or governmental; legal insurance providers with attorneys under contract to provide “defined benefit” services, and private practice lawyers having practices that run the gamut from low-cost, high volume “mill” to high-cost, low volume “mill”; from large firm to solo; from well-paid, intimate boutique to low-paid drone. The entire range exists, and is evolving, and not necessarily in ways most of us yet recognize.
Simply put, developments of the internet (virtually unlimited public access to legal information when lawyers used to control access to most legal information), and information technology (drastically decreasing costs of data storage, dramatically evolving processing power, and increasingly sophisticated legal knowledge being embedded in software) are changing the market forces affecting the provisioning of legal services. This is the topic of a panel I’m speaking on at the State Bar Conference on June 28. I see a strong analogy of what has been happening with medicine and doctors, with what is happening with law and lawyers.
In the end, this means you, the client, will want to be an informed shopper for your legal services. To use as analogy some of the grocery stores here in Santa Fe – do you shop at Smith’s, or Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods? If you are like me, you shop at all three, for different things, for the particular value/cost of the item. I tend to buy cooking onions at Smith’s, strong, dark coffee at Trader Joe’s, and artisan bread at Whole Foods. I can’t afford to buy everything at Whole Foods even if the quality for the cost benefits was documentable, and I won’t buy everything at Smith’s because I can afford and want better quality for some things.
Now I’m going to push the analogy too far: some legal services are like onions, some are like strong, dark coffee, and some are like artisan bread. For your circumstances, a form, basic will might, like fungible onions used in cooking, satisfy your needs. Often, something is better than nothing! Or you simply might not be able to afford more than that basic form will.
But your due diligence may have shown you that you have additional needs to address that are not included in a basic will. Or you might know that it is likely you do not know all the issues that a will might cover or should cover, and you buy a higher quality legal service more economically (Trader Joe’s.) Or you simply might always buy the “best”, regardless of cost, and go straight to a Whole Foods-type legal service provider.
Any and all options can work for different individuals at different times for their different needs. The issue is how well it works for you with your needs at that time. Select carefully, considering realistically your resources of time, money and energy, and the priority of your goals. Look at what’s offered – Is it good enough? Is it better than the alternatives? Can you afford it? Do you want to afford it? Do your due diligence at the start and throughout -- examine the results periodically to keep them on track with your goals and resources. Good luck!
This ends the Help with the Hard Stuff 10-part series. The next series, Managing Student Loans, will begin in August.
Here’s the link to #1, Legal Process is All about Negotiation
Here’s the link to #2, Lawyers are Human, Too
Here’s the link to #3, Lawyers Can Be Quite Versatile
Here’s the link to #4, Best of all Prevent
Here’s the link to #5, Resolve if Possible
Here’s the link to #6, Contain if Necessary
Here’s the link to #7, The Goldilocks Principle
Here’s the link to #8, Getting Commitment, not just Agreement
Here’s the link to #9, Be An Informed Shopper For Your Legal Services
Editor's note: Beginning in August, look for Gini Nelson's new series "Managing Student Loans" every second and fourth Thursday of the month in the Los Alamos Daily Post.
Gini Nelson, JD, MA has been practicing law since 1983. She’s a member of the State Bar of New Mexico’s Law Practice Management Committee, and the State of New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court’s Access to Justice Committee. Views expressed in the column are hers and not necessarily those of these Committees. This column is providing public information through the auspices of the Los Alamos Daily Post at www.ladailypost.comand is not providing legal advice. Nothing in this column is intended to be an advertisement or solicitation of business. Ms. Nelson’s law office website is at www.gininelson.com. If you have questions that might be of general interest if answered in this column, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. ©2013 Gini Nelson Law Office