This article is written primarily for the benefit of the consumer / client. However, this is valuable information for providers of Legal Services as well. Why? Just as any defense attorney will tell you that one key to success is to completely understand your opponent, it is critical to understand the needs of the client to get to a point where an agreement will be made to engage in a mutually beneficial business transaction.

This is the first part of a two part series. Look for part 2, Seven Things You Can Do to Get Good Value When Purchasing Legal Services in the upcoming weeks.

1) Define your needs: Ask yourself, how complex is the legal matter? For example, a person that has been married once and has two children will have a much simpler time making a will than a person that has been married four times and has children from each marriage.

2) Assess the risk of future disputes: The risk may be related to complexity (e.g. the more children and spouses, the more likely that one or more of them will contest the will), or to the nature of the parties to the matter. For example, if you are selling your vacation cabin to your brother-in-law, there may be less risk than if you sell the same property to an unknown purchaser that responded to an Internet listing. For some very low risk matters, the quality of service may be a negligible factor, provided that it is above a minimum threshold. In these very low risk matters there is almost no additional “bang” for each additional “buck”.

3) Define your budget: Even if you eventually exceed your budget, starting with a budget can help you identify added value, if potential service providers try to sell it to you. For determining an initial budget, think of the legal service you are purchasing in terms what you are protecting with it. For example, if you get a ticket for driving while intoxicated (DWI), the cost of the ticket may be $500. In addition, your auto insurance premium will go up by $5,000/year for 5 years ($25,000). In addition, the judge may suspend your license for up to two months. You estimate that making alternative transportation arrangements for two months would cost you an additional $2,000. That means the total cost could be $27,500. Ask yourself how much you are willing to spend to avoid all, or most, of that cost. Then factor in the intangibles like the headache of making alternative transportation arrangements.

4) Be prepared: Prepare written material that is relevant to the task. For example, if you are making a will, a list of assets is needed, as well as a list of beneficiaries and an allocation plan. For a real estate transaction, you need the details of the property, the buyer, and the seller. Coming to the first meeting prepared makes it easier for the attorney to offer you a good price.

5) Get personal recommendations: Ask people whom you trust to recommend people whom they trust. For example, if you have a tax attorney, that attorney may be able to recommend someone that specializes in estate planning or real estate transactions.

6) Get online ratings: Look for online ratings or recommendations in the relevant field of service.

7) Make a preliminary decision and schedule an initial consultation.Make sure to ask whether you will be billed for the initial consultation, and if so, what will the cost be and will it be included as part of the overall fee for service.

After completing Items 1 through 7, you are ready to make a purchase decision. See part two in the upcoming weeks for advice on how to make that decision.

Please share your story of purchasing legal services, and why you were satisfied or unsatisfied with the experience by e-mail to: