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Modern Engagement Letters

In the modern, virtual world the lines between work and your personal life get blurry. The best thing we can do  is establish clear boundaries and expectations with our clients. An engagement letter that includes more detail about your firm, and how you do business, is a good way to start. 

Establishing office hours: If you are someone that works remotely, you should note in your engagement letter that you are not always in the office and that appointments must be scheduled appropriately, even for phone and zoom conferences. Even if you are a regular office attendee, you should include your open hours in the engagement letter and note that they are subject to change. The days of clients coming in from the street are gone. 

After hours conversations: Some of my colleagues define “emergency” in their engagement letters and client handbooks and note that they are unavailable after hours except for emergencies. Another colleague increases her  hourly rate for responding to any emails or phone calls that come after hours. I simply do not answer calls or emails after hours and my clients understand that I will get back to them when I can. 

Fee increases: Sometimes, a matter turns increasingly complicated as the case progresses. Other times, you’ve had a case for a long time and your hourly rate has increased since the initial engagement. Build some flexibility into your engagement letter so if a matter becomes a headache or lingers longer than you anticipate, you can increase your hourly rate with notice to the client. 

Out of office procedures: It always helps to let your clients know very early on how you do business. If you take vacations and do not respond to emails or calls when you are away, note that in your engagement letter. Remind the client that you are a human too and you sometimes take a complete break to disconnect from law. Explain that you are unavailable on vacations or identify your substitute. 

Communications: My office communicates most frequently via e-mail. I note in my engagement letters that the client authorizes me to communicate with them in that fashion and remind them that those communications are privileged and not to share them with others. It reminds clients of the attorney-client privilege and notifies the client of the best way to contact me. 

Engagement letters are the best tools you have to start your attorney-client relationship on the right foot. Be clear, direct, and manage expectations. Reconsider the boiler plate from 20 years ago and draft a letter that outlines how you do business. If you need some help, let’s talk. Crafting a legal practice that is custom to your life is my speciality.