Small Business Tip: Include Provision in Your Contracts to Recover Attorneys’ Fees

small business lawyer, small business attorney

Reason to Add an Attorney Fee Provision

You’re running a small business. You have a form, purchase order, or other short contract you always use.  Take a moment to look at your forms and contracts. Do they include an attorney fee provision?  If not, we recommend that you add one.

If someone fails to pay you, you might need to file a lawsuit to recover what you are owed. Going to court is expensive.  In Tennessee, each party is responsible for paying their own attorney fees. That’s right–even if you win in court, you generally can’t make the other side pay your attorney fees unless you have an attorney fee provision in your contract.  For more information on attorney fees, read this blog post.

Sample Attorney Fee Provision

If any party institutes any action or proceeding to enforce any provision of this contract by reason of any alleged breach of any provision herein, the prevailing party shall be entitled to receive from the losing party all legal fees and costs incurred in connection with any such proceeding.

We are Small Business Lawyers.

Check out our team at Wiseman Bray PLLC.  If you need help with your small business contracts, agreements, or forms, or if you have a question about business litigation or the recovery of attorney fees in a lawsuit, please call us at 901-372-5003 or email us here. We have offices in Memphis and Nashville TN.

 

 

Top 8 Ways to Save Money on Attorney Fees

attorney fees, attorney's fees, legal fees

Let’s talk about attorney fees. When confronted with a legal claim or issue, some people simply want to “turn it over to the lawyer and be done with it.” Others prefer a more hands-on approach, and they prefer to work closely with legal counsel.  Some clients want to resolve a matter as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible, while others desire vindication and want nothing short of a judicial ruling or jury verdict. However, there is one thing that all clients probably agree on.  The lower the attorney fees, the better. 

How do you keep legal fees in check?

Make sure your goals and legal strategy are clear. Lawyers work for clients, and attorney fees are based on the amount of work the lawyer performs for the client.  Clear communication and responsiveness from both the lawyer and the client is critical.  Above all, you must make sure you communicate clear goals, and then to listen and understand what actions your lawyer is suggesting.

What can I do to save money on attorney fees?

There are also a few things you can do to reduce attorney fees, legal costs, and expenses:

(1)  Come prepared.  Each time you meet with your lawyer, anticipate questions and come prepared with information. Bring a timeline, notes, a list of witnesses and contact information, and relevant documents.  Don’t make your lawyer beg for the information he or she will need in order to best represent you.

(2)  Obtain, review and organize your documents.  The overwhelming majority of cases can be boiled down to a few key documents. You don’t want to pay your lawyer to obtain documents you could get yourself. Nor do you want to pay a lawyer to “find a needle in a haystack” or to review unorganized or unnecessary documents searching for one relevant piece of information.

(3)  Promptly do what your lawyer asks you to do.  Respond quickly to information and discovery requests from your attorney.  Failure to do so drives up costs immeasurably.  It can lead to unnecessary communications between opposing lawyers, and between clients and lawyers, and often leads to unnecessary motions being filed by opposing counsel.

(4)  Stay on top of your case. Keep copies of all papers, letters, and pleadings.  Take notes when you talk to your attorney.  Keep yourself informed about your case.  You’d be shocked at how often clients call and/or ask for meetings to re-review things they should already know, or to get copies of papers they already have.

(5)  Be an “information gatherer.”  This one is especially true for companies and small businesses. You know your business, employees, and contacts better than your lawyer. Utilize your knowledge and relationships. You can often obtain information and documents much more easily and cost efficiently than your lawyer can.

(6)  Utilize your lawyer’s assistant.  Many of your questions and phone calls can be directed to your lawyer’s assistant, most of which is not recorded as billable time.  For example, questions about scheduling, getting copies of documents, or coordinating meetings and events can easily be handled by a legal assistant much more cheaply than talking to the lawyer every time.

(7)  Understand the difference between legal advice and counseling.  It is obviously critical that you communicate effectively with your lawyer, but keep communications to the point. Oftentimes clients complain or vent about the opposing party, the unfairness of the situation and/or the legal process, or the tactics of the other lawyer.  It’s perfectly okay if you want to pay your attorney to be a sympathetic ear for you, but understand that you pay for your attorney’s time, and that you can very likely get a sympathetic ear elsewhere for free.

(8)  Compromise. Litigation is expensive. Realize that “wins” come in varying shapes and sizes, and that negotiating from a position of strength borne out of effective and thorough preparation can lead to the best long-term outcome.  Indeed, a lengthy lawsuit may not be the best long-term strategy even though you think might have a slam dunk case at trial two years from now.  Winning the battle isn’t worth losing the war.  Smart and tactical compromise can be a virtue, particularly when taking into account both the direct and indirect costs of litigation.

Wiseman Bray has offices in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.  Call us today at 901-372-5003.

Can We Make Them Pay My Attorney Fees?

Can We Make Them Pay My Attorney Fees?scales

Can we make them pay my attorney fees? This is one of the most common questions we receive from our clients who find themselves involved in lawsuits. Unfortunately, the answer in most cases is no. Tennessee follows the “American Rule” which means that each party in a lawsuit pays their own attorney fees, no matter who wins. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Two of the most common exceptions are as follows:
(1) Certain state and federal statutes allow the prevailing party to recover attorney fees. Examples: certain consumer protection, civil rights, and employment claims, etc.

(2) A contract provision where the parties to a contract have agreed that the prevailing party in a dispute will be entitled to recover attorney fees. Examples: leases, commercial contracts, collections, home sale contracts, etc.

Your attorney should examine the allegations in the lawsuit and any contracts that may apply to determine whether it is possible for you to recover your attorney fees. If you are a business person and you don’t have attorney fee provisions in your contracts, consider adding them. Here are some answers to additional questions we are frequently asked about attorney fees:

“This lawsuit is frivolous! Can we make them pay for all the money I have to spend dealing with this?” The standard for “frivolous” is pretty high. Even lawsuits that are eventually determined to have no merit are not necessarily frivolous. Very few cases are. Unless your case meets one of the exceptions, you probably can’t recover your attorney fees, even if you win.

“My contract provides for attorney fees. What are the chances I actually recover them?” If you are the prevailing party and you obtain a judgment, that judgment should include an award of what the judge deems a reasonable attorney fee. Your award may or may not equal what you actually paid your attorney. If your case is resolved through settlement, the attorney fee provision is often used as a negotiation point to increase the overall amount of money you recover.

“If the judge awards me an attorney fee of less than what I actually paid my lawyer, does my lawyer have to give my money back?” It depends on what your fee agreement is with your lawyer, but in most cases, the answer is probably no. Your fee agreement with your lawyer is independent of any judgment you may recover from the opposing party.

If you need help drafting an appropriate attorney fee provision for your contracts, or if you have a question about recovery of attorney fees in a lawsuit, please call us at 901-372-5003.