If you’ve ever hired an attorney, you’re probably familiar with the contents of an engagement letter. I’ve noticed that some clients don’t realize just how important these letters are and that they exist to protect your expectation as the client, as well as the attorney providing the services. It’s the first chance an attorney gets to communicate what the agreed upon plan is for you, how much it’s going to cost, and when and how it will be accomplished. Often, an engagement letter also contains important information about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege, conflicts of interest, and how to communicate your dissatisfaction, among other things.
Engagement letters are only required under certain circumstances in Minnesota, but they are “preferred” or “strongly suggested” at all times. Obviously, these published rules of professional responsibility want to encourage good, clear, open communication to protect the expectations of both the attorney and the client. A good engagement letter will, at the very least, identify you as the client and the attorney with whom you will be working. It will also describe the scope of the engagement, meaning an explanation of just what the attorney is going to be assisting you with and when that work and, therefore the representation, will start and stop. Further, it should discuss payment – how much, when billed, how calculated, what happens if you don’t pay, and so on. It should also clearly outline the attorney’s expectation of you. Lastly, it should discuss how you will communicate with each other and what will be done with any file the attorney will have created/accumulated during the representation.
Each attorney will likely add more, depending on their personalities and habits and the circumstances of your case. But, the important thing to remember is that the letter is as much for you, the client, as it is for the attorney. You can hold your attorney to what is outlined in that first engagement letter and any subsequent revisions of that first letter because it’s in writing and you both signed it. And, you can ask for an engagement letter anytime you want one. I would strongly suggest asking for one if your attorney does not offer you one. Even the smallest job can quickly turn into a complicated miscommunication, not to mention a poor relationship with a professional whom you’ve hired to assist you with something that is no doubt very important to you. So, when you hire an attorney, if one is not offered, ask for an engagement letter and read it carefully and make sure you understand it – get your new relationship started on the right foot.This blog is written by Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Attorney DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC www.decorolaw.com