Practical and Affordable Legal Representation
What to Expect with Aucoin Law Office Representing You
While practicing law for over 25 years, I have had clients as varied as neighbors disputing their property boundaries, former spouses battling over child custody and support, children asserting their inheritance rights, and businesses whose potential liability for accidents exceeded several million dollars. For most of my career, I was an attorney in a law firm where attorneys had a focused practice and rarely ventured from their chosen field. But I always told our firms' receptionists and file clerks to keep me in mind if someone called for an attorney who needed advice for a dispute that the firm did not usually handle.
When I opened Aucoin Law Office to begin my solo practice, I did so with the intention of practicing law like attorneys from several generations ago: focusing on one or two particular practice areas, but still running a "general practice" and being proficient at other select areas so that individuals and businesses alike could come to me for most, if not all, of their legal needs.
The most famous person who practiced law in this manner was Abraham Lincoln. Before going into politics, Lincoln had a thriving "railroad practice", but he also handled many different types of cases, and did not limit himself to representing only one side. In debt-related cases, he represented creditors in some and debtors in others. Even though he earned his largest fees representing railroad companies when they needed legal assistance in acquiring property, rights-of-way, and stock subscriptions, Lincoln still "crossed over" to the other side. When a railroad company was not a client in a case, Lincoln often represented the "little man" when the companies damaged landowners' property, improperly crossed boundaries, and interfered with drainage and irrigation rights. Not wanting to turn down work, Lincoln even handled several high-profile criminal cases for which he became well-known and that led to more work.
In almost all but the smallest towns and communities, the days of the "general practice" attorney like Lincoln have almost disappeared. Over the past several decades, the legal profession has evolved much like the medical profession. I remember the days of a "family doctor" who treated everyone for all but the most severe injuries or illnesses. Now, the doctor-directories on the lobby walls of medical clinics list specialists for almost every part of the human body.
Much of this change in both professions has been caused by the professionals themselves because they want to focus only on certain areas that interest them. I see first-hand the results of this focus when I meet with potential clients. After we finish discussing their cases, many will often ask as they are leaving my office, "By the way, do you know any attorneys who prepare wills?", or "What type of attorney handles boundary disputes between neighbors?", or "My elderly grandmother is now living with us - who do I call to prepare something that will allow me to manage her affairs?" The clients automatically assume, based primarily on advertising, that if an attorney is handling one type of case, he probably does not or cannot handle any other types of cases.
Now I am not suggesting the self-imposed limitation by professionals on how they practice is right or wrong - it is not a right or wrong matter. I am simply saying that this compartmentalization of the practice of law is not always necessary, and many people searching for legal advice have told me that they could not find an attorney to represent them because their case was simply "not big enough".
No matter how small your case may be, I will represent you if we decide - after discussing it - that it makes sense to go forward.
In some instances, the complexity of a case will require an attorney who focuses on only certain types of cases. When an attorney is presented with an estate planning issue involving an estate worth millions of dollars with multiple heirs and huge tax consequences, or a business with large debts and assets that is considering the pros and cons of filing bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or 11, the client will want an attorney who devotes his practice almost exclusively to handling estate planning or bankruptcy.
But for the vast majority of cases, I see no obstacle to an attorney being able to counsel and represent clients in multiple areas of the law - provided, of course, he has kept up with the changes in those areas.
At Aucoin Law Office, I practice law in what some might call the "old way". Although I devote a great deal of my time handling one particular area - Family Law - I also run a general practice involving many other areas that I have continued to handle since graduating from law school 25 years ago:
- Workers' Compensation Law - on-the-job injuries
- Tort Law - accidents unrelated to work
- Employment Law - work-related events such as failures to hire, promotions or demotions, alleged discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and disability, incorrect and untimely wage payments, and termination of employment
- Obligations Law - business disputes between partners or shareholders, sellers and buyers, and lessors (landlords) and lessees (tenants)
- Property Law - disputes between landowners
- Successions and Donations Law - donations of property while the donor is alive and when the donor dies
My selection of the practice areas I handle was not haphazard. I purposefully chose areas where people encounter problems every day that might require legal counsel, and most importantly, areas that I enjoy: an accident at or away from work, a promotion or demotion where an employee feels wrongly treated, a boundary dispute between neighbors, determining liability between a lessor and a lessee when a clogged drain causes water damage to nearby apartments, or deciding how to dispose of one's estate at their death.
My primary goal is to provide clients with the most practical and affordable way to manage their legal affairs. Not all disputes require lawsuits and even less require trials, with approximately 96% of all civil cases settling. The quickest and least costly way to resolve a dispute is for the parties and their attorneys to meet and hammer out a compromise before suit is even filed. But the more time that passes after an incident with no discussion between the parties or their attorneys, the more difficult it will be later to resolve that dispute. The passage of time inevitably leads to faulty or dimming memories and a hardening of positions by each side claiming they were "in the right".
Adept at Representing Either Side
Not only do I handle more than one practice area, I also represent parties on both sides of disputes (although, of course, not at the same time): the husband and the wife, the employer and the employee, those injured in accidents - regardless of fault, sellers and buyers, lessors and lessees, neighbors arguing over property rights, and descendants asserting inheritance rights. One side will usually win if the case goes to trial, but both sides still need an attorney - one to maximize the win and the other to minimize the loss.
I have heard employees say, "I don't want an attorney who has also represented employers", or accident-victims say, "I don't want an attorney who represents insurance companies", or women say, "I don't want an attorney who represents men in divorces", and even business owners say, "I don't want counsel who has previously sued businesses".
Before adopting that view as your own, consider the advantages of hiring an attorney who has represented both sides for 25 years:
- I know the obligations of a husband and a wife - I know what each side is entitled to, and I know what each side is obligated to do
- I can explain how an employer may minimize its losses if an employee claims a work-related injury, and I can list every obligation the employer owes an employee the moment that employee is injured or becomes ill as a result of his work
- I can tell if you were negligent in causing an accident just as easily as I can tell that you were the victim of another person's negligence
- I can explain the limitations on how an employer deals with an applicant or current employee, and I can tell if the rights of an applicant or current employee have been violated by an employer
- I can explain the rights and duties of all parties to a contract, a sale, or a lease
- I can explain the extent to which you may enjoy your property, and I can tell when your neighbor's enjoyment of his property is wrongfully affecting your own
- I tell you how your estate will be handled if you die without a will, and I can help you draft a will distributing your estate differently than would happen if you had no will
Just as successful teams in sports must be good at both offense and defense, successful attorneys must be good at both offense and defense in the legal world. A good attorney will know how each side thinks, along with the best strategy each side should take in pursing or defending a claim.
Consider the fatherly-advice fictional attorney Atticus Finch gave his daughter Scout in the classic novel and movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird", on knowing and getting along with others: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I believe that a successful attorney must be able to do what Atticus said - consider things from both points of view, walk around in the shoes of those on both sides of a dispute. I think that only then can an attorney finally become a successful advocate for his clients. If you ask your attorney, "What do you think the other side is thinking, or planning, or might do?", you do not want to hear, "I don't know - I have never represented the other side before". You want an attorney who can answer you, "If I were representing the other side, I would be attacking our case as follows . . . ", and then explain how he would meet each anticipated attack.
As an attorney, I don't like surprises, and I don't want my clients surprised. I want the final result and the cost to the client to be things we discussed as possibilities long before the case ends. I can never guarantee a result, and you should run away from any attorney who claims he can. I can, however, promise that my client will be well-informed about the potential verdicts and the amount it will cost to finish the case. My client may not be pleased with the final decision in his case, but at least it will not surprise him.
Why Choose Aucoin Law Office?
When we first meet, I want to hear your entire case history that led you to seek an attorney. Only then can I adequately counsel you on what I think will be your best strategy. And I will not hesitate telling you that you do not have a good case. You need to be told that early on - not on the eve of trial.
Some potential clients do not like to hear they have little or no chance of winning, especially when they have convinced themselves they cannot lose. I have seen them often arrive at my office with folders full of documents, tell a lengthy story of how they believe they have been damaged, and emphatically conclude that they cannot possibly lose. After their presentation, they expect to hear an attorney agree with them.
But my job is not to tell a potential client what he wants to hear. My job is to give him an objective, unbiased analysis of his case and what I believe to be his chances of winning, no matter how much his ego may be bruised. Sometimes I will agree with his assessment, and sometimes I will not. Either way, I will give him my legal opinion - whether good or bad. A potential client deserves and is entitled to that honesty upfront.
In some instances, despite my advice to the contrary, and regardless of the cost and little chance of winning, a client will insist on going forward because he simply wants his day in court. I truly appreciate that sentiment. We all "want to be heard" when we feel we have been treated unfairly - that is a natural reaction and desire. And as long as my pursuit or defense of a client's case remains ethical, I will defer to that client's final wishes and work as hard as possible to obtain a good result for that client under the circumstances.
Limits do exist, however. I will not file suit just to make a point, nor will I raise a defense I know to be untrue in an attempt to wear down the opponent. The courtroom is not a place to "get even" - it is a place where both sides seek justice for their cause. Although both sides in a legal dispute sometimes think of themselves as opponents on a playing field, battling in court is not a game.
What Aucoin Law Office Offers
As an attorney, I bring to you 25 years of experience as a trial and appellate litigator. This means I have spent my entire legal career in either a trial or an appellate courtroom. I feel most at home when I am arguing a client's case in court.
Having handled literally hundreds of cases over those years, I will be able to tell you immediately if I am a good fit for your case. If I discover that your case presents issues that are beyond my competence to handle, I am not too proud to tell you so. I will recommend other attorneys in the area with whom I am familiar and who, by training and practice, are better suited and capable of handling your case than me.
I don't accept cases in practice areas where I have had no experience. I do not believe that a client's case should provide an attorney with a "learning opportunity" to discover a new area of the law, with the client unknowingly paying for that "education". If an attorney has no experience in handling your type of case, you need to know that immediately.
An inexperienced attorney might respond, "If I never accept a case in a new area, how will I ever learn to handle that type of case?" The solution is simple: ask an experienced attorney to join the case, and then watch and follow his lead as he deals with the issues as they arise during the course of the litigation. The inexperienced attorney may have to share his fee, or may not earn anything. But I believe that is how it should be. Is it fair for an attorney to expect a client to pay him to learn how to handle new types of cases, especially if the client is unaware of that attorney's inexperience?
If we decide I will represent you, I will give your case the same attention as any of my other cases. I always assume that your case is one of the most important on-going events in your life because being a party to a lawsuit is such a rare event. I will never open a file for you, put it in a filing cabinet when you leave, and take it out only when you call for an update. You should not have to call your attorney for a case-update. Your attorney should immediately notify you the moment something major occurs, and should regularly update you even if nothing is going on at present. If, at any given time, a client cannot answer the question, "Where does your case stand?", that client's attorney is not properly servicing his client.
Conversely, clients should understand that the legal process, in general, is a slow one. It is not unusual for a case set for a jury trial to take at least two years between the date a suit is filed until the date the jury renders a verdict. And a client should not be surprised to learn that an appeal could delay a final decision for up to another year after a jury verdict. I hope that a client would prefer the tradeoff of a longer experience, knowing that everything has been done to advance or defend his case, versus having a short turnaround, just for the sake of a quick decision, where crucial steps that could have helped the client were not taken. In the legal world, patience is, indeed, a virtue.
Availability and Technology
Although I have office hours like any other business, I am nevertheless almost always available (barring a scheduling conflict) to discuss and review a case with my clients before, during, and after regular business hours. I was an early-adapter when personal computers arrived in the 1980's. I discovered how to use them efficiently while attending university, and I carried over their use to the practice of law. If a client needs me to review an important document quickly, he need only scan it and email it to me. No matter where I am, I have the capability of reviewing it and then calling the client to discuss his concerns. All federal courts have gone "paperless", and many state courts are following suit. Without a computer and the training I have had, I could not even represent a client in federal court.
For example, as a witness was testifying in court in one case, while I was waiting my turn to question him, I was able to compare that testimony with what he had testified to in his deposition several months before. As he answered questions, I simply scrolled through his deposition that I had stored on my laptop. Whenever his testimony differed from his deposition, I noted the discrepancies. When it was my turn to cross-examine him, I was able to effectively do so by pointing out how his testimony had changed so dramatically in just a few months.
In another case, the plaintiff had a collection of medical records so large that it took he and his attorney using several hand-carts to wheel the boxes of hard-copy records into court - I walked into court with one CD. At one point during trial, the judge wanted to review a specific doctor's note where the plaintiff had begun to complain of an injury he did not report immediately after the accident. The judge knew the doctor who wrote the note and vaguely remembered what the note had said, but could not recall the date of the note. Before trial, I had scanned all of the plaintiff's medical records onto CD, so while opposing counsel and his paralegal began manually looking through the hard-copies, I used a special search-program I had installed on my laptop and located the record the judge wanted in just minutes. That one record may not have been particularly helpful to my client, but that judge remembered me as an attorney who had saved her precious time and effort in the middle of a trial. And that type of preparation and assistance provided to a court is invaluable to clients because it leaves the trial judge with a favorable opinion of that attorney. That judge will long forget the outcome of that trial before she forgets how an attorney located one doctor's note out of thousands of pages in only a few minutes.
If you need to talk to me but I am unavailable because I am in court, a deposition, or a meeting, you can still email to me your questions and documents to review, or text me a question or your desire to meet to discuss your case. They are instantly routed to my office computer, my laptop, and my smartphone at the same time. No matter where I might be, I will receive that email and those documents, and I will review them as soon as I am able to check my latest messages.
The Clients Manage Their Fees and Costs
Several times, I have had people come to me after having been previously represented by one or more attorneys. The usual complaints were that they did not know how much they had been charged so far and they had no idea how much - in both time and money - it would take to finish their case.
Such a situation is unfortunate, but avoidable.
At our first meeting, I will explain my method of billing and how often you will be made aware of your legal fees and costs incurred to date. You should never wonder how much you have paid, how much you still owe, or how much you should budget for future fees and costs. Although none of this is an exact science, I have had enough experience to be able to give you a fairly accurate estimate of what to expect in the future regarding legal fees, court costs, and out-of-pocket expenses.
The most common fee-arrangement between an attorney and a client is where an attorney bills a client by the hour. The attorney's bill (like in the example shown above) will usually be arranged so that each billing entry will have the date a task was performed by the attorney, the initials of the attorney performing the task, a description of the task, and the amount of time billed by the attorney for performing the task. Although the order in which these items appear on a billing page is not important, these items should nevertheless be the minimum an attorney provides a client on his bill.
One very important thing to note: court costs are not part of my bill for my fees. Court costs are those fees charged by the local clerk of court to file a suit or file a motion. My fee is exactly what it says: my fee represents the fee I charge for the time I spend reviewing all of your records and preparing your case for hearing or trial. If I included court costs as part of my personal attorney fees, I would end up paying the clerk of court a large part of the fee given to me and I would rarely get paid a fair amount for my legal services. And my fee includes all of the time I spend on your suit - meeting with you to review your case, meeting with a third-party, meeting with opposing counsel and his client, legal researching the issues in your case, preparing the briefs I will file on your behalf, etc.
I want my clients to always be aware of the economics of their case with regard to money and time so that they, the clients, can decide when they want to stop. I can count on one hand the number of times, during my entire career, a client told me to "keep going, no matter what the cost". Even clients fighting on "principle" have limits.
The Most Difficult Attorney-Client Relationship:
When Clients, Friends, and Relatives Second-Guess the Attorney
Without question, the most difficult client to represent is one who either thinks he knows more than the attorney, or has friends or relatives ready and willing to second-guess the attorney at every step of the case.
At some point, I will tell a client that if he persists in listening to others contrary to my advice - especially to people who are not attorneys - I will have to withdraw as his attorney. If a client questions every move I make from a legal standpoint, what value am I providing to the client? Why employ me? If a client and his friends or relatives think they know the best way to win the client's case, why hire an attorney?
This may sound harsh, but think of a similar situation involving the medical profession. If you broke your leg, would you tell your doctor how to set the break? If your eyesight is worsening, would you permit a friend to give your doctor advice on how to correct your vision? If you have an infection, would you allow a family member to recommend the type of antibiotics your doctor should prescribe? The same principle applies to legal advice and attorneys.
My ethical and professional obligations as an attorney are owed to the client. In fact, the rules governing attorney-client conduct forbid me from even discussing the case with anyone other than my client, unless my client has given me specific permission to do otherwise. But when a client brings friends and family to attorney-client meetings, strategy sessions, and even court, I cannot do my job properly if I am repeatedly questioned and second-guessed by them.
Like most attorneys, I earn my pay by charging clients for the time I spend and tasks I perform trying to win or defend their cases. But if that client insists that I keep friends or family members "in the loop", and that I must consider the input of those friends or family members in handling the case, the attorney-client dynamic changes. I will have no choice but to also charge the client for the time and money I am forced to spend responding to what may be baseless arguments or poor tactical suggestions from those friends and family the client told me to consider.
Now I am not suggesting that a client, or friend, or relative, may not have a good idea, or should not be allowed to ask questions. I always encourage clients to ask questions if they do not understand whatever might be happening at any given time in their case. I am humble enough to acknowledge that I am still learning in life, and that a client's or a friend's or a relative's suggestion may favorably impact our case. I don't claim to have a monopoly of knowledge on all things legal. But I simply cannot effectively - both from a legal and cost standpoint - represent the client if I have to prepare my own case and prepare a case based on constant "legal" advice, suggestions, and recommendations, of others - especially if they are not attorneys.
A client needs to understand that when a friend or relative has already "mapped out" the client's case, then I, as the attorney, will have two jobs: (1) preparing the case as I see fit, and (2) responding to strategies and suggestions that not only may be unsound, but also may not even make sense. In one actual case, a client's relative was adamant that I try a certain tactic in the middle of a trial that I was certain would be disastrous for us. During a recess, I met with the client and relative to discuss the relative's suggestion. The client and I soon discovered that the relative's "tactic" was based on something he had seen on television. From that point on, the client told me in private that I could ignore his relative's future "advice".
It is easy for an "outsider" to tell the client that his case is being improperly handled, or, that he knows a case "where a friend of a friend of a cousin had the same kind of case and they won with a different approach." Yet in every case where I have encountered this type of "interference", that "outsider" had no viable answer when I explained a legal hurdle we had to cross in our case, and then asked: "How do you propose we clear this hurdle?"
What many non-attorneys do not realize is that the smallest detail can make a huge difference in the outcome. And that detail may very well have been absent in their friend's or relative's case, thereby leading to a different outcome or strategy in that other case. During a trial, my client and I need to be focused on winning or defending the client's case. If anyone is going to question our arguments, I want those questions posed by the opposing party - not friends or relatives of my client.