As I have talked about I have a small trusts and estate law practice (read: really small, just a handful of clients) as a sort of side business to supplement, not supplant, my day job.  When I met with one of my first clients I told him the fee for his Will and Ancillary Documents, however, he was curious about additional secondary legal work.  I told him I would take care of a very small piece of it.  Let us fast forward a couple weeks.

After a couple weeks he still didn’t provide me with all the necessary information for his Last Will and Testament, but we had 5 or 6 lengthy conversations about the additional legal work.  These phone calls were the bane of my day and took 20 to 30 minutes a piece.  All uncompensated time for me.

I went back and forth about what to do with the client.  Do I cut him off completely as he didn’t respect what I thought our relationship was? Do I suck it up because I didn’t explain the boundaries of our relationship nor did I obtain a retainer agreement?  After yet another lengthy conversation about this secondary legal conundrum (completely unrelated to his Last Will and Testament) I made my decision.

I had to Value My Time During my Side Business

I decided to explain to him what was going on in my head and just put everything on the table.  I then explained it was his decision, and his decision alone, on how to proceed.  I explained what I thought our relationship was going to be (i.e. a transactional relationship associated with his estate planning), and that I could no longer take 25 minute phone calls about this secondary legal problem without compensation.

As I ended the phone call I told him point blank his choices:

  • I overnight him a retainer agreement with an hourly rate that I thought to be fair and I fix this secondary legal issue and this is completely separate from the already agreed upon price for the Will; OR
  • I completely divest myself from this secondary problem and complete his Will pursuant to our original conversation; OR
  • We part as friends, and I can recommend another attorney for all issues he may have.

After about week he called back today, and opted for the second option.  I had mixed emotions.  One part of me was very happy that we were moving forward with our original objective (oh, and he had that information he didn’t provide me with), but another part of me was kind of annoyed that he was willing to use my time when it was “free.”

I learned a very valuable lesson – it is my responsibility to try and define the relationship with the client, and if the client has a different view of what he or she needs then I have to adapt.

What are your thoughts? Do I handle this Correctly?