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Employment

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

How to talk to a lawyer about their fees

It’s a scary thing for someone who hasn’t used a lawyer before to talk to a lawyer about their fees, and to work out what a lawyer might charge, and then to keep them accountable to their quote. 

Lawyers are a service provider, and you as the consumer are entitled to ask about fees, monitor fees, and uphold a quote.

One of the most important things comes down to choosing the right lawyer in the first place. I’ve done a number of videos on that about how to select the right lawyer, narrow lawyers down, have a look and understand what their fees are upfront. I also have a short course: How to Find and Hire the Right Lawyer.

You should know how a lawyer is charging you from the beginning. At the start, a solicitor has to give you a Cost Agreement. The Cost Agreement has to give a quote or a range for their fees, along with a scope. Sometimes, if it’s based on hourly billing, they have to break down whose hourly rate is what, and who’s going to be acting on what for you.

The Cost Agreement will also tell you what extras they charge for. Some lawyers charge for photocopying. Some lawyers charge for postage. Some don’t. 

There are then also other fees that solicitors may have to pay for, for you – these are called ‘disbursements’. Sometimes they have to pay upfront court fees or other search fees, or things like that for you. So those should also be disclosed and you will need to reimburse them for those payments. The Cost Agreement should estimate what those will be, and reveal if they charge a mark-up on disbursements or not.

Throughout a legal matter, you can ask for regular invoices. 

At any time you get an invoice, you’re allowed to ask for an itemised invoice, so you can check what’s been done. 

If you have any questions about the fees along the way, you’re entitled and able to ask your lawyer about their fees. 

If you are unsatisfied with any time, you are able to question the fees. 

If you are unsatisfied with how they are billing you, you do not have to stay with the same solicitor.

Don’t beat around the bush. It’s your money and you’re paying them for a service. 

But the most crucial thing is to know from the beginning how the solicitor charges and what your cost agreement is. So what the estimate or range is.

If the scope changes and they’re going to exceed their original estimate, they must give you a new Cost Agreement. If they don’t do that, they are at risk of not being able to charge you for that extra work.

You can make complaints to your State regulator. Also, your State Civil and Administrative Tribunal has the jurisdiction to review disputes over legal fees. So there are other ways to have a solicitor’s fees reviewed by external parties, than having to directly argue with the lawyer yourself.

I cover this in far more detail, about the ways solicitors can charge, and what to look for, in my course: How to Find and Hire the Right Lawyer. Because if you find and hire the right lawyer in the first place, you’re going to know what your fees are going to be, and you will not get a shock when the bill comes.

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

Calibrated Questions for Negotiating

Women often having an aversion to negotiating and having difficult conversations, and to being in conflict generally. But it’s something that we actually face in our day, more often than we think. And we need to get more comfortable with conflict and asking for what we want. 

To make us more comfortable, having some tools and strategies to be able to progress a difficult conversation is probably really handy for women to learn. A tool or skill in difficult communication is helpful because then you’ve got some way of structuring and approaching it.

So when you start a negotiation with someone, and it doesn’t matter how high or low stakes it is, some planning will set yourself up for the best change of achieving what you want. It could be:

  • negotiating over certain type of work that you’re doing 
  • a certain project and what’s going to be involved 
  • negotiating for your own pay rise 
  • negotiating to get your kids or your parents to do something that you want them to do, or 
  • it could be as important as negotiating over a financial split with your ex. 

You will experience more emotion, the higher the stakes of the conversation, and that’s also something that we talk about a lot in Legally Wise Women. We need to make sure our brain is functioning, so we are not making decisions in a stress response state. We want to be able to make really rational decisions, and being thoughtful about what outcome we actually want. We also don’t want to be handing off the responsibility of that decision to someone else, just because we’re emotional.

Try to approach the negotiation in stages …

The first stage

The first thing you want to do is make sure the other person feels heard. Now, as much as this may be difficult for you to hear what they want to say, and hold back on what you’re feeling or what you want to say, you’ve got to make sure that they feel like they’re being heard.

Next stage

The next phase is once they feel heard, and you have figured out where they’re coming from, you can use that to your advantage to get what you need as well. 

This is where using some calibration questions will help. Calibrated questions are a ‘What’ or a’How’ question. 

‘What’ questions make someone feel like they’re more in control of the process. It brings them in to be more engaged and to be problem solving with you.

Some simple examples might be, “What do you think has got us to this point? What do you think is going to help resolve it? What do you think I should be doing? What do you think we need to do to move this forward?” And “What’s your advice on making this happen?” 

A ‘What’ question puts decision making back to them, making them feel like they’re in control and it helps them to buy into whatever solution you end up coming up with. Once you get really good at this, you can also phrase your ‘What’ questions in the direction you want them to think!

‘How’ questions are really an interesting way of you saying ‘No’. So if a suggestion comes up that you don’t like, use a ‘How’ question. 

Some simple examples are, “How do you expect that to work? How do you think that I can raise that money? How do you think that this should be executed? How do we go about making this happen? How do you think that I can achieve that? How will a third party buy into this? How is such and such going to respond to what we’re proposing?”

Make sure they’re heard. Make sure they feel like they’re in control. Learn to say no in a way that’s not confronting and to keep the talking happening. These steps will have you much better set to get to creative solutions with less emotion and more buy-in from the other party.

negotiating

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

Preparing For Your First Appointment With A Lawyer

When you go in for your first appointment with a lawyer, as well as trying to understand some of your options, you are also assessing whether you can work with this lawyer:

  • whether they are clear communicators, 
  • whether you feel like they empathise with you and understand you, 
  • whether they try to hurry you along, 
  • whether they try and brush off your problems. 

You really are going to your first appointment with a lawyer to assess whether you can work with this person. You’re not necessarily going there for comprehensive advice.

You should prepare some questions that you want answered. Certainly have some questions read in terms of the process and options. So not necessarily which way you should go, but how this could play out, the number of different ways and what options are open to you. 

Now, before an initial assessment, a lot of firms will send you something to prepare yourself. So if there is something that you need to fill in and return, or something that you need to fill in and bring with you, do that as best you can. It prepares your mind as well as making sure that you’re not wasting the time that you have in that first appointment with the solicitor, because they don’t have to go through the form with you if you’ve already done it. 

Please prepare some questions, like:

  • what are the various ways that this can play out? 
  • what are my initial options or steps?
  • what is each option or step going to cost? 
  • How does the solicitor charge? 
  • Do they charge fixed fee at each different step? 
  • Can they give you an estimate for the overall costs for the various options? 

Don’t expect to come out with all the answers to your legal problem, or clear a pathway. You should come out with a number of options so that you can start thinking and assessing those options. 

If you come away for a first appointment with a lawyer with some kind of certainty about which way you should go and how everything’s going to proceed, then potentially that lawyer has taken over the matter for you and is taking your responsibility off you. Whereas this is your life, your issue. So just be careful of that.

The more elements and more complexity that is involved in your matter, then the more certainty the lawyer has, the more you should be wary. Because there are multiple decisions that you need to be making, and multiple options, and they shouldn’t all be made in that initial assessment without all the information. 

Legally Wise Women

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

What is fueling your conflict?

Looking at what is fueling your conflict can be part of the way to be able to have some insight into resolving it, without going legal. 

The earlier we can resolve conflict the better. 

Now it might not be a legal dispute, it might just be having difficult conversation with someone, but a lot of conflict can end up all the way to almost a war between people. That’s often when lawyers are dragged in, but if conflict can be resolved earlier, relationships can often be saved.

As well as working out what you actually want to achieve by resolving the conflict, it’s also good to have an understanding of what is fueling the conflict. If you know what is fueling your conflict, you might be able to address it. 

Addressing the fuel might be either resolving that issue with the other person, or having some insight into something that’s triggering you, or some untrue assumptions that have been made that can be cleared up. 

If it’s your own trigger, perhaps go and talk that through with someone, whether it’s a professional or not, to work out how to bring that trigger down. 

Often conflict results because of a difference in:

  • values, 
  • needs, or 
  • because people are making up stories (making assumptions or presumptions about the other person and why they’ve behaved the way they are without actually asking).

So delve a little bit into that. 

The SCARF model developed by David Rock in 2008 provides us with five values or needs (domains) in which people can be triggered. Often people have a primary, or a couple of dominant drivers among these five, and if you are seen to breach one of these, it can drive conflict:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

Here is a short assessment to discover your own primary driver, to see if you perceive that it has been breached and might be driving the conflict: https://neuroleadership.com/research/tools/nli-scarf-assessment/assessment 

own records

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

3 Tips for Starting a Difficult Conversation

You might want to start a difficult conversation to try to approach someone before something turns into a full-on dispute. You may want to try and nip something in the bud, or you want to approach someone about inviting them to try and do dispute resolution.

Know your triggers

Firstly, know yourself, and know your triggers. 

If you’re going to get into a difficult conversation, know your own buttons so that if someone presses a button, whether purposely or not, you’re not just going to react. 

You’re going to go, “Okay, that’s triggered me. I recognize it. I’m not going to react right now. I understand that it triggers me.” Deal with the emotions it caused later.

Don’t corner them

Second tip; don’t corner them when you’re going to have a difficult conversation. 

You don’t like being cornered yourself. So why not actually approach someone first and say, “This thing, I think we need to talk about it. When can we do that?” Or, “Can we talk about it in an hour?” Or, “Can I pull you aside soon to talk about this?”

Better to give them a little bit more time to think about it than going, “Can I pull you aside now?” Or launching straight in, blind-siding them.

Feel the vibe

And then the third tip is if you’re having a difficult conversation, feel the vibe of how the difficult conversation is going.

Women, particularly with our increased intuition or emotional intelligence, quite often feel a vibe. Don’t dismiss it. If it’s not going well and you feel that vibe, you’re probably feeling the emotional response of the other person. If it’s not going well, don’t push on. Find a way to end the conversation and to revisit it later. 

Before starting the difficult conversation, think about how to end things and continue the conversation at a different time if the vibe is not good.

You might want to come in prepared to, say, “Look, it might not actually be the right time at the moment to go into that. Let’s talk about that tomorrow,” or “Let’s go and do this little bit of research and come back in the next couple of days,” or have something similar ready.

Summary

So there’s your three tips for starting a difficult conversation are: 

  1. Know what triggers you, so you don’t have an automatic emotional reaction that you’re not in control of. 
  2. Second, don’t corner them. You don’t like being cornered; actually approach them and set-up when to have this difficult conversation. 
  3. And the third one is feel the vibe during the conversation and have some kind of pre-prepared thing that you can then put the conversation off to another time.

In our community for Legally Wise Women, there’s plenty more tips to learn how to negotiate to get what you want.

Legally Wise Women

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

Making Your First Call to a Law Firm

Before you make your first call to a law firm, you will have worked out what type of legal matter you have. You would have had a look through some legal databases or your local law firms to see who does the kind of law that you have the problem with. You will also have narrowed down the particular lawyers at the law firm that do the area of law that you’ve got your problem with.

So you will not that not only does the law firm do the kind of law you need help with, but your will know who in the law firm does what you need. You would have had a little bit of a look at the lawyer on the website of the law firm, and had a look at them on LinkedIn. So at least you have an idea about who potentially you’re going to be seeing; the person, what they look like, what they stand for. 

So you do all those things before even making the call.

Now, when you call a law firm, don’t expect to be able to get put through to a solicitor. 

With some smaller firms, you may be able to speak to a solicitor straight away. However, there’s usually an intake process at a law firm. Just like you would have at a dental practice or a doctor surgery, you can’t get through to speak to the professional at those places either. 

Your first appointment is usually the first time where you would speak to the lawyer, but even some firms have an intake officer that does the first appointment too.

They’ll each have their own way of doing things. 

Keep in mind that the law firms are there to want to serve, and to help you. So they’re going to guide you through some kind of process, so let that happen. 

Let them ask you the questions that need to be asked. They will determine whether the solicitor that you thought was going to be the one for you is actually the best one for you. They’ll also tell you whether the first appointment can be via Zoom, or phone, or whether you have to physically come in, or whether there’s some other process that they have.

You may get some initial information emailed or posted to you, so be prepared that they’ll ask you for that information to be able to send you some things ahead of time, and that will give you an idea about what you might need to bring to that first appointment.

The other thing that they will give you an idea of is cost. You shouldn’t be scared to ask how the firm charges, and what the fee will be for that first appointment. 

Some firms will still do a first appointment free, but not all firms do. Usually the solicitor will tell you more about the legal fees in the first appointment.

If you can get some initial appointments for free, use those free appointments to assess the lawyers. Don’t try and get advice in a half-hour free appointment, because you’re not going to get very far. Use it to assess the communication style of the solicitor, ask questions about the process, not necessarily advice about your particular situation. 

Allow them to guide you through the process. They are there to help. They want to serve. They want to help you with your problems, so let them do that.

Legally Wise Women

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

Starting Your Negotiations for a Better Chance of Settling

How do you start up negotiations, so that it starts better, and you’ve got a better chance of settling your dispute? 

No matter what the dispute is about, we want to get it resolved earlier, rather than later.

The longer the dispute runs, the more likely the conflict spirals out of control to the point where you’re basically at war with the other party. This does not give you a good chance of settling.

Lawyers have their place is a dispute, and understanding your legal rights and the process if you can’t resolve it is important. However, if you go to a lawyer and you find out your legal position, and then you entrench into that position, it may not be the best way to try to settle the matter. 

If you push towards a settlement that sticks to a certain percentage, or aligns with your legal rights, you may cause the other party to also entrench into the opposite position.

The best way to try and settle the matter is actually to work out what you want. 

What you want is not based on your legal rights, but what outcome you want from this. 

Does there have to be a working relationship with the other party moving forward? What are your underlying interests to having this resolved? What do you need moving forward? Sometimes you might need some guidance in working that out.

What a good lawyer will do is actually explain all your different options, which is what you want to know. You want to know your different options and the different processes about how to proceed.

Finding some alternative dispute resolution as early as possible is one of the better ways to start negotiations. 

Is there some community mediation centre that you can help resolve your matter without having lawyers involved? There are private mediators that you can use, which would cost a fraction of what the legal fees would be if you took it legal. 

Having an understanding of your options is really important so that you can approach a dispute and resolving that dispute in a way that means you’re more likely to settle it, than inflaming it and making it take longer to resolve than it needs to.

5-part video series so you can learn how to find and hire the right lawyer

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

4 Things to Avoid When Making a Legal Decision

Many legal decisions can have a big impact on your life. Clearly, making a poor decision can have long lasting effects on your life. So if you want to make sure that decision has a better impact on your life, and not a negative impact on your life, you should know what to avoid when making that legal decision.

Unfortunately, our human nature makes us behave in these ways fairly regularly. So not only is it important to be aware and avoid these attitudes when making a legal decision, but it’s also important for having good relationships.

Taking things personally

The first reaction to avoid when negotiating an outcome or considering offers, is to not take things personally.

We can make up so many stories in our own heads about what the offer means, and what the other person thinks about us … but most of the time, they are only thinking about themselves. 

A typical example would be a business woman trying to recover an unpaid invoice. Your customer or client is not paying your invoice because of their own problems, not because it’s a personal attack on you. If they didn’t value your work, then that is usually due to their own failure to communicate their expectations or their lack of integrity for others’ time.

Be very careful to trust your initial reaction to a statement or an offer. Your initial reaction is likely to be emotional and create a story about it.

I often recommend that someone takes time to consider a statement or an offer before responding. Because sleeping on it, or at least giving your emotions and brain time to settle down will give you far more clarity and reasoning power.

Having an attitude of ‘getting what’s mine’

The second behaviour to avoid is to set yourself into a fixed position. This usually involves clinging onto a dollar amount, or a percentage, in your head that you must get at all costs. Then you justify the logic behind what you want to yourself, and you are just blindly pursuing getting what you think are your rights.

The law is rarely that black and white that you should have a fixed position. It is far better to either consider a range, or to have in mind a number of flexible and creative options to resolving a dispute or settling a negotiation.

This kind of thinking is typical when someone separates. They don’t think about what their future needs actually are, and rarely do people get financial advice about what their future needs are. But they decide that they should get 65% of the total value of the joint asset … with no real mathematical formula or reasoning behind that percentage.

An attitude of ‘getting what’s mine’ can lead to far more extensive legal fees, and overall dissatisfaction with the process, so don’t do it!

Making a decision from fear

This is probably the most important thing to avoid when making a legal decision – making the decision from fear.

Our brains don’t operate properly when we’re in a fearful and stressed state. One of the reasons is that the brain is not getting enough oxygen. When you’re fearful, your breath becomes shallow and your brain is starved. So the brain’s ability to process information shrinks.

The second thing that happens to your brain when we’re in a fearful state is that your hormones are triggered. The brain releases a whole lot of survival hormones, which trigger the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response in your body. Once these hormones are released, it can take at least 20 minutes for your brain to recover, and often longer for many people.

When you’re fearful, you may need to take time to calm your body and your brain back down so your brain can assess the situation rationally. Sometimes that means that you need to move your body to expend the hormones, by going for a walk. 

Unfortunately, legal decisions are often highly stressful, so it is hard to avoid the fear that is generated – the fear for our future, the fear of the unknown, the fear of being criticised, the fear of making the wrong decision. 

You may also need to investigate other methods to use on your body and brain to calm yourself, like deep breathing, using essential oils, using the emotional freedom technique (tapping), or sometimes a quicker method is to use the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique.

Trying to inflict harm

The other game that humans often play is ‘who’s the bigger victim’? We try to get support and sympathy from those around us by increasing the drama or how hard-done-by we are. But part of that process also puts us into a defensive attitude, like a cornered mother bear.

When we are a cornered victim, we look to defend our position and attack anyone who approaches. We want to hurt the other person we’re negotiating with, whether that will cause us a good result or not. 

If we feel like the victim, we also feel like we can’t have a ‘win’ in the situation, so we just try to make the negotiation a ‘lose-lose’ situation by seeing how deeply we can hurt the other person. 

Some of the most harmful legal battles involve people just seeing how deeply they can cut the other person. This will not give you a good outcome, and after it’s all over, you will feel like you’ve lost your integrity.

For more support with learning to negotiate like a pro, join the Legally Wise Women community.

making a legal decision

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

High emotion = low intelligence

So many people don’t actually think that the emotional toll of the legal matter or the stress that they’re going through, will impact the outcome.

While your emotional state has a personal toll, it also plays out throughout the whole legal matter and the outcome. 

There’s a little saying that I’ve sort of adopted for myself; high emotion = low intelligence. When you have high emotions, like stress and anger, you have a reduced ability to think and make good decisions. 

So much of dealing with your legal matter can be about your emotional regulation. We don’t want you to be feeding a drama, or feeding a conflict, and getting into a highly emotional state. 

There’s more and more brain science coming out which supports this, that when you’re in a stress response (fight, flight or freeze) your brain and your decision-making capacity actually doesn’t work well.

Also, when you’re triggered, it can take 20 minutes to half an hour to even get the brain to come back down, to start being able to work again. 

This is why quite often I’m saying that a single day of mediating may not be the best thing for parties, particularly women. A full day of mediation or court will put you under such stress, with everyone saying you’ve got to resolve it that day. Yet your brain doesn’t have the time to actually go through all the information, and weigh your options, and make a decision that’s actually from a less emotive place. 

We don’t want to be making decisions from stress and fear. We actually want to be making decisions that are best for us, and that are in line with all our values and what we actually want. 

How can we actually keep in mind what we truly want when we’re stressed and angry? 

When you’re stressed and angry, you’re just defensive and wanting to hurt others, and hide, and protect yourself, which is not the best outcome. Hence, high emotion = low intelligence.

The way your emotions play out do impact your legal matter. Being able to understand this, being able to regulate yourself, and being able to manage the strategy of the legal matter is key. Having a solicitor that actually supports the management of your emotional state, to make sure that strategically you can make your best decisions, will have significant impact on the overall outcome.

I help women within Legally Wise Women, firstly, to have the resources and understanding of good decision-making, good negotiation skills, and being able to find and hire the right lawyer. But then how to also communicate with the lawyer to make sure that these strategies come into play and that the lawyer also understands what your emotional state is and what is best for you.

Let’s make 2021 a better year for legal outcomes for women, because it’s really about time that women start getting good outcomes for themselves.

by Jacqui Brauman Jacqui Brauman No Comments

Press release: Partnering to Assist the Vulnerable

Transition Village Wallan Inc. is a local non-profit organisation, based in Wallan, addressing homelessness. The Transition Village Wallan project is inspired by the great work of Dignity Village and Opportunity Village in the USA, using tiny houses to provide bridge accommodation to assist the vulnerable.

A local law firm, TBA Law, has been assisting the Transition Village Wallan on a pro bono basis. Now, TBA Law’s new access to justice project which has just been launched in Victoria, will provide assistance to the homeless and vulnerable that the Transition Village Wallan support.

Legally Wise Women is an access to justice project, spawned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and supported by the Centre for Legal Innovation. Legally Wise Women is an online legal literacy platform, providing ‘where to start’ kits, education courses, free information videos, and fortnightly Q&A access to a solicitor for a small fee. 

The Transition Village Wallan, as a member of the Legally Wise Women community, will enable homeless women using their accommodation to also have assistance accessing justice, assisting the vulnerable women.

“Legally Wise Women is primarily for the ‘missing middle’ women who don’t qualify for government legal assistance, but can’t afford private legal fees,” says the founder Jacqui Brauman. 

“Yet those that are homeless also don’t know where to start when they face a legal issue, and Legally Wise Women can provide valuable resources, along with referrals for homeless women to the right legal support.”

“People often feel intimidated by the law and find it difficult to navigate our legal system in situations where they need to defend themselves from a legal challenge or seek justice. There is still a fair bit of stigma and shame involved when people find themselves with legal problems,” says CEO of the Transition Village, Judy Clarke.

“Finding innovative ways to increase people’s understanding of what their rights are, what options are available and giving them the confidence to take action is key to breaking down barriers that can really hinder community inclusion. Community or government legal assistance is great for those who can access it, but there are many who don’t qualify. We fully support the aims of TBA Law’s new project and look forward to engaging our villagers in legal self-advocacy.”

With both organisations anticipating increased demand, both for homeless support, and for legal assistance, the partnership between the Transition Village Wallan and Legally Wise Women will be mutually beneficial for many. 

The work of the Transition Village Wallan can be found here: https://transitionvillagewallan.com.au/

Legally Wise Women has a free part: https://wise.legallywisewomen.com.au 

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