Do My Readers Want Form[s] Over Substance?

In reviewing my blog’s stats since I’ve moved to a Lexblog platform, I’ve noticed that Soloformania is consistently, one of my site’s top traffic draws.  Most visitors come to the Soloformania page through  Internet searches for terms like “sample   client engagement letters” or “free client interview checklists.”  Apparently, there’s a substantial need for easy access to these types of agreements, so I’m glad that I’m able to make these materials available.  Incidentally, I’ve eyeballed all of the materials included on the site (with the exception of the court forms) and though again, I can’t vouch for completeness or compatability with state law requirements, these forms were some of the better ones out there.

Fortunately, I’m not the only game in town.  Within the past few months, other sites, such as JD Supra, Docstoc and Scribd have cropped up that allow lawyers to search for forms letters or sample agreements and motions.  I always find that examples provide a good starting point to drafting my own materials, but I can’t emphasize enough that you’ve got to perform your own due diligence in using these documents.  As I discuss in my book, some state bars require disclosures or “magic language” for certain types of retainer or fee agreements, and failure to include them could lead a court to void the entire arrangement (translation:  you don’t get paid, and you may get disciplined!!).

In addition, the forms that I’ve seen are of mixed quality.  For example, I came across what at first blush, seemed like a decent retainer agreement until I read the scope of work section.  For me, the scope of work clause comprises the heart of the retainer agreement, because it sets forth the work you will do as well as the work that you won’t do for your client.  Thus, if you spell out that you plan to represente a client only through the end of trial, the scope of work clause can save you from being forced to file an appeal down the road where the client may have run out of money.  In this particular retainer agreement the scope of work simply provided that:  “We agree to perform all work related to the case under this agreement.”  Now all work is a fairly broad phrase – it could include handling administrative hearings and appeals, it could encompass representing a party in one case, or filing interventions in ten remotely related procedures.  In short, scope of work is one aspect of a retainer agreement where you need to be clear to avoid confusion.

So feel free to explore the materials that are out there.  But caveat emptor; take care with how you use these forms in your practice.