Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 79

Keeping A Leash On Your Attorney

Sometimes you have to craft a custom agreement with the landowner. Or a new advertising lease. Or maybe you need some loan documents reviewed. In each case you hire an attorney and wait in terror for your bill to arrive. In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to review some simple steps that allows you to stay in control of your legal cost.

Episode 79: Keeping A Leash On Your Attorney Transcript

So you're working on a ground lease to build a billboard and there's some items that the landowner wants included in that agreement and you feel like you must get an attorney to solve that issue. Or maybe you need to go ahead and rework your advertising lease, you wanna update it, and again, you go to an attorney to look for changes. Or maybe you're gonna get a bank loan on a billboard and suddenly you want someone, an attorney to read those loan documents. And in each case, you're asking an attorney to do something. But we all know where that can often head. You can engage them to do that service for you and what happens, you're then terrified waiting to see how their bill might come out. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast, gonna give you some real-life ideas to help you control legal cost. Because legal cost can get so out of hand. It's kinda like doing home renovations. You have a budget and what happens? You come in at two times or three times that budget and that's never a happy scene.

And even worse than home renovations where you feel like you got something for your money with legal fees, you often come away completely cheated. You got this bill and did you really get the work that you wanted for that of money, or could it have been done a whole lot cheaper? Well, here are some practical things that you might think about when you feel like you must engage an attorney. The first thing is you gotta quantify the goal of what exactly you're doing.

If you're going to have that attorney amend this billboard ground lease, you need to tell them what the objective is. The objective is to get that landowner to sign this agreement, to let you build it without having any right to impair the visibility of the sign or to cancel the lease or make you tear the sign down and you don't wanna be able to pay the rent until the sign gets billed and just give them your mission.

But they have to have some guidance like that because they have no idea how the billboard industry works. The average lawyer you'll talk to has never even heard of a billboard in their entire life. They have no idea at all what the rules of engagement are. So you've gotta guide them by giving them a quick overview of, "Hey, okay, here's what the goals are." Next, you've gotta pick the right attorney. You have to make sure you're talking to somebody that actually knows what they're talking about. So search out, call around, get an attorney. Tell them what you're doing. Tell them you needed someone who knows real estate law. You need someone who knows contract law. Have they ever looked at a billboard lease before? See if you can find somebody who already has gone through that learning curve. Because otherwise, they're gonna bill you for all this "research" which you don't need.

If they already knew how to do it, they wouldn't need that research. So you're just literally just burning time and burning money. Also, you need to establish your budget on the front end. You need to say things like, "Okay, here's the deal. I need to have this ground lease revised and I've got a budget to do that of $1,000. Don't leave it open-ended and don't try and pretend like you're a big shot like money doesn't matter 'cause it does.

So just tell them on the front end, "Here's what I have." If they say, "Well I can't do it for that price. That's not nearly enough. I need $2,000," well then you can say, "Well then let me think about that and maybe find a different attorney," or at least reset your budget to what the appropriate amount is. But you gotta let them know on the front end how much you have to spend on the job.

Also, once you talk to them, once you set them in motion, do not call them a bunch to bug them or email them 'cause they're gonna charge you for each of those. Many attorneys bill by the quarter hour. So if you simply call and say, "Just checking in. Do you have it done yet?" "Nope, I don't," you could get a big bill from that. If that attorney charges $400 an hour, he will now bill you $100 for that quarter hour for you simply having a one-second phone call. So do not do that. Find out from them on the front end when they think they'll have it. And do not bug them in the interim 'cause you'll get billed for it every time you go to bug them, more than likely. Also, remember you can negotiate the rates. So even though lawyers try and pretend their rates are above any discussion, that's not true.

They're negotiable, just like it is and many other things that we all think are set in stone. Even the jewellery department in Neiman's negotiates prices. So say to them, "Okay, well gosh, $400 an hour sounds high. How about $300 an hour? That's all I can really afford."

There's a lot of attorneys in America. There's more attorneys in America than the whole rest of the world combined. So as a result, it's all about supply and demand and they all need customers badly. The fact that you think, "Well, you know they have a nice paneled office, they must be rolling in dough," is seldom the truth. You'd be shocked how many law firms on a regular face basis go bankrupt 'cause they simply don't have enough revenue to pay the bills. And when people don't have eight solid hours of billable hours a day of legal work to do, they tend to get a little more negotiable about it.

Also, if you need a payment plan for those fees, tell them in advance. Again, some of the attorneys can float you if you say, "Well, here's the deal, I've only got a budget of $1,000 and I can only pay you out at the rate of $300 a month for roughly three and a half months." They'll still do it normally if you tell them in advance because every second that that attorney has time that is not billable, it's worthless. It's a write-off.

So why not get you onboard with paying them even if it's paid out over time? That's still a better position for them. The bottomline to it all is you have to be in control at all times of the attorney and their billings. You cannot leave it open to chance. You can't have a wish and a prayer.

You can't just hope that when the bill comes that it'll be a lot lower than you thought. That's no way to live. That's very stressful and rarely will that have a good ending. Instead, you need to let people know what the heck you're trying to do. You need to tell them what your budget is. You need to negotiate it if need be and even set up a payment plan. Because you're the client. It's your job and you must always remain in control. This is Frank Rolfe, the Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.