Complex issues in business and estate planning can be overwhelming and lead to unexpected challenges and disputes that result in lawsuits. Whether contesting terms of a trust or tackling a breach of contract, moving toward a resolution is the primary goal and it may involve litigation.
BoyarMiller commercial trial lawyer Chris Hanslik and probate litigator Jill Young share a common philosophy on serving clients during the litigation process. In a roundtable discussion, they answered questions about engaging clients in litigation, addressed what to expect during representation, and cited how BoyarMiller is a different kind of law firm.
What should a client know about engaging with BoyarMiller for litigation services?
CHRIS: From the initial moment on the front end when we engage with a client, whether it is for business or probate litigation, it is incumbent on us to demonstrate a level of competence and caring. Experience and reputation plays into the competency, and clients should inquire about their lawyer’s trial experience. But just as important is the ability to clearly communicate and inform clients about the process and the litigation strategy, and to demonstrate that we care about their problem – because we really do. In the end, we want our clients to have confidence in our ability and peace of mind that we are looking out for them.
JILL: We have to show our clients a clear path to resolution because there are different approaches and different directions a lawsuit can go and how it can turn out. What I have learned from experience is to listen and talk with our clients about where they are today, and then advise them on what we think they should do as we move along. We consistently talk and reevaluate because sometimes it’s important to change strategy. In the end, they often just want out of this mess and we are here to advocate for them and navigate the best course of action.
CHRIS: Yes, they just want the litigation to be over. We understand that.
JILL: As long as we are competently advising them as we progress, even if we make changes, they know we are going to figure out the next piece. We have their backs, and our clients realize that right away. So often, even though we come together as a result of a bad circumstance, we develop a lasting friendship with our clients because we have walked with them through a difficult situation so that their lives can move forward.
Our main responsibility is to give clients peace of mind because we have their backs.” – Chris Hanslik
What is the basis of a strong client-attorney relationship and how do you build it?
CHRIS: In business litigation, people want to say “it’s just business, it’s not personal.” But they miss the point. Business is personal because it is comprised of people involved in a conflict and they have a problem. Maybe they have had their decisions questioned, or something they have done is being questioned by the other side. No one likes that feeling and we get that. We truly understand and we care about the situation so our clients need to know that we have their backs.
JILL: No one really wants to be in litigation. It’s a big deal. In probate, we work with families and their family-owned businesses and they need to feel that their problem is our problem. They are spending money on something they don’t quite understand – like court filings and depositions – and it is uncomfortable. I like to say to clients: “You need to go to bed and rest because I got this.” It is true. We do take on their problems, and that is reassuring to them.
How do you prepare clients for what lies ahead in litigation?
CHRIS: Litigation is stressful and communication is key. We have to articulate a clear strategy, execute on it, and be sure that we communicate with clients throughout the process so they understand their options as we get to different points in the course of the lawsuit. There are big decisions along the way that are in our control and we work to position ourselves for a favorable outcome. But the judge’s or jury’s ruling is ultimately out of our control, and we have to be upfront with our clients about that.
JILL: We are empathetic throughout the engagement and that is important to our clients, especially when we have to deliver the hard message or say “no” when they may want to move in a different direction and it may not be the right action to take. But our clients know we are giving them sound advice throughout what is a dynamic process.
We are not going to dance around the 50-yard line; we want to move forward to the goal post.” – Jill Young
CHRIS: Our clients understand that we are going to tell them what they need to know, not what they want to hear. I think as you progress as a lawyer, and you are honest and authentic in delivering what may be difficult news, the client is receiving your best counsel and getting the best service. It also means we have their confidence and trust, and that’s an honor.
Can litigation, whether business or probate, be handled efficiently as well as effectively?
CHRIS: We are very thoughtful and intentional from the outset to establish the team for the case – and it is always the right size to assure efficiency. We communicate that to our clients and introduce them to everyone involved. That’s how we can operate more efficiently to serve the client. The team is informed, up to date, and carries the ball forward even if I am not available.
JILL: Yes, absolutely. The way most cases operate efficiently is with a lead attorney and one or two other lawyers on the team who handle different pieces of the puzzle. From our initial get together, clients meet the other lawyers that will work the case with me. There are some parts of the lawsuit that are better suited for someone else to do, not me, and that maximizes the value the client receives. In the olden days, people thought more lawyers were multiple billers. That is not the case today. We are working to effectively manage the lawsuit and the best way to represent someone efficiently is to have different people involved who have knowledge about the case.
Part of BoyarMiller’s mission is to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. What do you mean by that?
CHRIS: A meaningful difference doesn’t suggest winning or losing. It is our clients’ lives and their circumstances; we don’t say what we accomplish together is meaningful, they do.
JILL: One client story comes to mind that involved distribution of an estate and the tax consequences associated with the distribution that would impact the amount our client would receive. By listening to the client, and then advising them of what could result, it became apparent that the important thing to them – the meaningful thing – was to vindicate the family’s name even though the outcome was monetarily less. We started the process by listening, empathizing, and of course, understanding what they wanted to accomplish. Then we took the course of action that was most meaningful to them.
CHRIS: It’s easy to say we made a meaningful difference when we win. But whether we are defending a client’s honor, validating a good name, or recovering money owed, our clients tell us if we’ve made a difference for them, and we appreciate hearing those words. Our mission is also to deliver counsel beyond expectations and to build lasting relationships. We’ve discussed ways we work to live that mission every day. By truly listening and understanding our clients, being honest in our communications with them, and creating an environment where they are being heard and feel like we have taken on their burdens as our own – that’s what we mean by delivering on our mission.
JILL: It really is how we practice law and how we engage with people. It’s what we do.