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7 tips to trim your legal bill

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Document everything. Take notes on all discussions with your lawyer, including date, time, your requests and all commitments.

Cluster needs. If you pay an hourly rate, bundle your questions instead of calling with every quick question. Many attorneys bill their time in 12-minute increments. Know your attorney's billing system.

Set checkpoints. Have your attorney notify you when legal bills reach a certain level.

Insist on bills at regular intervals. Some firms don't mail bills promptly, forcing you to piece together charges from prior months.

Tap expertise for free. Knowledgeable attorneys may teach at law schools, run nonprofit groups or write in legal publications. Several Internet services also answer small businesses' legal questions for free, but quality varies and there's no accountability.

Know who's doing the work. In some large firms, a small business client's work is assigned to rookies but billed at the full partner's rate. Make sure you know if a new associate is handling your case, and confirm you'll be billed at a lower rate.

Arrange billing reviews. Have a separate attorney review and approve every bill you get.

Adapted from the book Attorneys From Hell, $39.95. To order or to find out more information, call (800) 543-2055.

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