How to Manage a Professional [Fribble] May 31, 2000

Fribble How to Manage a Professional

By Charles Page (
May 31, 2000

As a lawyer, I have learned a lot from my clients while hopefully helping them solve problems. One client for whom I handled many complicated transactions was a master at managing our professional relationship. He organized all of the materials that I needed to handle a transaction. He prepared a summary of the problems, the questions he wanted answered or the product he wanted me to produce, such as a contract, estate plan, etc. He would deliver these materials to my secretary and set an appointment far enough in advance to enable me to review the materials, do the necessary research, and develop a plan of action.

He would call my secretary to inquire whether I had read the materials and prepared for our meeting and whether I needed more information or time. (Note -- At this point he has not incurred legal fees by talking to me but he is getting the message through: Charlie, be prepared!)

When he arrived for the appointment, he would suggest that I make any phone calls that were pressing and do anything that might distract me during our meeting. Once I had committed to him that I was ready and that we would not be interrupted, he would tell me what a wonderful lawyer I was and how much I had helped him and his family. By this time I was charged up and ready to totally devote myself to his projects. We had very productive sessions: efficient and cost effective. I realize that I did some of my very best work for him.

If you are going to meet with a lawyer or an accountant, call his or her office and ask if you can pick up -- or if they will mail you -- a checklist of the information and materials that you will need and the questions that you will be expected to answer. Assemble all such documents and materials, organize them in folders or envelopes, and prepare a summary of the materials and the questions that you need answered.

A few years ago I wrote an article about estate planning that was published in the Herald. It contained a checklist of the issues you need to consider in planning your estate and a list of the information that you will need. My former law partner now sends this article to clients so that they will be prepared when they arrive for their appointments.

Deliver the materials and the summary of issues and questions a few days in advance of the appointment and ask that the secretary remind the lawyer or accountant to review them and call in advance of the meeting if additional information will be needed.

This process should avoid the need for multiple meetings before the project can get underway. Since lawyers and accountants charge for their time, you can reduce the cost of the services and improve the quality of the end product if you do your homework. But you can only do effective homework if you know in advance what information will be needed.

With doctors, the situation is a little different because you cannot always anticipate when medical services will be needed. But you can be sure that at some point you will need medical care.

Prepare a summary of your medical history, including dates if possible. Identify any allergies, any medicines to which you are allergic, family medical history (at the very least, that of your mother, father, and siblings). List any medicines that you are taking, including any non-prescription medicines that you frequently take. List the reasons for taking the medicines whether it is a matter of recurring heartburn or something more serious.

If you have the time and opportunity, before meeting with the doctor, prepare a detailed description of the symptoms and the questions you want answered. If you can get the summary of your medical history, medicines, and the description of the symptoms and your questions to the doctor in advance of your appointment, you will not only save time, but your appointment will be more productive. Most people get a little nervous in a doctor's office. It is easy to forget something that is important to you. Many doctors seem rushed. This puts pressure on the patient to be efficient. This can result in the failure to disclose important information or failure to get answers to questions. If both you and the doctor have in hand a description of the symptoms and the questions you have prepared, these problems will be less likely to occur.

Finally, be prepared to take notes. Write down your understanding of what the doctor says, his answers to your questions, and his recommendations. Then say, "I want to be sure I understand." Then read back your understanding of the conversations. That is the time to clear up any misunderstanding or confusion. This will enable you and the doctor to avoid follow-up phone calls "clarifying" the advice and the course of action that you are to take. It will also give you a record to which you can refer later if you forget what was said.

These simple tools will enable you to obtain better quality services and advice from your advisers and reduce the cost of these services.