Attorney's Experience with Other Professionals

Published on    30 June 2014     Hits: 558

I’ve had disastrous experiences with obtaining professional help.  It took me several costly experiences to realize I should be as active in seeking help as I advise my clients to be in obtaining legal services.


My first major disaster was with accounting services.  Just starting out with my own practice years ago, I hired someone who was recommended to me because they were friends but still had excellent experience at a large accounting firm.  Although my newly hired accountant had no prior experience with small professional practices, I naively thought “She had appropriate educational background, is licensed, and worked at a large firm and probably received good training.  How difficult can it be to handle a small professional practice?”  

It turned out her training and experiences were in fact very limited and not applicable to my practice.  I also learned that even with a small practice, there were many different tax obligations, timing issues, and strategic options that can make big differences in tax planning. 

Two years later, when I realized I was missing numerous IRS deadlines, I finally sought help from another CPA.  When I wanted to change the service provider, my accountant refused to provide soft copy of bookkeeping records contrary to the CPA ethics code.  She admitted she was several months behind in bookkeeping.  In the end, I had to amend two previous tax returns at a great expense of time, money, and distress.

My experiences at doctors’ offices have not been as disastrous but unhelpful and frustrating.  I remember visiting a very well-known specialist out of state.  The doctor learned that I was from San Francisco and first berated the city as a city with too many homeless people and then went on to prescribe a few expensive treatment courses.  He did not explain what each treatment course was for.  When I mentioned the cost was of concern, he simply dropped all the treatment courses except for the cheapest and took another patient in.  I was of course willing to put up with the cost and do all of them if their values outweighed the cost.  However, I was rushed out of the office before having a chance to ask questions.  As a result, the visit did nothing to resolve my medical issue at that time.   

Looking back, out of all my medical visits, I would rate only 20% of them satisfactory or excellent.  “Satisfactory” because the doctor took the time to learn about my situation, tried to look for a solution that fits my lifestyle and long-term goals, and explained what his/her suggested treatment courses were meant to achieve.  “Excellent” because the doctor proactively asked the questions and offered explanations without my prompt and the suggested solution as a result actually worked. 

From the satisfactory or excellent visits, I learned the level of services I need to offer to my clients.  From the unsatisfactory visits, I learned to become a more active customer in seeking professional help.

In this article, I’d like to share some tips I picked up from my experience as a client/patient/customer as well as an attorney – a service provider and hope that will help the readers to obtain better professional help in the future.

I have learned not to:
• Rely on a referral that is based on a personal relationship or find a name from an advertisement.  The referral has to be based on experience.  
• Assume that some matters are small enough so that anyone can do it.  All matters, small and big, require someone with specialized training, experience, and integrity for a successful outcome.  
• Assume that a professional will provide a professional level of services.  No profession is immune from greed, arrogance, and mistakes.

Instead, I am now determined to:
• Ask about the service provider’s educational and professional background in detail:  “How long have you practiced?”  “How much experience do you have with this specific issue?”
• Think about my own priorities before meeting a service provider
• Prepare a list of questions to address issues that are important to me
• Actively communicate my circumstances and engage myself in the process
• Make the service provider’s job easy by being organized and responsive
• If necessary, seek a second or third opinion before embarking on a course of action
• If willing and necessary, ask about aggressive (and therefore risky) treatments as an option to consider

Some of the above resolutions are widely known but I had neglected to practice them until that neglect resulted in an unhappy outcome.  As a client, it’s a joy to meet a service provider who is genuinely interested in me and helpful.  Likewise, it’s an incredibly awarding and delightful experience for an attorney to meet a client who is interested in building a relationship with me and prepared and involved in the process.  I hope this blog is somewhat helpful in forging a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship between service providers and clients.

Mario Guevara-Martinez