How does your lawyer spend the majority of their work day? Is it focused on one particular area of the law?
Their niche? Or do they have a broad range of experience dealing with a variety of business issues? Do they give general business advice as well as litigate cases? Do they counsel you or just give legal advice?
Here’s a story. A local grocery store contracted to buy a certain amount of produce from a local farmer every month. It was a beneficial relationship for the grocery store, because they got to advertise their produce as locally grown and support the community. The farmer benefited because they had certain amount money coming in every month from his sales. This contractual relationship went on for several years. One summer there was a significant drought and the farmer was not able to provide enough produce to meet his contractual quota for several months.
The grocer had to get its produce from another provider in a different state at a significantly higher cost. The grocer went to an attorney to ask what could be done. After detailing the story the attorney reviewed the store’s contract with the famer and told the grocer he needed to sue the farmer for breach of contract and he could recover the increased cost of the produce. The grocer didn’t like the idea of suing a local farmer, but if his attorney thought a lawsuit was the best way to handle it, who was he to disagree. So they sued the local farmer. Soon enough the newspapers got wind of the grocer suing a local farmer during drought. Local residents didn’t like the idea of one of their neighbors getting sued during a drought. The grocer’s once reliable patrons stopped shopping at his store.
After the lawsuit was filed the other local grocery store in town went to the farmer to discuss how they could help the farmer during the drought. They both consulted with a local attorney and together they came up with an irrigation plan and a way to fund it. Their innovative irrigation program not only made the local news but national news. Business at this store increased tenfold. The farmer was able to grow more produce and expand his operations. The farmer was able to settle the first grocer’s claim with the first grocer’s bankruptcy trustee.
Who got the best advice?
Find a lawyer who gets things done.
Sometimes you need a lawyer who concentrates their practice in a particular area, like patents or employee benefits. But don’t overlook the lawyer who can get things done. Too often we think of lawyers as people who analyze the law or prepare legal documents. Effective lawyers must be able to actually do things, without excuses, on time and more or less right.
If your lawyer is able to do things, on time and correctly; congratulations! There are probably only about 5% of lawyers who can actually do things. Stick with them. If there is a problem try to work it out. They are not easily replaced.
Rather than just analyze the law or prepare a document, good lawyers should give you wise counsel. In other words they craft creative solutions, sustain client morale, offer wisdom and sound judgment, not just knowledge. Lawyers who give good counsel are hard to come by. Any lawyer can take your side in a dispute and run with it. But the practice of law is more like chess than checkers. Wise counsel comes from thinking ahead. How is the decision going to affect you a year from now, five years from now or in ten years?
Most people like to avoid conflict. Effective legal counsel minimizes the risk of conflict. Effective legal counsel stabilizes relationships. Effective legal counsel smoothes out the highs and lows of running a business. The most effective counselors have experience in running their own small business.
Has your lawyer ever run a business?
Small firm attorneys must meet payroll and other expenses every other week. This experience enhances the attorney’s ability to advise business clients. For example, has your big firm lawyer ever dealt with the flood of paperwork and random insurance bills that come with hiring people?
Have they ever analyzed cash inflows and outflows for their own firm or business?
Have they ever thought about how legal mattes might fit into an overall business scheme or how you want to portray yourself to the community?
Do they know how to get and sustain a good deal?
Most small firm attorneys address these questions weekly in running their own business.
An attorney who has experience running a small business can be a great asset. They know how important it is to hire the right person. They know the difference between a W-2 and a 1099. Attorneys who have small business experience understand the need to handle legal matters in a way that fits into the marketing plan and business scheme. They know to look five to ten years down the road on how a particular decision will affect your business. Lawyers can look beyond the law to moral, economic, political and social factors in addressing legal questions.
Does your attorney have a plan if a lawsuit is unavoidable?
Litigation experience also makes a difference. Most big firms have litigation departments that defend cases. But what if you have to file a lawsuit? Proving a case is much different than defending a case. Do they know the difference between admissible evidence, which can be used to support your claim, and inadmissible hearsay, which cannot be used no matter how much it supports your case?
In A Few Good Men Lt. Kaffee said “it doesn’t matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove! So please, don’t tell me what I know or don’t know. I know the LAW.” You will rarely hear a lawyer say this but here goes. In the courtroom, the truth is based on what you can prove to twelve of your peers. Actual truth is sometimes a stranger in the courtroom. You have to have a lawyer who can find an analyze evidence you can use to prove your case.
In the past decisions like hiring an attorney were made on a golf course. In today’s market there are many, many, many buyers and sellers. Buyers of legal services now consider more than legal expertise. They also should consider technology and business processes. One size doesn’t fit all.
Do you have a healthy relationship with your attorney or is it just a fling?
Do you have a healthy relationship with your attorney? A healthy relationship is a connection based on mutual respect, trust, support and honesty. A short-term deal for six months to two or three years is not a relationship. When disaster strikes, and it often will, you want a relationship.
Preferred customer programs are all the rage in retail these days. Does your attorney offer a preferred customer program? Have you asked? If you have a healthy relationship with your attorney, what do you get as a preferred customer. Lower rates. Better service. Preferred meetings. If you’ve been a loyal customer shouldn’t you get something?
Most people don’t have much experience in hiring a lawyer. Too often they want the bulldog, the hammer, the tiger or the best lawyer money can buy. There are a lot of attorney advertisements out there and there is a lot of competition. Use it to your advantage. Most of the time you just need an attorney who will really listen and can get things done.