An English poet once wrote that “no man is an island.” This 17th century phrase certainly holds true in today’s business world, where the quality of relationships – from employee/employer to client/service provider – can determine whether a business fails or succeeds.
When it comes to working with professionals in the legal industry, the importance of relationships is no different. With that in mind, we reached out to members of the local law community and posed the following question:
How can business clients get the most from their legal representatives – in terms of time, money and overall value? Here’s what they had to say:
Amy Robinson, shareholder, Jordan Ramis
“Don’t wait! Oftentimes we will hear from clients well into a project or transaction – after much of the strategic decisions have been made – and we quickly spot issues or potential problems that could have been avoided if we had been involved earlier in the process. As the old adage goes, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ That is just as true in the legal world. We recommend clients develop a relationship with an attorney early on so they can get to know you and understand your business in advance, and then clients can use their attorneys strategically throughout the specific transaction, project or as needed. It doesn’t mean you need to have us at every meeting, but talking with us about what’s happening in advance is typically far less expensive (and ultimately more efficient) than asking us to get you out of hot water after something has gone awry.
Be careful about using ‘form’ documents. It’s not uncommon for us to be asked to ‘quickly review’ a document that the client prepared themselves, or found online. I know the hope is that this will save us time (and them money), but often it takes us more time (and costs them more money) to try to make the document work for the specific client scenario than it would if we had talked first and had provided the client with a starting point document to tailor from there.”
Graciela Gomez Cowger, shareholder, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
“Establish a strong, collaborative relationship with your lawyer. Your lawyer should be a trusted member of your business team, helping you navigate issues with sound legal expertise. Your lawyer should contribute legal guidance, risk assessment and creative recommendations to help you and your business team make effective decisions in a collaborative, effective and productive manner.
Expect that your lawyer understands your business and your industry. Your lawyer should have a deep understanding of your business and the industry in which your business operates. Your lawyer should be able to identify your top competitors and be able to predict issues, spot trends and navigate approaching challenges effectively.
Insist that your lawyer make your business objectives the focus of his or her efforts and energy. Your lawyer should strive to satisfy your expectations in terms of timeliness, cost and effectiveness.”
Erin C. Lambley, attorney, Landerholm
“Be proactive. Obtain legal advice before you think you need it. Clients often hire an attorney after they have a problem. Inevitably, it is much more expensive to deal with a problem after the fact, than it is to take action ahead of time to prevent future problems from arising. For example, if you are starting your own company with some friends, talk to an attorney ahead of time. Your attorney can help you structure your company in a manner that is mutually agreeable to all of the owners and help you build in some protections for unforeseen circumstances, such as deterioration of owner relationships in the future.
Have a conversation about legal fees and costs at the outset of the relationship, and make sure you are clear with respect to how your attorney’s fee structure operates. This will lead to a stronger relationship between you and your attorney, and it will help to minimize future discomfort and dissatisfaction.
Take time to explain your business to your attorney. Business attorneys work on a variety of issues for a variety of clients in a variety of industries. It is very helpful for your attorney to have a better understanding of your business, in terms of what you do and how you do it, in order to tailor the work product to something that will add value to your business.”
Christopher Boyd, attorney, Wheeler Montgomery & Boyd
“Good communication: Like any relationship, business or personal, good communication is key between the client and the attorney. A client should feel comfortable asking for reasonable accommodations to make sure all parties are on the same page. This could be weekly, regularly scheduled telephone calls or meetings. It could simply be a request to be copied on all correspondence. Anything to make sure the client and lawyer are exchanging necessary information and the client is not getting ‘lost’ in the shuffle of a busy practice. The law is a service industry. Neither the client nor the lawyer should forget that.
Clear Expectations: As a client, you should feel comfortable clearly defining your goals. I often give my clients a wide range of options in proceeding in their matter – which includes estimated costs, exposure to negative legal results and potential alternative dispute resolution remedies. While the legally ‘correct’ answer might be what we, as lawyers, want – it might not be what the client desires. Our job is to educate the client on potential results and let the client make the decision. It is not ‘our’ money, business, family or stress. It is the client’s – and they should be the one making those decisions. I just ask that they consider my legal advice and not make a decision based on emotions.”
Joseph Vance, partner, Miller Nash Graham & Dunn
“My tip would be to make sure you are communicating clearly with your attorney. To do that effectively generally requires that the client put some effort into organizing their documents and their thoughts prior to talking with the attorney. That generally allows the client to more clearly and succinctly explain what they want done and/or ask the appropriate questions that need to be asked.”