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What to Look for in Your Attorney

Look for Business or Other Judgment Related to your Field

All lawyers think they have superior judgment. Few actually do in all realms of practice. Lawyers often treat the legal solution as the only solution, but the two are not the same. In business legal solutions are just one of other possible outcomes.

Too often lawyers think like a hammer: they treat everything like a nail. For example, a bankruptcy attorney may not make money unless the case goes into bankruptcy. A litigator’s natural instinct is to evaluate the case in terms of the legal theories that apply, the harm done, and the damages that may be recovered. “This is what they do.” The question whether the client actually wants to exercise all rights and claims applicable under various legal theories may never occur to the litigator. Some lawyers might consider the failure to raise every claim weak, odd or a dereliction of duty. But pursuing every claim, acting to wring the last drop from every case- may not always be in a client’s best interest.

For example, divorcing couples sometimes have already worked out the details of their separation before they see their lawyers. But after one of them sees an attorney, the next thing that happens is that one spouse steals the kids and all the money in the bank accounts, and obtains a restraining order barring the other spouse from coming home.

The other spouse is left with no home, money, or family, literally overnight. The spouse does not necessarily even want this “hammering” to occur. The lawyer may just do it –out of habit, and because it can be done. This is what I call the “hammer making everything look like a nail”. The fact that such actions are legally permissible does not make it necessary, right or appropriate. Unless the situation is one of abuse or other extreme circumstances, one spouse is not justified in “hammering” the other in this way.

Business clients do not necessarily want to win a lawsuit. More often they want to solve a business problem, e.g. hypothetically, ABC Company’s refusal to perform on a contract. A long and expensive law suit with ABC Company may not be in your best interest, even if you win it. ABC Company may be important to the client, if not as a customer, then, perhaps, through influence in the community. For this and other reasons, clients sometimes would like to preserve the relationship with ABC Company. But preserving the relationship, or at least preserving neutrality, will be impossible if the case is not handled gingerly, with an eye towards the broader business ramifications of legal decisions.

More to the point, if you are looking for a legal counsel, you may want to seek a lawyer who has judgment. A lawyer with judgment can and will focus on non-legal solutions as well as legal ones. In business, this kind of lawyer can wear a “business hat” and a “lawyer’s hat” and knows the difference between the two.

Many lawyers have strong business or other law-related skills due to their prior academic experience, employment or other work history. There is no education like past experience. We may empathize with and learn from watching others, but the best way to learn something is to have done it ourselves. For example, the best way to know what motherhood is like is to have been a “Mom”. Similarly, the best way for a lawyer to understand business is to have been a business person. The best way for a lawyer to understand engineering is to have been an engineer. Often, the best personal injury lawyers are former doctors or nurses. Lawyers with past experience in business can probably provide the best business counseling, likewise for advice in other areas of law.

Often the ideal advice that you can receive from your lawyer is that you do not need a lawyer on this matter because of reason X. This kind of legal advice is rare, and is usually most available from lawyers who can “wear the hat” of a business person, engineer, physician and so forth.

If you find a lawyer willing to give you this kind of practical advice, you have found a true ally. Recognize that this willingness to put your needs first is rare. Work hard to develop a good relationship with this attorney. Reciprocate by considering the lawyers needs.

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