Editor’s note: Linda Markus Daniels and Walter E. Daniels are founders of and principals in the Research Triangle Park law firm of Daniels Daniels & Verdonik, P.A. TechLaw is a regular feature in Local Tech Wire.
________________________________________________________________________________________We are often asked, “How can we best utilize legal services effectively while responsibly managing our costs?” Here are a few tried and true answers to this question for business clients:
Recognize that Your Legal Affairs are an Integral Part of Running a Business
Our laws and agreements define business relationships and the environment in which business must operate. Consequently, planning and providing for legal undertakings are as critical a part of running a business as planning for a marketing budget. Those business people who are realistic in this regard, and who recognize that their lawyer is their ally rather than their enemy, are consistently the most effective entrepreneurs. They are also the ones who use lawyers most effectively.
Involve Your Lawyer Early in the Process
Going to your lawyer after-the-fact and saying “here’s the deal, please document it” may be too late to correct a serious problem (usually related to taxes or liability) that is now embedded in the deal. Having a lawyer help you structure a transaction and warn you about pitfalls prior to beginning the negotiation is far less expensive than having the lawyer straighten out a mess that has already occurred. Similarly, waiting until months or years after something occurs for documentation often results in costs that are many more times they would have been originally because of the difficulties involved in accurately documenting all the agreements long after they are made (and at a time when people may have differing opinions as to what the agreements actually were–or worse yet when people involved are unavailable or dead).
Make Sure Your Lawyer Has Experience in Dealing with the Nature of the Undertaking
Every lawyer is not competent in every area of law, and asking a lawyer to undertake a matter within an area in which he is not familiar is likely not only to result in the project taking a longer period of time and at a higher cost; but you may also get poorer results. If you do not have a lawyer for your business, then be sure that the one you select for your project or transaction is experienced in the specific legal area in which you need assistance. If you have a lawyer with whom you deal regularly and he is not experienced in the field, you may want to ask him to oversee the work of a lawyer who is familiar with your particular problem or transaction in order to ensure integration and continuity with your other ongoing legal activities. Selecting a large firm does not guarantee that the firm has expertise in your specific area or that the lawyer within the firm selected to do your work has prior experience on the issues you need addressed.
Think about when you believe you will need assistance and try to give the lawyer some warning, especially if it is a project that is time sensitive or requires the assistance of several lawyers in the firm. It is almost always more expensive and less effective to have legal work done in a crisis mode.
Tell Your Lawyer Everything and Truthfully
Quite simply, your lawyer cannot help you if he doesn’t have all of the facts. Remember that the lawyer is under an ethical duty of confidentiality and is trained to analyze the relevant facts. It can be very expensive to go back and change legal documents or to alter a trial strategy because you didn’t tell the lawyer all that the lawyer needed to know early in the process.
Be Careful in Drafting Your Own Agreements
It is almost always more expensive to have a lawyer review, comment on and revise something you have prepared than to have the lawyer prepare the document originally in accordance with information you provide to him about the general content of the document. While it may require a second draft to get all the details exactly as you wish, the document prepared by the lawyer generally is more explicit and internally consistent, protects you better with respect to liability, and specifies correctly legal terms and rights. It is faster, and thus less expensive, for the lawyer to prepare the material correctly originally than to modify someone else’s incorrect materials.
Listen Carefully to the Advice Given
While it seems fundamental that if you seek and pay for legal advice you will heed that advice, in many instances this does not seem to be the case. It is important that you listen carefully to the information being provided, and ask questions to ensure you fully understand the advice being given. Merely seeking advice will not help you if you don’t understand or follow it.
Follow Instructions Carefully
A major potential area of cost savings can be derived from following instructions. On many occasions, and despite clear written instructions, clients fail to sign documents properly or on time, make or provide necessary copies, provide necessary attachments, or carry out other similar tasks. This always results in additional costs, ranging from charges for generation of new documents or for additional courier service expenses to costs of chasing down missing documents or copies, and, in extreme cases, to costs of sending a staff member or lawyer to deliver the documents and walk through the instructions in person.
Provide the Information Requested by the Lawyer on a Timely Basis
Do not put the lawyer in the situation of having to request information over and over again. This causes delay in the work to be done, causes materials to be reviewed and revised on multiple occasions rather than once, and makes the overall legal expense greater.
Beware of Those who Tell You “You Don’t Need a Lawyer Involved”
In many instances, someone on the other side of a transaction who suggests that the deal is sufficiently simple that you need not contact a lawyer for advice may be trying to take advantage of you under the guise of “trying to save legal fees.” This should always be viewed as a red flag, and in most cases an indication that you definitely need legal help to avoid getting an unexpected outcome as the transaction matures.
Be Sensitive About Lawyer Jokes
While it never hurts to have a good sense of humor and willingness to laugh at oneself, for the most part lawyer jokes are received by legal professionals about as well as ethnic jokes among minorities. Please keep in mind that your lawyer is a professional who has spent years studying the law and who strives continuously to stay abreast of the field just to be in a position to provide advice and assistance to you. Your lawyer does not expect to be revered but at the same time, like all other people, does not expect to be denigrated, particularly when he may be called upon to assist you under trying circumstances.
In summary, the biggest keys to using a lawyer effectively are to communicate well with your lawyer and to develop an ongoing relationship so that you can get appropriate legal advice and assistance when you need it and so that you can plan to avoid unnecessary legal expenses.
Daniels Daniels & Verdonik, P.A. has been serving the legal needs of entrepreneurial and high technology clients for more than 20 years. Linda Markus Daniels concentrates her practice in the representation of entrepreneurial and technology-based businesses, focusing on corporate, technology and international matters. Comments or questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Walter Daniels concentrates his practice in the representation of rapidly growing companies, most of which are technology-based. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the Statewide Advisory Board for the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center. Questions or Comments can be sent to email@example.com