Lawyer’s are essential tools for any business. With any job, efficiency involves using the right tool for the right job. You could use a ruler and nail clippers to cut your lawn, but at what cost? Similarly, you could have your lawyer mow your lawn, but at $300/hr, you could probably find a more efficient solution. Not surprisingly, your lawyer might view your business’ legal problems a little differently than you do. Lawyers tend to be much more risk adverse than their clients. More risk often means less up front legal work and more potential liability for the lawyer when things go south. Keep this in mind when your lawyer recommends the “best” course of action. It is probably worth asking your lawyer the pros and cons of alternative cat-skinning strategies.
Getting the best out of your lawyer also means finding a lawyer skilled in the particular area of the law in which you have a need, and then using that lawyer for those things you cannot have done more efficiently by someone else. Is it worth paying a patent lawyer $300/hr to draft a patent for you? I think the general consensus would be “Yes.” Is it worth paying a divorce attorney $200/hr to mow your lawn? Probably not. It is not that the divorce attorney is not capable of mowing your lawn, it is just that you can probably do it more efficiently yourself.
What can you do and what do you need your attorney to do? The question is one of legal INFORMATION versus legal ADVICE. You should try to gain as much legal information as you can and use that information to more effectively leverage the legal advice you get from your attorney. Educating yourself on the law, allows you to get more out of your attorney and may even allow your attorney to obtain better results for you at a lower cost. You and your lawyer are a team. The more you know about what your lawyer can do for you, the more synergistic the relationship.
Where do you get legal information? Blogs, government websites and law firm websites are all chock full of valuable information about the law. Unfortunately, these sites are also full of inaccurate and slanted information. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Your attorney should be able to recommend some websites and other reading material capable of providing you with a basic legal primer on the area of law of interest to you. The more quality legal information you assimilate, the more fruitful discussions with your attorney will be.
If all of this legal information is out there, why do you need an attorney at all, and why am I telling you all this? Well, just because you read up on surgery does not mean you will be able to take out your gall bladder. Clients who start supplanting their legal advice for that of their attorney are causing more problems than they could ever hope to solve. There are just too many unknowns, too many variables to try to navigate legal issues yourself. Just because you COULD remove your own gall bladder does not mean it would be a good idea. Even lawyers rarely represent themselves. They know more than anyone that the small savings realized by not hiring an attorney is far outweighed by the costly ramifications.
Educating yourself, however, will allow you to ask better questions and assimilate expert advice more effectively. Good attorneys prefer well-informed clients who take ownership of their legal well-being. Paying $300/hr to have an attorney regurgitate legal information wastes time and money. Paying a skilled attorney $300/hr to propose a legal course of action on a legal issue you have educated yourself on may well be the best money you have ever spent.