Your lawyer can do a lot for you. To pick just a few examples from this space, help you write an important policy, work through difficult employee situations and, most importantly, help you decide when you need a lawyer and who it should be. Working in partnership with the right lawyer who has your interests at heart, you can optimize the resources you spent focused on legal issues rather than on your mission.
Some things your lawyer can’t fix though:
1. You entered into what has proven to be a bad business relationship. You are an employer, and in a rush to fill a need, you hired an employee who has proven to be toxic and unproductive. Or you are an employee, and you left a tolerable but imperfect employer for one that has proven to be unethical, unsupportive, and/or unbearable. Or you are a business and you’ve entered into a contract with an unreliable supplier or other business partner.
We could go on with examples. For various legal reasons, sometimes it takes time and money to fix these situations. With the bad employee, of course there can be legal risks in termination such that you need to work through the situation until you are ready to safely cut ties. With the bad employer, your legal options to remedy a situation may be limited, and ultimately still leave you in a bad relationship that you just need to get out of. Likewise with the supplier, you may have a contract that limits your ability to move quickly.
We’ve all done it, personally and professionally, and sometimes avoidably. No point in beating yourself up about it. But recognize that once you are in the relationship, it may not be a quick and easy fix. Cost of doing business, as they say.
2. Without consulting counsel, you entered into a contract you don’t like now. (Or didn’t have a contract at all.) I’ve written many times here about the fact that, while of course you should not spend more than you have to on legal fees, often spending a small amount of time with your lawyer on the front end will save you far more later by avoiding problems. When it comes to contracts, both in the employment and the business settings, so often we see a contract the client signed without counsel, thereby missing an opportunity to structure the situation you are now unhappily stuck in.
Again, it happens. But your best opportunity to achieve your reasonable objective with that contract passed when you put your signature on it. Now let’s make the best of what you’ve got.
3. You sent yourself somebody else’s confidential information. This is a narrower but particularly compelling example, and generally arises when we hear from an employee who is changing employers, or perhaps that employee’s new employer. No matter how worthy your intentions, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you put into that spreadsheet on the laptop issued by your soon-to-be former employer, don’t send that spreadsheet to your personal e-mail before talking to a lawyer (who will almost certainly tell you not to send it to yourself). It is almost going to be a very bad start for you to any dispute with your former employer, who is going to find about it. It may feel like it’s yours, but most courts are not going to agree.
The point here is not to pile on past decisions that were less than optimal. Who among us has made only optimal decisions?
The point is, your lawyer can help you consider your options based on the hand you are now holding, but not change the cards that have already been dealt by the time your lawyer gets involved. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the cards in your hand, and get to work with what your next play should be – even though it may not be what you wish it was.
And if you are about to make a business decision, consider whether you know everything that you should about the potential future legal aspects of that decision.
This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.
Barnes & Thornburg LLP is a large, full-service law firm that seeks to take a more entrepreneurial and cost-effective approach both to client service and its own business.