8 Mistakes Some Entrepreneurs Make in Using Lawyers

The right relationship with the right lawyer can be a key part of a successful business, cost-effectively freeing you to focus on what you do best – plan, create and promote your core goods and/or services. In Letterman countdown style (though only 8 instead of 10), in an attempt to help you have such a relationship and drawing on our firm’s posts in this space for several years, here are the top 8 ways some entrepreneurs sometimes do not promote such a relationship:

No. 8. Using your lawyer as your therapist.

Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of lawyers who are great company, and sometimes lawyers and clients are friends. All good. But we are not usually an efficient way to get your frustration off your chest. Use your lawyer’s time (which is your money) wisely, and look for a lawyer who pushes you to do the same.

No. 7. Choosing a lawyer who will only tell you “yes.”

Most of us don’t like being told that we are wrong, or that we can’t do something we want to do. It takes a certain confidence to tell a client she is wrong in her thinking about a legal matter. Don’t you want a lawyer who has the confidence to challenge you? If you don’t, you should probably hire the cheapest lawyer you can possibly find, because there is no point in wasting your money on somebody you just want to be a rubber stamp.

No. 6. Giving your lawyer information selectively.

We can best represent you when we have all information that might be relevant at the outset of the case. If there are 10 relevant documents, trust me, it does not save you money to give us what you think are the three most important documents to save us the time of looking at the other seven. Sooner or later we are going to need the other seven – probably sooner, probably now – and it will be in your interest to give us all 10 in the first place.

No. 5. Equating hourly rates with COST.

It is a given that the client should get the most value for his legal expenditures. And certainly there are examples out there where clients did not; that’s not OK. But when you go to purchase legal services, remember that hourly rate is just part of the equation for cost-effectiveness. Another part: how many hours will it take? Seems obvious, but I have seen “lower cost” options cost much more because the low hourly rate did not come with a quote on the number of hours. Get an estimate for the total COST, not just rates.

One more piece: what do you GET? How much more will it cost to get a lower quality product? Read more about this subject here and here.

No. 4. Not insisting on an assessment of options and risks.

I often tell clients, the lawyer doesn’t make the decision. The lawyer should provide a range of options, and review the degree of legal risk for each option, then the client can factor that into her ultimate business decision. Lawyers are often viewed as impediments to business decisions, as being “no” people. That is not what your lawyer should be doing. There is a lot of grey in the legal world, and lawyers should not be afraid to assess shades of grey to help you make the decision that is right for your business and personal risk tolerance.

No. 3. After getting that assessment, making a decision based solely on emotion.

This is akin to No. 7 above – don’t bother paying for expert advice if you aren’t going to consider it. Certainly successful businesspeople take risks. But if a lawyer tells you there is a 65 percent chance you will lose this case (and by the way, you should ask your lawyer for percent likelihoods), put that math into your decision making equation and understand the math will still be the same after you calm down.

No. 2. Not using a trusted advisor to help them sort out legal needs.

I write a lot about trust. It’s so important for a businessperson to have somebody he can trust to tell him when legal services are a good investment and when they are not, and when you need that expert with a high hourly rate vs. when the newer generalist lawyer will be just fine for a more routine matter. That person might even be a seasoned business partner who is an experienced legal consumer. But unless you are that experienced consumer, somebody to help you make those decisions is as important a business partner as you can have.

No. 1. Not calling them!

Sure, nobody wants to spend money on lawyers. But lawyers are a fact of life in our highly regulated and often litigious business world, and you may spend less on that quick conversation up front with that trusted lawyer than you will going it alone to “save money” then calling the lawyer to clean it up later.

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.