I was working on an international dealership project with a long time client this week, and something caused me to ask – why is there mention in this email string of a third party that isn’t part of our deal? Oh, my client responded, you remember that we work with them and they get a piece of each deal “like this” – meaning not like their standard deal. In fact, it’s been 4 years since we worked on the contract with the third party, and we haven’t worked on a deal “like this” since then (although we’ve worked on many that were not like this) – so, no, I didn’t remember. Thank goodness I asked about the third party’s involvement, because it was not evident from any other information my client had provided so far, and without knowing this, I could have missed some key issues.
What does this scenario tell me? It tells me that even in longstanding attorney-client relationships (and maybe especially in those relationships – since sometimes clients forget that the lawyer has many other clients and is not immersed in the client’s business 24/7), we need to always focus on the basics of the deal. This starts with a detailed description from the client of all relevant facts, circumstances, concerns, interests, etc., and a specific identification of the ultimate business objective. Next, the attorney should restate his or her understanding of the deal, and ask any specific questions and gather any specific information necessary to fully understand the project and properly advise the client. This exchange between client and lawyer may be verbal or in writing, but the point is, when it’s complete, the attorney should be clear on what’s happening and what’s most important to the client.
The above process may seem obvious or even tedious, but I can assure you that it will better protect the client’s interests than the “ready, fire, aim” approach that is often the case. An added benefit is that it will reduce legal fees and the time it takes to consummate your deal – it’s a real win-win.