How to Begin a Project With Your Lawyer

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.

Buying Local Doesn’t Just Mean Produce

Everyone talks about the advantages of buying local – typically referring to produce and other food products.  However, you can enjoy many of the same advantages when you “buy” your legal services locally – and here’s another that you don’t usually get with locally sourced food – most local attorneys cost substantially less than their out-of-state counterparts for the same or better quality.

So what are some of the advantages of buying local food products, and how do they apply to legal services?

  • Quality – it’s a common misperception that bigger out-of-state law firms somehow offer higher quality legal services.  I will unequivocally state that, other than extremely specialized matters that have less to do with size or location than  the relevant specialized experience of the individual lawyer (i.e., I’ve never analyzed what permits are required to transport plutonium in the territorial waters of Malaysia)  – your local Iowa firm (if you have the right one) will deliver higher quality legal services – especially when quality is measured (as it should be) by what you need to effectively and efficiently close the deal so that you can capitalize on the business opportunity without unreasonable risk and refocus your attention to running your business and making money (see also “Value” below).
  • Freshness/Availability – your local attorney is always here and available to meet – even at your facility when that’s important.
  • Knowing the Source – this is one of the most important advantages of working with your local attorney and saves you time, money and frustration.  I know my clients and what’s important to them, and they know me.
  • Unique Alternatives – this may be an advantage in foods, but unless you have extremely specialized or unique needs, it can be a disadvantage in lawyers.  I don’t mean it’s not important to fully understand and consider all relevant strategies and alternatives – of course it is.  But, have you ever heard the expression – “You ask what time it is and he makes you a watch?”  That’s what it feels like when you hire a Silicon Valley firm for a $3 million M&A deal and they deliver 400 pages of unnecessary documents filled with errors because they didn’t understand or care enough about you, your company or the deal, and then they send you a $300K legal bill.  A sale is sale – you don’t need to complicate things, unless the circumstances require it – and they usually don’t.
  • Selection – if you’re worried that your local firm will be able to handle 90% of your work, but may not be able to handle, e.g., your acquisition in Taiwan, find out if they’re associated with an international referral network.  We are, and with TerraLex we can handle deals in almost every country as seamlessly (or more so) as a large multi-national firm.
  • Value – ok, I know value isn’t typically viewed as an advantage of buying local – but the beauty of working with your local Iowa attorney is the services are always “in season” and readily available, and almost always are higher quality and at a substantially lower cost. This really is a win-win.

The next time you think about buying local, think about legal services – and if you’re considering the equivalent of buying Florida sweet corn in Iowa in August, think again.