My father told me about a dad who told his son to jump from a roof top, and that he would catch him. The son jumped. The dad stepped aside and let him fall. When the injured boy demanded an explanation, the dad replied, “I have just taught you a valuable lesson. Never trust anyone, not even your own father.”
As you may imagine, I had trust issues growing up, which is a bad thing. As it turns out, having a few trust issues may be helpful in the business world.
I met a few clients during my career who were too trusting. Two cases stand out for me. In each one, it was a young person who had a great idea and turned to the internet to find help on how to commercialize it. In both cases they met scoundrels who had them sign documents which purported to make them ‘partners,’ the idea being that the inventor contributed the idea and the scoundrel would make the magic happen in the business world. Neither scoundrel fulfilled his side of the bargain. Both of the inventors ended up in my office asking for help.
I achieved a decent result for both of them, which is not surprising because I tend not to write about the ones that went badly.
As luck would have it, both of the crooks did their own inadequate legal work. I was able to find some leverage and extract the clients from their horrible deals with manageable risk.
I got a great deal of satisfaction, and very little money, from helping these individuals. Not to be overly immodest, I think that they were lucky to have found me because I had the right skill set to find practical solutions to their problems and enough compassion to find a way to do it on tiny little budgets. They could just have easily stumbled upon a lawyer who: (i) would have said that there was nothing that they could have done about the situation; or (ii) advised that the only solution was litigation that they could not afford; or (iii) tried to negotiate with the scoundrel and billed them full freight until they gave up.
Those starting out in the business world need to know that:
- Our legal system is unaffordable for many of you. You need advice, but you have to look for it from respected sources, not slime balls on the internet.
- All lawyers are not equal. Some know how to figure out the perfect blend of legal and practical leverage and develop a strategy to get you where you want to go. Many do not. Do a lot of shopping before you choose a lawyer. Ask people who you know and respect for referrals.
- You need a legal budget. I used to say, “Pay me now or pay me later.” If you save legal fees upfront by not setting yourself up properly, you may spend many times that amount later on to get out of a mess.
- You cannot succeed without trusting anyone, but you will likely get screwed if you trust the wrong people.
There are no easy answers to the conundrum of getting good legal advice that is also affordable for people starting out in business. That is an unfortunate reality. Deal with it. Don’t ignore it.