When asked about my complaints about the legal profession, I am forced to admit that back before I escaped the profession and became happy, I did in fact have some good days. Three of them. (Okay, I am kidding about that last bit. There were more good days than that.)
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.
Legal clients tend not to know the law, so they cannot judge their lawyer on how well they know their stuff. Instead, they judge them on things that they do understand. Chief among those will be how they communicate.
In the picture that accompanies this post you will see a rather nice-looking boat which is named “On Business.”
I have written about the Golden Rule before, but it is so crucial to the functioning of our legal system that it is worth looking at again.
One of my best clients was a partnership between two men who I will call Ken and Gordon.
Ken was the sales guy. Gordon was the strategic thinker and administrator. The company had offices in several Canadian cities and a few U.S. states. There were a good number of companies and trusts on the corporate chart.
Ken and Gordon owned the main company, which had made money for many years and was valuable. It was financed by bank loans secured by personal guarantees of the owners.
In the 14th century, the philosopher Jean Buridan told a story about a donkey who, equidistant between two piles of hay, starved to death because he could not decide which one to eat.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”
In the many years since, some lawyers have heeded Lincoln’s sage advice, and many have not.
There are two rules which young lawyers have to learn to be successful. Strangely enough they do not learn either of these rules in law school.
Luckily, they have me to fill in this gap in their education.
Herb Cohen, the author of ‘You can Negotiate Anything’ and once labelled ‘the world’s best negotiator’ tells a story about negotiating the purchase of his own house. Apparently, his family was so intent on acquiring this particular home that he feared being divorced and having his children never speak to him again if the deal did not close. As Herb told the story, since walking away from the deal was not an option, he was unable to negotiate even a nickel off the purchase price.
Early in my career, I represented a franchisor of retail bakeries. As is commonly done, my client leased premises from commercial landlords and subleased them to its franchisees.
Since my client was not particularly good at what they did, they frequently made mistakes. On one occasion they missed the deadline to give notice to renew a lease.