“Think like a lawyer. Act like a business owner”. Good advice for lawyers. Great advice for business owners who need to choose a lawyer.
The quote above comes from a very good friend of mine who also happens to be one of the best all around business lawyers I know. We recently talked about the paramount importance of not only being a well informed, experienced lawyer, but of being able to effectively communicate with our business clients in the language that they use every day. In other words, skip the legalese.
Regardless of the type of business planning issue or legal problem that may have landed at your feet, as the owner or decision maker of your business you are likely going to have two basic questions for your lawyer:
- What are my alternative solutions to the problem?
- What are each of those alternatives going to cost me?
To have confidence in the planned-for outcome of a situation, your business advisors’ answers to the first question should be completely understood by you, the business client, on your terms. In my 20-plus years practicing general business and real property law, I have rarely regretted advising a client to lean more in the direction of the simple, practical approach to problem solving.
Even though the problem may be complex and fraught with risk, the process for solving it needs to be well thought out, straightforward, and clearly explained. The very act of fully articulating a proposal in this manner is a great test of your advisor’s work product. If the plan can’t be explained clearly, how can it be successfully carried out?
Part of risk management includes weighing the costs. Potential exists for a business to incur, or to avoid, a wide-variety of risks in almost any situation. There is risk in prematurely rushing to action without a solid plan, but there is also risk in delaying the resolution of the problem. There is even risk in doing nothing.
Your lawyer should know how you make your money, what your competition looks like, what particular challenges threaten your business, and the value of a dollar. Without doubt, the best way to minimize risks and attack a problem is with a team. Link the unique knowledge you have of your business with the experience of a business advisor (legal, accounting, tax, management) who will complement your team.
To paraphrase my friend’s quote, a fundamental part of that link is your lawyer’s ability to think and act like a business owner.