Give Your Lawyer A Call – It May Be More Painful Not To
It happened again…and again….
I was at lunch with a lawyer friend who practices entertainment law. She was upset because her client entered a contract, without consulting her; now that her client was in a dispute with the other party, my friend had to deliver the sad news that they had not protected their intellectual property. The other party now owned the intellectual property and no amount of fighting was going to get it back. Had the client talked with an entertainment lawyer, she may still own her valuable intellectual property.
I have heard this lament from an employment lawyer friend – her client terminated an employee with a criminal record. Unfortunately, the state where it happened does not allow for terminations based solely on a criminal record. So, her client engaged in a wrongful termination. The employment lawyer was dejected as she settled her client’s case for the “bargain price” of tens of thousands of dollars. It could have been even more costly. But, had the client spent thirty minutes to an hour talking with my friend before terminating the employee, they may have found a solution that did not cost so much.
I have lived through it myself. I was recently heartsick over a federal criminal investigation into the owners of a company and the company itself over a consultant they hired to help the company develop business. Unfortunately, the consultant was the brother of a government official who was responsible for awarding contracts, to include contracts to the client. And even more regrettable was the fact that, the “charitable contributions” the consultant asked the company to contribute to his favorite charity ultimately went to his government official brother.
Had the client worked with a lawyer to understand the need to mitigate corruption risks through due diligence on business partners, the client may have decided not to hire the government official’s brother and not made the charitable contributions.
Paying a lawyer for that advice up front may have helped the company avoid grand jury subpoenas; FBI interviews, and spending money on lawyers to defend them and their company. No doubt it would have cost them some money to meet with the lawyer and to work with herto develop methods to look into the third parties they retained. But this price is much less than losing company they started and people’s freedom – what they face now.
I realize lawyers can be costly and at times frustrating to work with; but, it may be more costly and more frustrating not to call your lawyer.
I know first hand how frustrating it can be to work with lawyers. When I was in-house counsel, I received a lot of “push-back” over the years from business folks, annoyed with my legal advice after telling them to either slow down before jumping into something or to not to jump in to something at all.
I also realize lawyers take time to research and deliberate; and ask an annoying amount of questions that seem to have no point. But there is a point – to understand what you want to do; why you want to do it; and what you have done so far. Lawyers then use this information to figure out what the law permits and how to protect you.
Once we give your situation some thought and collaborate with you, we may be able to arrive at a legal, ethical and business friendly solution. I can tell you that as a lawyer, I much prefer this type of counseling over figuring out why the government is investigating you.
So, you should tell your lawyer about your great idea for a new product or service, or about a new market you’d like to enter – before doing it. And you should call before terminating an employee or agreeing to a contract. Your lawyer will be able to grasp the problem, clarify it for you and figure out a way to the other side – a solution that may not be as costly as helping you through the challenge after you have taken the plunge.