We all say that we hate the legal bureaucracy that enmeshes us. That bureaucracy often prevents us doing what we think is important, ethical and correct. This explains why lawyer jokes are so common and so universally understood. But, we all recognize the importance of having a lawyer you can trust.
I’m not very good at memorizing phone numbers. I know my work, home and cell phone numbers. I know my wife’s cell phone number. I also have one other number memorized; that of my lawyer.
This weeks agenda at my peer support group of company executives called for a discussion of how to choose and best use an attorney. The group is run by the local chapter of MEDA. This small group gathering is a source of strength, encouragement and wisdom for me. I look forward to every meeting. This month, attendance was higher than usual.
We found four key issues:
1) A good attorney is always ready to give advice on a host of non-legal issues. This is because they know things that no else does. Why? Attorneys are bound by confidentiality. Because no attorney will compromise that cloak of secrecy, people with power and responsibility from all over your community tell them things.
Lawyers are the ultimate insiders. What they know, while it can never be revealed, does make them an expert on a host of issues you can not even imagine. Need advice? Ask your attorney what you should do. Just don’t bother asking how he knows what he knows!
2) A good attorney can help you make connections to unusual people. Need to reach out to someone who moves in different circles? Call your attorney. Want advice from people in your business who have more experience than you on any issue? Call your attorney.
Our attorney helped me choose directors for our corporate board. A decade ago, he even got me an interview with the CEO of Rubbermaid, which was a large independent multi-national corporation at that time.
3) A good attorney must be someone you can trust implicitly. Such a person will never lie. They won’t lie by giving you incorrect facts. They won’t lie by giving you facts that might make you think the wrong thing. They won’t let you believe something that is a lie by intentionally or unintentionally omitting facts. Our attorney is consistently and scrupulously honest in this way, deliberately and methodically explaining every issue and legal relationship.
4) A good attorney is someone you enjoy talking with. In fact, if you don’t look forward to meetings you have with your attorney, then you have the wrong attorney. I enjoy meeting with my attorney so much that I sometimes forget he is charging me for the conversation!
At the end of this discussion, I realized a startling truth. What you want in a good attorney-client relationship is no different than what you want any good relationship. It’s very simple:
– Accurate advice about things you don’t know
– Interesting connections to other people
– Reliable, ethical, trustworthy
PS – One additional point from our discussion. Everyone at the meeting, even the two attorneys that were there, agreed on one important thing. No one ever wins with litigation except the lawyers. The best use of an attorney is to document your understandings and (by doing so) avoid litigation.