I’ve had this notion bouncing around in my head the last few days that people are generally intimidated by attorneys and prefer to use us about as often as undertakers. This sort of apprehension is evident in the terminology lay people use. A classic example is the infamous and terrifying “lawyer’s letter” which seems to have taken on a personality of its own. When someone talks about a “lawyer’s letter” there is this associated image of a faintly yellowing letter with cryptic, dark lettering threatening all forms of fire and brimstone and which somehow has the ability to flatten you simply by reading it. I used to laugh when I thought about the fear these letters engender until it occurred to me what a disadvantage this puts lawyers and their clients at.
The way I see it, a lawyer is part of your team. The law has an impact on virtually every aspect of our life, so much so that simply using lawyers for those issues that jump out at us is about as effective as treating the symptoms and not the malaise. Often these symptoms can be avoided through some forward thinking. A good example is to have a lawyer either draft or review agreements before you sign them. I have seen many examples of agreements which clients put together using a hodgepodge of contractual terms they found online and which they think do the job. There are a number of disadvantages to doing this, as I pointed out in an earlier post.
Other examples of steps you can take to minimise the risk of a problem down the line include taking advice on how to structure your business (do you trade as a sole proprietor or do you trade through a close corporation or company?) or what to include in your contracts of employment. Sure lawyers can be pretty effective terriers if you need them to be but they can also be valuable partners as you grow your business and an effective support structure.
It is in the spirit of this idea of lawyers as partners and a support structure that I thought I’d point out that I even do the dishes (actually, I don’t actually do the dishes – we have a dishwasher which I am thankful for each day). If you need to have an agreement checked out or drafted, let me know. If you prefer to approach your usual attorney, that is fine too, just try thinking about your attorney as part of your team. Attorneys can contribute a tremendous amount to the wellbeing of your business and perhaps even to your bottom line!