Unfortunately, many clients, perhaps unknowingly, effectively sabotage efforts to provide legal services efficiently. Often, in a misguided effort to save money, businesses will do things that have exactly the opposite effect. Although I have written about all of these things before, I still see businesses making these mistakes. Hopefully, this post will serve as a gentle reminder.
1. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." These wise words by Benjamin Franklin are particularly applicable to legal services. Simply put, a relatively small investment in professional advice on the front end of a project, including professional assistance in drafting contracts and subcontracts, will pay off in the avoidance of disputes and litigation. One way of looking at the value proposition is to consider the cost savings from a lawsuit avoided. In addition, properly drafted contracts often help prevent minor disputes from developing on a project. Minor disputes may not lead to a claim, but they can still be disruptive. Of course, the best contracts in the world will not avoid all litigation, but they surely can lower the risk and put you in a better position if there is a claim.
2. "The early bird gets the worm." If a client involves me in a possible project early on, it is very likely, seemingly paradoxically, to lower the cost of the final bill. Why? Because early involvement helps me plan the project with the client and to deal with things logically and efficiently. Early planning helps avoid going down unproductive paths. Further, it is hard to be efficient when everyone is acting as if their hair is on fire and the process becomes purely reactive. Another benefit of early involvement and planning is that the final product is likely to be better.
3. "Remodeling is expensive." Sometimes, clients will insiste that I work off some document they or the other party have cobbled together. Just as it is often more difficult and expensive to remodel an obsolete building than to build a new one, it is often far more difficult to remodel an ill-conceived document than it is to start with a clean piece of paper. Unfortunately, some people become very enamored with their documents and insist on using them even when they would be better off in the shredder. The likely result is greater cost and a less than optimal final product.
4. "Just the facts, but all of the facts." Many business people remind me of the Holiday Inn Express commercials: "I'm not a lawyer, but I play one on TV." Playing lawyer has many variants, but one that sometimes happens in the initial stages of actual or potential litigation, is what I call "fact editing." In such instances, the potential client gives me only the facts or documents that he or she has determined are "relevant." The problem is that business people are not likely to be very good judges of what is relevant from a legal point of view. In such instances, when the unknown facts come out later (and they always seem to be bad facts!), the entire assessment of the matter may change. The bottom line is that there are likely to be bad facts in every case. If they are known from the beginning, they can be taken into account. When bad facts come out late, they are extremely difficult to deal with, increase expense, and may even ruin the case.
5. "Give me the benefit of your thoughts." Although "playing lawyer" is a bad idea, lawyers need the benefits of a client's thoughts and ideas. Some business people seem to think that lawyers are somehow all knowing and somehow know "the answer" to their particular legal issue. In a sense, these folks are the exact opposite of those that "play lawyer." Most of the time, however, there is no one answer to a legal problem. Instead, there are many approaches that that might be taken. One of my first questions is invariably "What are you trying to accomplish here?" A related and equally important question is "What would be a win for you?" Reticence in answering these important questions is not helpful. Similarly, if a lawyer suggests an approach that seems wrong to you or that does not make sense from a business perspective, raise the issue immediately. If there is a provision in a document that does not seem to be the best approach, flag it for discussion. Lawyers are professionals, but we are also human. We may not understand the business circumstances, we may be missing key information, or we may have simply suggested an approach that you do not want to take. Some of the best and most efficient solutions to legal issues come from collaboration and give and take with the client.
So there you have it: Five real ways to save money on legal fees. Further, if you follow these rules, you will increase the chances for a much better outcome, whether your company is involved in a transaction or in litigation.