A mistake lawyers make is treating all clients the same. It’s a mistake shared by other professions as well. They’re not all the same. The issues clients face, and the solutions they deserve, are as varied as life itself.
With the rise of technology and the commoditization of legal services, nuance can be lost. Precise solutions to particular problems may be neglected while cookie-cutter boilerplate is offered as a cheap substitute. Not that all boilerplate and technology is bad – they can provide huge benefits when applied correctly. But just as a mass-produced size 9 leather dress shoe may be ideal for some, it is of little comfort or use to an athlete with a size 10 foot.
Automation is a cost-saver, no doubt. But is it a reasonable substitute for thoughtful analysis and tailor-made solutions to client specific problems?
There may be areas of life where commoditized legal services represent a reasonable tradeoff. Perhaps consumers engaged in everyday transactions are adequately-served by inexpensive one-size fits all solutions. Even a consumer buying a home – often touted as the largest single transaction most consumers will make in their lifetime – may be well-served by inexpensive boilerplate solutions on most occasions. In the world of consumer transactions and consumer finance, there is a protective overlay of consumer protection laws and oversight that will often fill in the gaps left by a one-size fits all approach.
But what about most commercial transactions? Buying or starting a business? Investing in commercial or industrial real estate? Raising capital from third parties? Entering into a partnership agreement or limited liability company operating agreement for a commercial venture where someone else is in control, and uses or controls your money – or where you use or control someone else’s money? Are these circumstances where one-size solutions and documentation make sense?
How do you protect yourself if something goes wrong? Experience shows something can always go wrong. And when things go wrong in a commercial transaction, expensive lawsuits often follow.
Business people consider themselves to be intelligent, reasonable beings. When they invest in a business or real estate project they expect it will succeed. If they thought otherwise, they would not make the investment. That would be foolish, and they know for certain that they’re not foolish. If it fails, they conclude it had be someone’s fault – but it certainly wasn’t theirs. They must have been duped. Information must have been withheld. They must have been lied to or cheated. The other party must at least be incompetent if not downright crooked.
You may laugh, but that’s often how it happens. You may be one hundred percent competent and above-board. You may have understood and discussed the risks to the point where you are certain that your partners or investors understand the risks as well – but if you’re the promoter of the failed business or investment, or you’re in charge of making management decisions – you should expect to find yourself staring down the business end of a double-barreled lawsuit claiming the loss is your fault – even if you lost money as well, and even if nothing you did or could have done resulted in the loss. Changing economic circumstances, business and lifestyle trends, and other factors far beyond your control may be the reason for the loss, but you will be blamed. How do to protect yourself?
Suppose you’re on the other side. What if you’re the investor or partner asked to invest? What do you look for? What do you require? How do you protect yourself?
Clients are not all the same. Commercial transactions are not all the same. The risks and benefits of each investment and business venture are not all the same. The solutions and documentation of each transaction cannot, therefore, be all the same.
If clients are engaged in serious business, serious attention is required. Both the attorney and the client need to understand this. Once a deal goes bad, it’s too late to go back and redo what should have been done at the outset.
Will doing it right up front cost more?
Will it be worth it if things go poorly?
Should clients buy a size 9 shoe for their size 10 foot?
Thanks for listening. . .