Most of you will have noticed at some time or another, how lawyers can cost more than you ever thought possible. So much so that many of our clients, when they come to us, have a distrust of lawyers in general. There is good reason for this, and it goes further than just their bill. There are ways that the legal profession operates that seem geared up to cost you time and money. Here are a few of the common things to look out for.
1. The evils of ‘time costing’
Your lawyer is probably charging you by the time they take to do your work and not on the inherent value of the work that they do for you. This is because the legal profession is addicted to time costing (charging by the hour). We know that paying lawyers by the hour, rewards inefficiency and incentivises them to make a job more complex than perhaps it really is. Lawyers are trained to think that the more time they take, the more valuable their work is. . So of course it makes perfect sense for your lawyer to turn your simple brief into a very complex one, give you a 15 page letter listing all of the possible things that could go wrong, and a five figure bill.
It is true that legal matters can be complex and time consuming, but this is not the only way to justify the fee. A lawyer who is paid by the value of the job from the client’s perspective, is going to value efficiency and put your time and money higher up the list.
2. The wrong tool for the job
Would you go to a plastic surgeon for a broken ankle? Or your GP for a face lift?
Not all lawyers are the same, and they do not all have the same expertise. If you are briefing your lawyer in an area which is not in their wheelhouse, you are going to see inefficiencies in speed and quality of the advice. For instance a generalist commercial lawyer for a specialist advertising or IP issue, can be the wrong tool for the job. They may get there eventually, but the advice can be slow, convoluted, and not very helpful, as they will not be confident enough to give you a clear answer. You may need to spend more money with them (or another lawyer) to make it suitable for your business.
You are essentially paying them to learn about your industry so they can assist you. Your bill goes up as you pay for their time to research, consult with their colleagues and work out how to handle your matter.
A specialist lawyer will know your business and understand how to get straight to the point.
3. Too many formalities and protocols
If your lawyer has a way of following formal paths of briefing, communication, meetings and giving advice then these should be seen as warning signs. Clearly there are times where these things are needed, however sticking to these formalities without any obvious purpose can just slow things down. These are usually just cosmetic creations and can often just be distractions from the job. Any lawyer who overindulges in such protocols and formalities is likely to be inefficient. Often all that is needed is a quick email or phone call, a chat with a lawyer who understands your issue, and a clear-cut email of advice telling you what you can and can’t do.
4. Lost in the woods
Lawyers can over complicate their communications with language that is difficult to understand.
If your legal advice is waffly, full of disclaimers, and does not give you a clear path forward, it can paralyse your decision making. You are left to work out how to manage the risks and resolve the issues.
Overly complex contracts can also leave you going back and forth in negotiations for way too long.
You may also have a lawyer who wants to have long meetings, to explain your way of operating. You go back and forth, while they go over in tedious detail what they need to get the job done, and make sure they understand your business.
You are paying them for all this time of course, so the lawyer is fine with this. Meanwhile, you are wasting time and money educating your lawyer on your business. An industry specialist with a commercial mindset can understand the issues, target what is important, and give you a clear path forward.
5. Overly conservative advice
Lawyers who are not experts in an area, or who operate in a risk adverse way, can fall into the trap of giving overly conservative advice. This might be interpreting a contract and advising you that you need to hand over money to a client. Or it might be reviewing a campaign and telling you to water down your claims, so that they are less powerful in the market. This sort of “issue spotting” is common when a lawyer isn’t a specialist in their field, and they jump at shadows. The lawyer might advise you to move away from a brand name or a campaign strategy that you love, as they can’t give you a clear legal approval. This leaves you unable to play at your competitive best. Your commercial interests take a back seat, while your lawyer protects all the bases. All of this costs time and money.
As you can see all of the above issues have a common thread. That is the lawyers putting their interests ahead of their client’s. In these times, no one can afford to waste time or money. You want everyone on your team doing everything possible to advance your competitive edge. Even your lawyer!