Stand your ground

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I’ve been practising law for some time now and one of the things that I have learnt, which was incredibly difficult to learn, is to stand one’s ground. I can now firmly stand my ground with YOU (the client) and the senior lawyers I work under. Why do you care? Well, simply because my confidence as a lawyer saves you money (yup, you know that paper we all want…). There are two scenarios which have played a recurring role in my career to date and these scenarios have taught me to stand my ground. Let’s take a look at them and then I’ll tell you how you can help your lawyers get to the level of confidence I have now (smug face) which should save you money.

Scenario 1 – A client desperately wants to do something that cannot be done but a dedicated lawyer, knowing that it cannot be done, still struggles to find a way. The client wants and the lawyer strives to give BUT it just isn’t possible. This is a rubbish scenario for everyone because the lawyer looks for the source of a myth whilst the client pays unnecessary costs to gain nothing.

Scenario 2 – A junior lawyer (they do all the ground work by the way) doesn’t think that a certain course should be taken but unfortunately the senior lawyer, eager to please the client and incur more fees (money, money money), doesn’t listen. A longer more difficult route is taken. As in scenario 1, the client pays unnecessary costs but to gain something it could have gained more easily and more cheaply.

I used to hate these situations. A junior lawyer pushing back against an experienced, Tom Ford wearing senior lawyer or a great lawyer too client whipped to be frank and say “sorry, this won’t work”. The disappointing feeling I experienced in these scenarios taught me to stand my ground in my profession. I will never lead you on a wild goose chase; if it can’t be done or it can only be done at a cost detrimental to your business, I will tell you and that will be it. If I’m working for a senior lawyer who is putting pressure on me to do A or B when I think C is best, I will throw all my toys out of my pram to get C, only giving up when I have been absolutely convinced that A or B is better. Sounds good right? Here’s how you can help to make sure that your legal team adopts this cost saving mentality…Ask to hear the best and the worst from your legal team AND reassure them that you’re READY to hear the worst. Also, direct your emails at the WHOLE legal team, not just the “front of house” senior lawyers, but the juniors too (those silent names that are cc’ed into every email to make sure that they pick up the work). In doing this you let the senior lawyers know that you value EVERYONE in the team and that at any given time you may ask for the junior’s opinion.

Deploy these tips and see the difference in your service. You should hopefully spend less time chasing dead ends and more time progressing to where you want to be.

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“Hey Joe”….How to… get your point across in negotiation.

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Ok, so I didn’t want to give away this secret BUT this blog is about helping you in the legal world, so I can’t keep this from you! I’m about to tell you the secret of the best lawyers for how to really get your point across at the negotiation table. Now, when I tell you, some of you may laugh and say “but of course!” or “durr, that’s so obvious” but it is amazing how many lawyers just don’t do this and so never really get their client’s points across. You can take this tip and apply it to your day to day negotiation.

The best lawyers start formally but as soon as things heat up, they recognise that it’s time to drop the barriers and get right up and close to the people on the other side of the table. How do they do this? It’s really simple and I feel guilty that I’ve built this up so much but hey, I want you to read this! The best lawyers say “Hey Joe”,  “Hey Sarah”, “Hey Mick”… they switch to a first name basis. Lawyers are renowned for being stuffy and posher than the Queen of England, but the really good ones know that sealing the deal is about getting through to the opposition on a personal level, and the quickest way to do this is to use their name. Not from the outset – we start off with “Our client  is concerned about” or “Our position is that” – but as soon as we see that flicker of mutual understanding we transition to “look Phil, between you and I, they [not client] just want to get this done and they think that [name of company that you are negotiating with] is the best to do it”.

I remember some time ago, it was the run up to Christmas and work was crazy. I was representing a client in a claim against a very stubborn defendant. They didn’t want to agree a Court extension which meant that we would all be working over the Christmas holidays. My client was furious with how unreasonable they were being. Tired of sending letters by email to and fro, I simply picked up the phone and called the Defendant’s lawyer. The conversation went as follows:

Me: Oh hi Barry this is Emma here, how are you doing?

Barry: Fine thanks, crazily busy as I’m sure you are too.

Me: Yup, crazily busy, which leads me to the matter of this Court extension on X case.

Barry: Oh yes, my client’s position is very clear on that.

Me: Well Barry, off the record, Joe Bloggs LTD, doesn’t want the extension to secretly build an even stronger claim, they just want a break this Christmas! They literally want to go offline for at least a week. If we don’t agree this extension, we’ll all be working unnecessarily at one of the best times of the year.  I don’t know about you but I’d quite like to catch up on Suits.

Barry: [laughter]. Yes, I know what you mean, well I’ll see what I can do and get back to you.

Me: That’s great, thanks Barry and good luck with the last minute shopping.

Barry: How did you know? [laughter]

End of call

We ended up agreeing the Court extension and it was a sweet Christmas break! There is power in just getting a little personal and a little real! Try it!

Ps. I have not used real names in this post.

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3 things you should be happy about before you hire a lawyer.

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Hiring a lawyer is a big, BIG deal. As I’ve said before, a great lawyer will facilitate your business and help you get to the next level, a bad lawyer will leave you feeling frustrated, perplexed and out of pocket. So when you decide to give some of your hard earned profits to a lawyer, you need to make sure that you get it right. Here are 3 things you should satisfy yourself of before you sign that retainer!

  1. Do you believe them? Lawyers are great talkers AND charmers. As soon as you tell them what you need help with, they will tell you that that specific thing is their particular expertise (sorry fellow lawyers). I’ve seen it done many times. A prospective client asks for help contracting with aliens on Mars and suddenly that lawyer has not only done some similar work in the past, they’ve been to Mars and had dinner with those very aliens! Don’t get me wrong, lawyers are excellent at coming up to speed on any issue, even if they’ve only remotely come across it before however you should still make them prove themselves! So the questions you have to ask are why can they do the job and will they do the job? The answers will help you to decide whether to believe them. WHY – ask for their qualifications and their actual experience. Ask them questions about your business and your industry – do they really know what they’re talking about? WILL – as you already know, in business, execution is key. You need to be confident that your lawyer will actually do what they say they will and that you won’t be chasing for updates. Do they have the relevant resources? In respect of bigger instructions, do they have a team to carry out the work? If they prove that they can do the work and will do the work in good time, then you can believe them. Stay away from the lawyers that reel off their client list to try and impress you….you could end up being the back of the queue.
  2. How do they help their community? Good old corporate responsibility! Do not over look this. Lawyers will flatter you to high heaven and impress you with their catalogue of work BUT a good way to tell if they really CARE is by assessing their charity. The best law firms know this and have a glossy pro bono team offering free legal services to those unable to afford legal representation. They also send their lawyers out to lecture, teach or tutor in their spare time. If you hear about a law firm or lawyer working in the community, that’s usually a sign that they have a soul and really will do what they say they will do. Ask the prospective lawyer what they do outside of work in their wider community?  What are their interests? This will also help you to get to know their personality and decide whether you  actually LIKE them.
  3. Meet everyone! In most cases your lawyer will be supported by a team of junior lawyers which they may head up and those junior lawyers will be the ones doing the work.  Ask to meet those people so that you can assess their personality and their experience. Are they bright? Do they know about your business or will they just be taking orders? How does the team function? It is important to feel confident that you will be looked after and that everyone who handles your work will give it the same level of care and attention. Also, meeting the team will inspire them. If that junior lawyer can out a face to the email address, they’ll work harder!

Ok so those are my 3 things to be happy  about before you hire a lawyer. It is well known that legal fees are not cheap BUT that doesn’t mean that you should part with your money just like that. You need to make sure that you’re in good hands. It’s not just about getting the work done. Engage a lawyer that you would want to hire as an employee in your business. The lawyer/client relationship is one that is built up and developed over years, so get it right!

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