Posts Tagged ‘lawyers’

You know the old saying “If there is only one lawyer in a town, he’ll be poor.  But if there are two lawyers in a town, they’ll both be rich!” The insinuation is, of course, that they will convince the people in the town to sue each other.  I’m sure you know a dozen other lawyer jokes.

People say they hate working with lawyers – – – they are expensive, they speak a language few others understand, they are deal-breakers not deal-makers, and . . . did I mention that they are expensive?  But if you are in business, lawyers can be a necessary and valuable part of your team.  And even the most rabid anti-lawyer person changes his tune completely and rapidly when he has a legal issue: He cannot seek out a good lawyer fast enough!

In a company, lawyers will be involved in bidding large jobs, to make sure the proposal team doesn’t inadvertently commit the enterprise (company, service, agency, etc.)  to do something inappropriate or impossible.  They will also be involved in mergers and acquisitions, employment agreements, patent applications, teaming agreements, employee terminations and other such stuff.  But let’s say you are a low level employee in a company, doing your job and staying out of trouble.  When should you, personally, seek the advice of an attorney inside your company?  Anytime one of these events occurs:

  • You are asked by ANYONE (even your boss) to do something you know would be illegal.
  • You learn that a government person, either in the USA or abroad, might be paid to steer a procurement award toward your company.  (This is Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issue and people can go to jail.)
  • You hear a client say anything even hinting at legal action against your organization, even if just a hypothetical discussion.
  • You find something wrong (missing, broken, not installed correctly, etc.) on a deliverable and your supervisor won’t listen.  Before that gear gets shipped to a client, talk to your boss and then to his boss, etc. until you get that equipment fixed.  And if nobody will listen to you, talk to a company attorney.
  • You see someone being discriminated against because of their race, color, religion, sex, etc. and the reporting chain won’t stop it.
  • You see an unsafe condition on the job, where coworkers or customers could be hurt, and nobody in the immediate management chain seems concerned.

There are more examples but certainly in any of the above cases, a company lawyer who must defend the company if sued for improper action, or not taking a required action (known as errors of omission or commission), will be VERY interested in what you have to say.  They will want to head-off any impending legal disaster and will go right to the top of the company if needed.  Yes, you may have some explaining to do with your management chain if you bypassed some of them as you sought out the lawyer but in a decent company, you’ll be rewarded , not disciplined, if you acted in good faith and with the company’s reputation foremost in mind.

Here are some basic do’s and don’ts regarding working with corporate lawyers:

  1. Involve them earlier rather than later.  They can sometimes easily fix a problem if told about it early enough.  If you wait too long, problems can cascade, their hands may be tied and very bad things can occur (lost jobs, lawsuits, criminal penalties, etc.)
  2. Come completely clean.  Tell them everything about the incident/problem/issue and leave nothing out.  They cannot help you if you lie to them.
  3. Get to know them when you aren’t having a crisis. Invite them to proposal-completion parties; ask their advice on almost-routine things just so you can learn how they think; invite them out with customers so they get to know the clients.
  4. Don’t “shave” the rules.  If something you are considering would get you in trouble with the legal staff, do not do it.

In short, treat lawyers like you would want to be treated.  The old Golden Rule applies to the legal beagles too.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Collaborative-PracticeThe frequently destructive effects of litigated divorce, especially on minor children, are well known. While the lawyers get much of the blame, the fault really lies with a legal system that, all too often, turns adversaries into enemies and spouses with common interests into winners and losers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is an alternative that can provide all the legal protections of a court process, minus most of the downside. It is called Collaborative Practice (CP), and it deserves your close scrutiny. CP is different from litigation in three important ways.

1. The spouses agree in writing not to go to court. If either party abrogates this agreement, all professionals must withdraw.

2. The spouses agree in writing to provide all relevant information, whether requested or not.

3. While the final settlement must be filed with the court, the couple, not a judge, makes all decisions.

There is a core team of professionals, including an attorney for each spouse, a coach for each spouse, a neutral financial professional and, if there are minor children, a child specialist. When there is a family business, the couple retains a neutral business valuation specialist.

With a neutral, two draining elements are greatly reduced – cost and stress.

The Cost is cut down as the hourly rates for financial and mental health professionals are typically much lower than those of family lawyers, the cost for CP is often less than with litigation. In addition to that, neutral business valuation is much less expensive, because there is only one expert, rather than two; and finally, there is no need for depositions and court appearances and, therefore, legal fees are also cut substantially.

The Stress from a protracted battle over the value of the business can take a heavy emotional toll. The non-manager spouse can feel over matched and at sea in a situation so laden with numbers and financial concepts. The manager spouse is often genuinely afraid that buying his or her spouse’s community property interest in the business will kill the goose that is supposed to be laying the golden eggs. Rival experts can exacerbate these fears and misgivings.

Not surprisingly, the business valuation professional in the Collaborative environment is quite different from the one that delivers an opinion in court. Here are a few of the key differences.

1. The function of this professional is to help the divorcing couple to agree on a value for the business that they understand and believe is fair.

2. The professional is free to deliver a preliminary report, which is open to criticism. If either spouse can make a persuasive case that revisiting an issue, reviewing a document or interviewing a person may have a material impact on the opinion, the expert should be happy to do so. This can never happen in court, where defending one’s opinion is the order of the day.

3. The expert is also able provide a range of value, rather than a specific dollar amount. This option is advantageous for two reasons.

• It is easier for the couple to agree on a range than on a number. Once this threshold is crossed, agreeing on a point within the range should be well within their grasp.

• A range of value allows the spouses to juxtapose business value and spousal support in ways that are beneficial to both parties. For example, a young spouse with a high paying job will often want to maximize the value of the business for use in an investment or retirement vehicle. S/he would probably be willing to sacrifice something in spousal support to achieve this goal. An older spouse with limited income prospects may be primarily interested in maintaining the lifestyle that the business has supported. This individual can afford to give a little in the value of the business in order to maximize spousal support.

When retaining a neutral business valuation specialist, the couple must make two key decisions: the valuation date, and the level of service. In court, the valuation date is typically selected because it is close to the date of separation (business highly dependent on the efforts of the spouse) or to the date of trial (many others, besides the spouse, contribute to the financial performance of the company.) In Collaborative Practice, neither of these markers need be dispositive. Rather, the decision revolves around practical issues, such as proximity to the end of the calendar or fiscal year, at which time the quality of financial information is usually much better than at other times during the accounting year.

In Collaborative Practice, the expert can offer a number of choices in service that accomplish different objectives and cover a wide range of cost. For example, if a valuation opinion were for court, the IRS or some other official body, an official opinion may be required. That is almost never the case in Collaborative Practice, and an unofficial report is much less expensive. In some instances, it is necessary only to review financial documents, rather than cover the entire business landscape – another way to save money. It is not necessary to satisfy a judge in this matter. Rather, the question is: What makes sense for the couple and their available resources?

My future posts will add detail regarding business valuation in the context of Collaborative Practice. In the meantime, if you or someone you care about is entering a divorce process, Collaborative Practice should be front of mind. You can learn more about this important option by visiting the Collaborative Practice website. The site will also help you to find Collaborative professionals all over the U.S. and around the globe


PhotoPopellThis article has been contributed by Steven D. Popell CMC (Certified Management Consultant.) Steve has been qualified as a business valuation expert since 1974, and has published extensively on this topic. CMC, a certification mark awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants USA, represents evidence of the highest standards of consulting and adherence to the ethical canons of the profession. Steve was a 2007 winner Collaborative Practice California Eureka Award for contributions to Collaborative Practice in this state.