I think Perry Mason had more to do with my being a lawyer than anyone else. And watching Law & Order for the past ten or so years made me feel better about being one. But after 30 years of practice, I know for sure that truth and justice are not necessarily the American way.
The American way is more about getting one over on the other side and finding loopholes to pervert the intention of the law. While justice is something we all yearn for, in reality, it's expensive and hard to come by.
I gave a talk recently to business owners about the Top 5 Legal Tips they should know. I planned to talk about business formations and reading contracts before you sign them. And I did touch on that.
But I began to think more deeply about it and my advice boiled down to one piece of wisdom:
Avoid contact with the legal system as best you can.
As a lawyer, part of the system and part of the problem, it's clear to me that Justice - with a capital "J" - is not only hard to get , but it will take longer and cost more than you think. So be prepared!
I've observed it's often better to step back and see what's really going on in connection with "the other side." In a partnership split, does one owner really covet the other's pretty wife and smart kids? When one sibling sues another about shares of a parent's estate, is it really about who was loved more, or whose life turned out better?
If you can come up with a spiritual resolution, you can save yourself a lot of legal fees. Maybe you just are jealous of your sibling or your partner. Whatever it is, work it out with a therapist before you sign a retainer agreement.
And if you do find yourself needing a lawyer, remember:
- If you're at the point of a lawsuit, the lawyers may be the biggest winners.
- If you're in a lawsuit, the winner is often the one who has the most money to spend.
- There is no such thing as a non-litigious area of the law. Even house closings have "the other side."
- Try not to sign something you haven't read. The fine print is written by lawyers and it can and will be used against you if a dispute arises.
- Don't be afraid to negotiate to get a better deal or remove language that can come back and bite you later.
- Trust your own gut reaction. If you don't want to annihilate the other side, maybe you shouldn't.
If you need a lawyer, invest the time to find someone you like, who is competent and compassionate. Then if legal troubles cross your path, you'll have a trusted ally and advocate.