Sometimes Only an Experienced Lawyer’s Judgment Can Make the Difference Between Business Catastrophe and Success


The Point

For legal judgment on truly consequential business decisions, it’s imperative to get the very best (and often the most expensive) lawyer you can find.

Please note: in referring to the provider of such legal judgment, I use the singular.

This Matters to Your Business

One day the phone rang at my desk in Lower Manhattan.

My friend, about to graduate from Harvard Business School, had exciting news: he was going into business with one of his professors. I was a 27-year old associate in a Wall Street law firm and had been a member of the New York Bar for two years. My friend said he needed me to come up with a contract to govern their work relationship.

Thanks, but no way, I replied.

With a degree from an Ivy League law school and a job at one of New York City’s more prestigious law firms, I was no slouch. But I had too little experience to give what my friend what he needed. I put him together with a mentor of mine who was a senior corporate partner in a prominent Boston law firm, an attorney with over twenty years of law practice. Who then drafted a partnership agreement for my friend and his business partner after asking them lots of questions about their goals for the business and for themselves as participants.

Fast forward a decade. After ten years of amicable and profitable partnership, a medical calamity rendered the former professor unable to make decisions. His adult children summoned my friend to a meeting, where they made demands for new decision-making roles and for specific partnership assets.

My friend reached into his brief case, handed these adult children the partnership agreement, and pointed out the terms their father and he had agreed for just this contingency.

There was no litigation. No acrimony. No financial loss.

Because …

First, it was an experienced attorney’s judgment that averted catastrophe years later. My lawyer / mentor’s real-world exposure to decades of actual business events was the true difference-maker.

Second, it was just one such lawyer whose judgment made all the difference — not a cast of thousands. The hourly billing business model, with its consequent over-staffing and insertion of inexperienced young law graduates alongside veteran attorneys, mostly generates cost to the client without adding value.

Jeff Carr, a leading former general counsel who pioneered efficient alternatives to billable hour pricing and was acclaimed for getting higher quality lawyering in the process, calls for the following:

” … A world where lawyers operate only those process steps that require a lawyer’s judgment (their truly unique capability).”




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