I think one of the most common experiences when dealing with a lawyer is the sense that what seemed like a simple deal, got inordinately more complicated once the lawyers got involved. So complicated in fact that it feels like the whole transaction has come to a complete standstill.

I have felt like this myself when I have been on the client side of legal advice in a series of complicated financial transactions. I just wanted the issues to be sorted out in the quickest and most expedient way possible, I didn’t feel it needed complicated legal advice, just a quick practical solution. When the lawyers became involved, it felt like everything became so much more complicated than I needed or wanted it to be.

Sometimes it needs to be more complicated than we want, that is why we engage lawyers – to recognise this when we don’t. If they are doing their job properly, they foresee the risk and try to close the loop holes to minimise that risk. The negotiation that ensues when there are two opposing sets of lawyers is ultimately about who bears the risk – you or the other party to the transaction. Your lawyers are trying to take the risk away from you and place it at their feet. It all feels unnecessary and expensive when everything is going smoothly but when the shipment is delayed or the machinery is a lemon or some other foreseeable or unforeseeable calamity arises, we appreciate our lawyer’s foresight.

A good lawyer, one who understands the fundamentals of how to manage a business, should also appreciate the commercial realities at play in finalising a deal/transaction and the importance of giving legal advice in real time. Sometimes the nature of the business is such that legal advice needs to be given quickly. I remember when I was involved in advising a stockbroking company – when legal advice was needed, it was needed immediately, within 10 minutes or less sometimes. The nature of the business simply did not allow the luxury of being able to spend days or even hours researching the issue and coming up with a perfect letter of advice. Often the advice was needed verbally on the spot. In order to do this, I needed to have an underlying understanding of the nature of the business, the issues it regularly faced and where it was headed on a macro level. This was the reality within which I needed to operate as their lawyer if I was going to be of any real use.

Your lawyer needs to be able to understand and work within the commercial realities and particular time pressures of your business. He or she needs to appreciate the timing of the deal. It is not strictly speaking a legal skill, but one that makes a lawyer a whole lot more useful to your business if they have it.

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Fiona Henderson

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