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Dollars and Sense

Why would a business owner ever hire a personal injury trial lawyer as their legal counsel? We are after all the source of all evil and downfall of the American way of life (at least that appears to be the mantra spouted by the media, chamber of commerce, etc.), but the real question is why wouldn’t you.
As personal injury trial lawyers we only get paid when we resolve our clients case either through a settlement or judgment (contingent fee). Handling contingent fee cases requires that you are always aware of the amount of time you are spending on a case as well as the out of pocket expenses you are putting into a case. If it takes too long and you spend too much time, you end up losing money.  If the expenses are too high in proportion to the potential recovery the case will not be able to be resolved for a reasonable recovery for your client. Common sense. You minimize the cost while maximizing the recovery. Business owners (at least those who are profitable) understand and run their business with concept as one of the principles in making daily decisions.
In business cases we bill our time on an hourly basis, set fee, contingent or some combination of the above after discussing the issues with the client and determining what works best for them in their situation. It seems that some “business” lawyers can tell you to the penny how much they have billed their client at any given time and how much they have “generated through billable hours this month.” As trial lawyers we understand that many times a business may have a legally winnable case, but for economic or business reasons the best resolution is a settlement or in some cases just taking the loss and moving on. We have spent hundreds of hours answering discovery, taking and attending depositions and trying cases. Every minute a business has to spend doing anything related to a legal dispute is a minute they are not doing what they would prefer to do and what is profitable to their business. There are circumstances where you have to file suit and ultimately go to trial and we have and will continue to do so when it is in our clients best interest, but there are other times where our advice has been to keep the money you would pay us and pick up the phone call the other business whom you have been working with for years and tell them you want to take them to lunch and figure out if you can work out this dispute that seems to have come up. If the lunch doesn’t work, at least you know you did everything you could to work it out, you can still hire us, we can file suit and go to trial, but if it does you not only saved you and your company a lot of time, money and frustration, but also salvaged a business relationship.
Another reason to have a trial lawyer as your business counsel is that we have a different perspective than “normal” business lawyers. We are used to litigation and the issues that are raised. When we meet with a client, we have an understanding of what will happen if you have to file suit or are sued, what the other side may claim and how you may be able to take some actions which could eliminate or reduce your exposure and/or increase your likelihood of prevailing.
We see our job as to not just representing our clients, but counseling them as to the realistic issues they will face, and what can happen. It is not our job to tell you what you want to hear or tell you what we will do. We see our job in representing businesses to give them the information they need to make informed decisions as to the best course of action for their business. That could be litigation, but it could also be to have lunch with the other business owner and work out an agreement. Sometimes spending a few dollars now on lunch and a settlement makes a lot of sense. If not you can always hire an attorney.

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  1. Rob Palmer
    August 10, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Great blog. We are doing more commercial work lately and what you say is right on point. We do bring something “more” to the table that the regular business lawyer just don’t have. This something “more” makes us better to handle certain situations than business lawyers especially in regards to potential or actual litigation. Keep up the good work and hope you and your family are having a great summer. Rob

  2. August 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Well said. Most of us “trial lawyers” are also business owners and as such understand the bottom line as well as any so-called “business lawyer.” So maybe we are more than trial lawyers we are business lawyers with trial skills. Ted

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