Mining People MD Steve Heather looks at how to use lawyers correctly - and the wider lessons for life and business.
The two sectors that define my world are, one, mining and resources, and, two, recruitment, search and labour hire.
Both are heading back into a phase where mergers and acquisitions, buyouts, IPOs and joint ventures, are on the agenda.
As always with this stage of any business cycle, commercial lawyers come into their own and, if things don’t go as planned, the litigators join the party a little bit later.
Many of us have a cynical view of legal professionals and believe they are only focused on dragging issues out for as long as they can, to extend their $600 an hour billing pipeline.
In my experience, this is not the norm. Over many years now, having experienced them at work on both sides of the fence (coming after me, as well as defending me) my view is that their clients are responsible for far more of the mess than they are.
Now, to be clear here, I’m not talking about those who regularly use litigation as an everyday tool to advance a strategic outcome. In Australian mining, a particular on-again off-again marginal politician comes to mind.
I’m talking about those situations where you are there talking to a lawyer because you created a mess, made it even messier, and eventually made it so messy that you couldn’t resolve it yourself.
In these sorts of cases, it is not my experience that they throw grenades (unless you ask them to) but rather that, en masse, their focus is on preventing more mess.
The issue, as I see it, is that most of us don’t know how to use them.
Lawyers will essentially do what you ask them to do. If you ask them to throw grenades, they will likely do that. The best approach is to brief them tightly and ask them to advise you as to the most efficient way to resolve the issue you have been trying to resolve yourself. Then listen.
If you do this — again, my experience tells me — they will get to the point fast and then prepare.
While it is easy to be cynical towards the lawyers you are forced to engage when your deal goes south, that won’t help you interact with them effectively. They didn’t create the mess. You did. So think of them as being there to help you clean up and prevent a bigger spill.
Jugglers, throwers and catchers
Those who want to understand more about the concept above, and how to apply it to business generally, will enjoy a recent post by Seth Godin. It’s called Throwing and catching :
Seven years ago, I shared a secret about juggling: Throwing is more important than catching. If you’re good at throwing, the catching takes care of itself. Emergency response is overrated compared to emergency avoidance.
It’s as true as it ever was, and it’s not just about juggling. In fact, it’s hardly about juggling.
We spend most of our time in catching mode. In dealing with the incoming. Putting out fires. Going to meetings that were called by other people. Reacting to whoever is shouting the loudest.
But if we learn a lesson from jugglers, we realise that the hard part isn’t the catching, it’s the throwing. Learn to throw, to initiate, to do with care, and you’ll need to spend far less time worrying about catching in the first place.
I’ve quoted Seth previously. He is a marketing guru, entrepreneur, bestselling author and speaker. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, he has written 18 bestselling books.
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For clarity, I am not connected with any law firm and none of the law firms I have used in the past are paying me any commission for this piece. That’s why they’re not mentioned here by name.