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DURHAM: I would say, “Make your lawyer part of your team. Have him or her know your business and know where you’re heading with your business, and they can bring their expertise to bear on the problems you may be facing.”
LORIMER: I once went into a markman hearing, where the judge determines what the claim terms mean in patent. Oftentimes the whole case turns on what the judge decides those words in the claim of a patent mean, and it didn’t go too well. A couple months later the judge issued his ruling. And on about 10 issues we won on two, and they won on eight. I called my client to give him the good news, and he said, “What’s the bottom line?” I said, “Well, we’re in a dirt clod fight. The judge gave them eight dirt clods and gave us two. We’ve just got to throw really accurately.”
What you have to do is get a lawyer who appreciates efficiency and has a really good aim with those dirt clods, because anybody can spend money. Anybody can bill you out of the wazoo, but you need a lawyer who will focus on the issues and really get to the bottom line as quickly and efficiently and fairly as he can.
GAYLORD: You also have to have lawyers who listen to what your problem is from the beginning and don’t evaluate or jump on what the issue is and try to control it. Lawyers need to think about what is in the best interest of the client. You have to look at what the financial aspect of the case is and how you’re going to get the results that are the best interest of that client.
We all have conflicts because we want to get paid, but you’re going to get paid more if you come to quick resolution as opposed to dragging a case out—because the client is going to respect you more—which is why mediation is always a good result if you can get there quickly.
If the issues can’t be resolved quickly, you have to talk with your client about how you’re going get to mediation and resolve the case without retractive litigation—that ends up costing the client the most. And you need to think about the case beyond what you’re working on because that ultimately is going to be where we continue to get work referred to us.
JENSEN: It’s been difficult through the economic tough times, because a lot of times clients will call you up and say, “Let me run an idea by you,” or “Have you got time to review a document or something.” Those calls don’t come as often, and it’s because of their own budget concerns.
But one thing lawyers can do is always maintain those relationships and let clients know that we’re here for them. Prevention is important—let’s not wait until the problems or the litigation arise. Come in now. Let’s talk about the preventative measures can we take. What practices can you adopt in your business and how can we help you to maybe avoid those problems?
DAVIS: We’ve seen similar situations come up recently, especially in this recessionary period, where our best clients have gone through some difficult times. And they’re now saying, “Rather than sit and weep about what happened and cut back on attorneys fees, why don’t we look back and debrief on how we got where we were and what can we change in our systems so we don’t go there again?
Those are the type of counseling sessions that are almost unique at this point in our economy because we can now do that. As we come out of the recession, looking forward, we can be more comfortable with the positions we’re taking with our contracts. We can say, “This is the approach we need to take in the defensive position,” so we’re not attacked later on. That’s where, frankly, we’ll be making great profits for our clients.
ROBINSON: In the construction sector, we frequently have clients for whom that prevention really is important—and if clients would meet with us up front to have their construction contracts reviewed and revised, they would not necessarily need to deal with us as the attorneys at law at the end of the project, resolving disputes.
POS: Another factor in law firm relationships with clients is we have become historians to a lot of our clients. In-house counsel come and go. A law firm relationship with a company can span 25, 50, 100 years—you provide a lot of institutional knowledge to the new leaders in these companies, and that adds great benefit. We have two clients that have been with us for more than 100 years.
BARKER: I’ve worked in employee benefits. An example there is the last few years people have been cutting way back on employee benefits because of the cost. One of the opportunities is to sit down and say, “We were stuck in something that was very difficult to get out of. Anticipating what might happen over the next number of years, let’s see if we can’t get a more flexible employee benefit structure.”
It’s a great opportunity right now. Clients are very anxious to hear that because they’ve been burned in a big way over the last number of years because of the economic downturn.