So, I have been watching the AMC show Breaking Bad for the past couple of weeks. Watching isn’t the best way to describe it. I have never moved through a show this quickly.
Watching the show made me think about the business lessons we can learn from the show. There are many. I plan to spend some time on a number of these lessons at a later date, but today let’s talk about how legal affects your business using a very important moment in the show.
You Need to Pay Your Lawyer if You Want to Call Him Your Lawyer.
This isn’t a sales pitch. I am not saying, “pay me for the information I am giving you.” The point is, as I tell you as often as possible on this site, I am not your lawyer just because you read or listen to this free information. For me to be your lawyer, you must first become a client of my law practice. So, let’s talk about why it would matter whether you were simply getting free legal information from a lawyer or if you needed to have a lawyer.
First, the scene (I will avoid spoilers while setting up the scene, but if you want to know which episode I am talking it about, it is “Better Call Saul” from season 2):
Two characters find themselves in a rather precarious situation where they have kidnapped a lawyer and are trying to force their will on him. When the lawyer realizes who it is (for reasons not relevant for our purposes today), he realizes they need to discuss their options. Before they begin discussing their options, Saul (the lawyer) tells each of his kidnappers to place a dollar in his pocket.
Why a dollar?
The reason for this is that, it is essential that you give something of value before a consultation to call it “legal advice”. More importantly, to call the lawyer giving the advice “your lawyer”. Free consultations do not necessarily create an attorney client relationship. If you meet with a lawyer or talk with one on the phone in a free consultation, you do not have a lawyer, you are receiving a free consultation. That is why I don’t do free consultations any more.
There is nothing wrong with Free Legal Information.
It just doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship. You are reading this on a website I make available for free. I created this community to help you understand the legal that affects your business everyday. So, why does it matter if you paid for the consultation? It is necessary to create an attorney-client relationship if you want the protections the law gives to such a relationship.
Today, we will discuss two of the reasons you should pay for legal advice:
- You are not sure whether you are taking the right steps and want advice on your options.
- You do not want what you are discussing to be shared outside of the conversation.
There are several benefits to working with a lawyer to make decisions when it comes to business, but these are two of the most important benefits for startups. So, let’s talk about why these would matter.
You are not sure whether you are taking the right steps and want advice on your options.
Reliance on legal advice is often a defense available to you if you are accused of doing something wrong. In the startup world, this can range from how to treat an employee to how to interpret a contract provision. That means, if you are not sure whether what you want to do is within the confines of the law, you can ask your lawyer and his guidance can be your salvation if you ever get in trouble for the steps you take. Now, it is one thing to get a consultation and get some advice for your next action. It is another to have something written from a lawyer giving you guidance on what steps to take. That is why I offer the Firm Foundation Blueprint. It gives you something tangible to take with you as you make your decisions. Your testimony that you had the advice of a lawyer may help you out if you get in trouble, but the written evidence of the lawyer’s advice may be even more helpful if you ever need to prove you did, in fact, act on the advice of a lawyer. That brings us to the attorney-client privilege.
Your lawyer cannot be compelled to testify about anything you have shared.
To begin, there is a difference between confidentiality in the attorney-client relationship and the attorney-client privilege.
Everything you share with a lawyer is confidential. Lawyers cannot discuss conversations they had with clients. They must keep it confidential. This is true even in free consultations. It is confidential.
Privilege is more than that.
Privilege means a lawyer cannot even be compelled to testify. Privilege means that a judge, a District Attorney, another attorney, or anyone else cannot make your lawyer share information you shared with him.
Not everything you share with a lawyer will be akin to the fact you are cooking meth or offing your competition, but the attorney-client privilege allows you to freely discuss business plans with your lawyer and your partners (if your lawyer is in the room) without fear of having to share the details of that conversation. This is helpful when you are making decisions about limiting your liability exposure from a potential lawsuit or you are making decisions about how to proceed in a situation that could become a lawsuit at some point.
The attorney-client privilege is not just about discussing illegal plans. It is sometimes about discussing issues important to your business that you would rather not be made public knowledge. This might range from how to perform under a contract to determining to break a contract when it makes more economic sense to terminate the contract than to continue it. The attorney-client privilege gives you the freedom to discuss your business plans and keep your plans out of the lawsuit as long as you made sure all of your communications were with your lawyer.
So, whether you need to discuss how to grow your meth empire, discuss how you should treat a troublesome investor, or determine the economic viability of a contract that does not seem to have an out, you need to put a dollar in the pocket of your lawyer.