Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Virtues of Half-Assed Legal Work

What do felony trials and bet-the-company litigation have in common? You don't want to cut any legal corners on either one - no stone can be left unturned in maximizing one's legal position. There is too much at stake to worry about the cost of all of that legal brainpower.

But not all legal work must be gold-plated. Indeed, the business world absolutely requires that attorneys be comfortable routinely doing a less-than-complete job.

Legal work is expensive. The vast majority of business legal issues don't involve fights for freedom or corporate survival - they're about opportunity and money. The legal work thrown against any issue must be justified by the stakes in play.

Lawyers have counseled businesspeople from time immemorial that investing in legal work upfront is a wise move. Absolutely true. However, and related to my earlier post about lawyers and risk aversion, the point of diminishing returns for legal work in business is often reached very quickly.

Does it make sense to negotiate a low-dollar contract the same way you negotiate a high-dollar deal? Should you aggressively ramp your defense on potential litigation that has no reasonable chance of denting your bottom line, even if everything goes wrong? What about an exhaustive review of compliance options and processes, when the need for compliance is uncertain and the consequences for non-compliance easily manageable?

I'll repeat - legal work is expensive. And there are costs to dithering and over-lawyering in lost opportunities and inability to prioritize. Marshall your legal resources and focus them on the big risks and opportunities. As for the rest of the stuff, "good enough" will almost always be just that.

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