Law Life: Take your lawyer to lunch

By Karl Oles

The Daily Record Newswire

The world of law is a complex place.

Clients are understandably concerned about cost when they call their lawyers, so they tend to call them only for limited scopes of work (for example, "please check this latest subcontract form we have received") or for emergencies.

A limited scope makes costs relatively predictable. Clients naturally worry that, if they "turn the lawyer loose" with a vague assignment, the resulting costs will not be predictable. The economic downturn has made this kind of business caution more important.

In this poor economic climate, many lawyers are learning what others have known all along: The key to success is good client service. As a result, popularity is increasing for what I call the "take a lawyer to lunch" concept. The idea is that the lawyer offers to meet with the client for lunch (or at some other convenient time) to discuss the client's affairs generally, at no cost to the client. Following are three models for how this can be done.

First, simply take your lawyer to lunch (or, better yet, let your lawyer take you to lunch). Talk generally about business and help the lawyer become more familiar with what's happening. This may lead to some immediate insights about ways to make your business more secure or more productive. It will at least inform the lawyer enough to be able provide legal help when a need arises.

Second, try the "seminar" model. A lawyer visits a client's facility and gives a presentation about a legal topic of interest to the client's employees. This can work well over lunch or at the end of the afternoon.

For example, a construction company may want its employees to learn "Ten things to look for in contract forms." An engineering company may want its employees to learn about "Limitation of liability provisions in contracts." A property developer may want its employees to discover "What is a Lien?"

Any of those companies may want their administrative staff to hear more presentations focused on legal issues affecting employment relations or filling out government forms. The lawyer may suggest multiple topics from which the client can select one. The point of the seminar is to sensitize the client's employees to legal issues so that they become better able to protect the client's interests in the future.

Third, try the "Dear Abby" model. A lawyer visits a client's facility and, either in a central boardroom setting or by walking from one work area to another, responds to questions or concerns. The client's employees should be notified of such a plan ahead of time.

For example, a subcontractor's superintendent may say, "We ran into some hazardous materials last week and our subcontract doesn't have a very clear provision about that." An engineer may say, "One of our clients has asked me to serve as an expert witness. How does that work?" A property developer employee may say, "Our contractor's trucks are tracking dirt out into the street. Is that something we should be worried about?" And an administrative employee may ask, "How long are we supposed to keep project records?"

The lawyer may be able to respond to some of the questions right away and may need to perform research to answer others later.

All three models of "take a lawyer to lunch" can lead to opportunities for creative collaboration, particularly with respect to issues that have not yet risen to the level of urgency requiring a client to call a lawyer. Remember that prevention is better (and cheaper) than a cure.

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Karl Oles is a partner in Stoel Rives' construction and design group. Contact him at kfoles@stoel.com or 206-386-7535.

Published: Thu, Jun 23, 2011

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