Is it Sun-Up or Sun-Down?
The last six years has brought difficult times and provided me with some additional unique insight that helps me advise and represent my clients. When I first started practicing law, the economy was just coming out of the deep recession that had started in the ‘70’s and Ronald Reagan was then President. Congressman Jim Mackey had an office in my building which was located next to the courthouse in Decatur. He told me something that rang true over the next 31 years of my practice of law. He said, Stephen, when times are tough, lawyers get busy. He said when times are good, many clients and businesses handle problems and do not worry about serious issues. When times get tough, clients tend to think that maybe they should now go see a lawyer over that legal problem.
I have seen three cycles of economic downturn and Congressman Mackey’s words still rang true through all of these cycles. I am still surprised when I become involved in problems for clients that quite often end up in litigation that unfortunately could have been prevented with the right counseling before it ever began. I do not believe that this was a result of the clients saving money during good times and not using legal counsel. I believe it is the result of business doing well for all parties and people have a general sense of trust and understanding. It is when times go bad, this trust and understanding disappears, lines are drawn, and many times this results in litigation.
After this latest recession, it seems many have, during this cycle, circled the wagons and tightened the budget even more so than prior periods. This seems to result in a lot more reliance upon self-counsel than was occurring before 2008. Self-counsel is possibly due to the internet and what many believe is the easy way to find legal answers that are published on hundreds of thousands of websites and self-help documents.
What concerns me the most is the big companies and the big banks have learned their lessons and tightened up their legal documents. What is coming out from banks and large companies is extremely draconian more than I have seen in 31 years. This is even true with government regulatory agencies. The latter is more a part of justification of budgets and the creation of need that was not there before.
This is resulting in the entrepreneur and business person’s need for legal counsel more than before. What many do not realize is that everything is negotiable, including legal documents and structure of the company. This is not a time for belt tightening for good counsel. Now is the time for the investment of good counsel so that when any other future downturns occur, the problem does not arise in the first place. The big companies and big banks have done it and you should too. We cannot always rely on the fact that everything is going to be smooth sailing and there is a certain amount of trust out there.
Keep in mind as this year progresses, the best entrepreneurs have set up models for success not only in their product, but in the counsel they keep. This includes the accountants, lawyers, banking relationships and employees in remaining loyal to what works. It is a matter of the proper investment now to avoid the disaster in the future.
Please keep in mind that our business is primarily based upon referrals. We like to choose our clients based upon our ability to provide their suited needs as well as having a continuing relationship. If it is not a matter that we are able to handle at the time, there is a good chance we will be able to find a referral.
Stephen Fuller is the managing partner of Fuller Sloan LLC and has practiced in business litigation and consulting for 37 years and has over 25 years representation of the founder of one of the largest sit-down casual restaurants in America. For more information, email Mr. Fuller.