Question: "How do you talk to a lawyer?"
Answer: "Very fast, they are billing by the hour!"

I'm learning this as I negotiate and re-write my latest client contract. I'm estimating the time and cost but it looks like my legal fees will be almost 10% of the total contract value, which will not pay itself out for (potentially) many months.

Lawyers love to talk because they are billing by the hour, but when I've been the one billing them they seems to talk very fast. There was one situation where we had set aside a one hour block to talk and the lawyers called me an hour before our scheduled time and said they only had 10 minutes to talk. I tried to cram my entire 1 hour analysis into 10 minutes. Not only do they know how to talk and bill, they also know how to cut their vendor meetings short to save money.

Here are some tips on how to keep your lawyer meetings short:

  • Always, keep it simple. Lawyers like to write contracts so they are iron clad and this involves looking into every possible situation and scenario and putting some language into the contract to prevent it. The only thing this causes is for the other side to made edits and send it back. This means more billable hours for lawyers on both sides with very little accomplished for you.
  • Read your contract and ask to only speak about provisions you are unsure of. Do not allow them to read through the entire contract with you in person. You are a smart person (hopefully) and can understand the language. If you come across "choice of law" or "liability" clauses then ask them specific questions. Never go into a meeting with a lawyer without a list of questions you want to ask. Otherwise you will leave many hours later with much more information on legal theory than you ever wanted to know.
  • Determine what needs to be in a contract and what does not. Each contract you sign may be for a different kind of engagement. When writing a contract you want it to be simple. Your lawyer will tell you to put in provisions that protect you and your client's lawyer will do the same. Again, this leaves you in the middle paying money for something that may be trivial. Always ask your lawyer, "Does this need to be in the contract?" If not then remove it. Your client may be in Colorado while you are in California. Both companies may argue for choice of law venue. If the contract does not depend on this then remove it (rather than wasting money having both sides debate it.)
  • Know when to send the lawyers home or tell the client NO. If you get yourself into a situation where your legal fees will be a sizable percentage of what the contract you are engaging is worth then send the lawyer home. If by signing the agreement you expose yourself to a huge liability then tell the client no. In any instance, consult your insurance broker to make sure you will be covered for any contract you sign. The test of a good insurance broker is one that will review your contracts and tell you if your current insurance is enough or if you need a rider for the particular contract.
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