Fast Acting… Long Relief…

In the matter of all things legal, or potentially legal, it is best to respond quickly — do not confuse this with “react” quickly, as that can cause problems. Rather do your due diligence and respond promptly, and appropriately. If it is a legal notice, court documents, or even simple billing or finance matters. Responding to these issues immediately will go a long way towards a smooth process. When you delay, you can have automatic penalties go against you. The longer you let a legal matter go, the more difficult it is to prove your innocence, or even if you’re guilty, the worse deal you’ll be able to make. With billing issues, neglect causes accounts to start accumulating finance charges, penalties and collection costs – even if you cannot pay your bills, be in open communication early and often many of these fines can be reduced.

Documentation – Legal

Here is a quick tip — when it comes down to the matter, the person with the more documentation, paperwork, records, etc., will win. Second to that is communication – the person who communicates the most, via e-mail, letter, phone, will win. Whatever you are dealing with, from customers, clients, employees, or the government — in any legal (or potential legal) matter, the one who can substantiate their side with documentation will prevail. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, it is who can prove their case better with solid documentation.

Do you have a corporation? Then you do have all of your corporate minutes, annual shareholders and directors meetings? Written consent agreements for all director level actions?

How about employees? Are you documentation disciplinary action, raises, verbal notices? How about proper timekeeping records?

And what about your clients/vendors? You always have a written contract, documented project descriptions, project scopes, payment terms?

Keep that printer and scanner busy — wear them out with the amount of paperwork and documenting you perform.

The principle of the matter…

The biggest place you can go wrong in the legal world is to take action based on “the principle”. That reason alone is not sufficient, and will not really move you towards a successful resolution. A business partner of ours recently was “wronged” by an investment firm; there was a series of failures by several employees of the firm resulting in “potential” loss of tens-of-thousands of dollars. He wanted to take action, and he wasn’t particularly interested in a monetary resolution. He wanted to get them, effectively, “in trouble” — because of the “principle” of them matter.

The reality of the issue, if you’ve ever been on the other end of this situation, is what the person wants isn’t defined, nor is there any clear path to resolution. And until you can bring this person to a quantifiable expectation or demand, further action is almost useless. Certainly you want to provide excellent customer service and deescalate the situation. But after that, when it comes down to actually fixing the problem – you need to know what they expect to be done. Otherwise, to take action will only result in your chasing your own tail.

What most customers want is for whatever happened to never happen again. They want to be the whistle-blower and get the problem to end, to sacrificially prevent other people from being harmed. However, experience has shown two things: (1) You cannot prevent it from happening again; you can hold meetings, implement safeguards, but you cannot prevent it; (2) the actions of #1 will not make them feel better, they’ll still be unhappy — so the problem customer really hasn’t been satisfied. Which has taught me that they really aren’t just the sacrificial lamb they think they are. We all would love to be the hero, thought of sacrificing ourselves for other — but more often then not, it’s simply good sounding rhetoric.

So how to we resolve this situation. First we help walk them through discovering what would satisfy them – to react without knowing this will waist time. Help them narrow down to specific actionable items: you can provide a discount, refund money, perform services for free, have employee reviews or even employee disciplinary action. You also need to know what you cannot do: make sure this doesn’t happen again.

 

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world. ~ Oscar Wilde

The cost of litigation

When parties cannot resolve a situation outside of the courtroom, the winning party has already been declared — the attorneys. With all respect to their professions, both parties ultimately end up loosing in court. Yes, one of them will walk out of a courtroom as the prevailing party, however even they loose. Their cost of time and money, distraction and emotional input cannot be recovered.

Beyond your own personal loss, there is also the possibility of public and customer prospective. Regardless of who wins, the fact that your company is involved in a case may cause your customers to become uneasy. If you’re bringing action against a client, it will cause your other clients to be weary, likewise if your going after a former employee. Alternately, if you are the target of an action, then they may hear more about the false claims or acquisitions, well before they hear the outcome of the litigation.

The best way to resolve all situations is outside of the courtroom. If that takes place informally, or perhaps through a formal mediation service. Finally, there is always the opportunity for a last ditch effort on the day of court.

Finally, be fully aware of what you are willing to accept – and what areas are open to compromise. Be realistic about your expectations. Obviously they already know your demands, so you will not likely have all of your needs met, so decide was you’d be willing to flex on.

Building your legal team

Going hand-and-hand with spending money to save time, it is important to begin building your legal team before you find yourself in any specific need for them. That way, when a crisis or any other urgent need for a legal consult is needed, you already know who and how much it is going to cost. There is nothing worse then needing to terminate an employee ASAP, surrounding a sticky situation, and then turning to the phone book to sort through a bunch of people. By deciding to build you team in advance, you can perform you due diligence now with the luxury of time.

Employees

The adventures begin when a person moves from a sole proprietorship to a company with multiple employees. The adage of “slow-to-hire, quick-to-fire” somehow becomes muddled and reversed! Making the first few employee choices very quick, and then hanging on to them for far, far too long. Until there is a breaking point, damage is done, and relationships are broken… both between employer, employee – along with collateral damage with other employees and customer/vendors.

Recently we have been faced with having take measures to let an employee know that his behaviour was getting out of line. Instead of simply blowing the company off, they became abusive and attack the company and it’s management. Not surprising, certainly. Worse yet, we really had no idea of just how well we were taking care of our employee’s compensation and benefits until this event forced is to look into it. And while sitting in the office with our HR Attorney, we recounted the same story … “how could they do that when we treat them so well…like family?” However, they tell us that is what they hear weekly. The employer who feels that they bent over backwards for an employee who simply back stabbed the employer over something menial. And typically it comes down to money. Oh, there are other words and feeling exchanged, but frequently money is the bottom line.

Going forward, a bit slower to hire, and much faster to get rid of potential dead weight!

Customer Service

In business, it is absolutely critical to ensure that from a legal perspective, that liability is always minimized. When possible, that the liability is left squarely (to whatever extent possible) on the customer. However, while this can be accomplished very easily through corporate policy, contracts and semantics; it is imperative to not let that disrup the customer service experience. This can be more complicated that it sounds. While for our executive team which appears to have an innate sense of customer service, however illustrating and explaining this fine balannce between transferring ownership while providing excellent service. Why this appears to be difficult is that once they have a mental idea that they are not liable, they somehow leave serivce at that point as well.

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