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  • KarenOverend

Why I'm giving away legal advice for free

It sounds very strange, doesn’t it?

After all, aren’t lawyers known for charging like wounded bulls, from every minute of time they spend thinking about your issue, right down to the paper they write notes on? What sort of a lawyer gives away advice for free?

Well, I’ve been a lawyer a long time, and a traditional one too. I got selected straight out of law school to one of the best, most prestigious firms in New Zealand. I worked my way up, doing 100+ hour weeks, learning to charge for every minute of those 100+ hours. I worked for those who could afford it – banks, receivers, listed companies.

But something didn’t quite fit…

So I left the chargeable hour and moved in-house, being on-call for those 100+ hour weeks instead to just one key client – the group of companies I was working for. These companies changed over the next 10 years – and the countries I worked in did too -- but they all had in common that they were billion dollar companies who were able to afford having me at their beck and call to answer their legal questions at any time.

But still something didn’t quite fit…

I worked out that it wasn’t enough just doing these deals for these billion dollar companies – I actually wanted to help.

I returned to New Zealand, and went into a smaller firm looking after smaller businesses. But I was still locked into the traditional law firm way of thinking – creating a profitable law firm by billing as much as possible.

I still had this nagging feeling that there was a better way to use the skills I had.

I set up my own firm with the flexibility to now do things the way I wanted, to give people easy to understand fixed prices, to create incentives to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible. And this worked so much better, but for me, it was also worse…

The trouble was that I could now closely see all the people I couldn’t help – and why the legal system is broken.

When I was in-house, I discovered how even when a business engaged a lawyer, they needed someone there constantly to help them put in place the lawyer’s advice. People in the business came to me all the time to understand what was being told to them by the external lawyers.

You’ve probably felt that lawyers speak a different language – well, it’s true!

Businesses that can afford it can keep lawyers on a retainer – so that they have someone who understands their business intimately who can take this legal advice, and can make it fit their particular business. That’s what’s needed.

It’s not enough to just give someone a set of terms of trade, or other legal document – they have to know what to do with it, and how to implement it – every time they use it.

But for 98% of businesses out there, that’s completely unaffordable. You can’t afford $400 plus an hour for your lawyer to tell you what you need to do for every single project you have. So what do you do?

You’ve got a couple of options:

1. If you can afford it, you go to a cheaper lawyer, perhaps a general business lawyer. The trouble with this is that if they aren’t a specialist in your industry, they’re probably not going to know all the answers, nor what type of issues come up that you haven’t even thought of.

2. The other option – and the one you are probably taking at the moment – is that you don’t go to a lawyer at all. You go to Google, or Facebook, and you try to figure out from other people the answer for yourself.

The trouble with the second option, as any lawyer would tell you, is that you don’t really know how closely the other person’s situation fits yours. I’ve had people in Facebook groups tell me they’ve got conflicting answers from lawyers – and I can easily figure out that it depends on the questions they are asking.

You also don’t know whether laws have changed since that person last had their issue.

I want to teach you the answers.

You don’t need 4+ years at law school and 20+ years in the legal industry. You don’t need to know everything.

I often talk about the 90% rule – 90% of the legal issues you will come across can be covered by a few essentials. If you know these essentials, you can make them fit your business, and you will be protected at least 90% of the time.

You won’t be 100% covered, but it’s much, much better than being 100% exposed!

(And for the last 10% of weird and wonderful questions? Feel free to get in touch with us, or your normal lawyer. We’d rather work on the tricky stuff anyway.)

So come on board.

I’m setting up a specific Facebook group for you to get ‘clued up’ on the essentials of construction contracts and construction law:

The idea is to improve the whole industry by sharing advice and learnings, for people in the industry to ask questions and for everyone to help each other improve their construction businesses. These might not be just legal stuff – it could be something extraordinarily useful like sharing how to approach a pre-let meeting. And for those just starting out -- no question is a stupid question.

I’ll be giving away all sorts of legal tips and tricks in that group – and I hope you’ll share as well – I look forward to seeing you there.

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