Unbeknownst to the general public, there’s been a long ongoing rivalry between the transactional attorney bar (your corporate, real estate, estate planning attorneys) and your litigation attorney bar. (criminal, divorce, civil, and personal injury attorneys). While this rivalry tends to be friendly at best and passive aggressive at worst, both sides of the bar all too often don’t see the value in the other side. I find that the general public sides with the litigation bar and all too often doesn’t see the value of the transactional attorney. My answer of course, is that both sides more than earn their fee (as an attorney how could I say anything else), but as the transactional attorneys appear to be targeted most often I’d like to make the case for them here. I should mention that as someone who has both a substantial transactional and litigation practice I personally have no dog in this fight, but I believe that this is particularly important.
All too often I see people use LegalZoom or another online legal document generator to get the legal language, or “legalese” , they feel is needed to complete a real estate transaction, to form a business, or draft an estate plan. It seems simple enough. With the magic legal words at your disposal, why would you need an attorney? I find this question represents a commonly held misconception as to what it is attorneys actually do. While attorneys often do have the “legalese” you need, it’s only a small part of where attorneys provide value. Rather it’s our judgment, our diligence, and our experience that provides a value to someone. What if I told you I’ve once tried a case where two business partners drafted their own company formation documents and put that it could only be dissolved by “the majority of the partners.”
Standard legal language sure, but see the problem? Each one represented 50% of the partnership and never constituted a majority and, absent agreement among both partners, they could never dissolve their partnership (and in this matter they couldn’t agree on anything). As another example, someone who tries to draft their own real estate contract and says they’ll extend the closing date “upon buyer’s request” forgetting the key second phrase “and seller’s agreement to said request” might be stuck keeping their property off the market and under contract forever for a buyer that seems unable to get the funds needed to ever close. By far the worst mistakes I see our people who try to draft their own estate plans. These are almost always destined to go to probate court when it could have been avoided. All of these examples are people that had the proper “legalese” in their documents, but in all these examples it didn’t help them and in many cases it hurt them instead.
These sloppy mistakes almost always wind up in court and for most people that means a headache and a large hit to their wallet. Many attorneys would charge relatively little for all of the services I listed above, but to litigate them after an issue occurs? The sky is the limit as to how much it could charge to clear it up, and it could take years. It’s for that reason that I feel that the best value for money spent is transactional attorneys. The upfront cost for something that could only “potentially” go wrong seems hard to swallow, but most of my litigation clients are in the position where they’d give quite a bit to go back and pay for an attorney before the problems started happening. The old saying is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I believe this applies to transactional work more closely than most other things. As I said at the jump I have a transactional and a litigation practice and I’m more than happy to answer questions should one have them. Feel free to email me at [email protected] should you have anything to discuss.