Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections of “Man’s Best Friend” in Protecting Client Interests

Most avid dog owners will admit their canine companions are creatures of habit, comfortable in their routines, yet still guided by instincts of which we as humans are basically clueless. The moment you “think” you have figured out all this instinctive behavior can often have surprising consequences. Fortunately for me and my dog Eddi, a German short-haired pointer, we haven’t become candidates quite yet for America’s Funniest Home Video, but there’s still time.

Early one morning recently, I let Eddi out in the backyard to do her normal “business,” something that generally takes about 2 or 3 minutes. When she didn’t return on time as usual, I became a little anxious. As it turns out, she was gathering an opossum — undoubtedly a valued gift for her master. I must note that I have received this same gift several times over already. Her strong instincts to hunt and track game don’t end with unsuspecting opossums, however.

This past summer, Eddi resorted to chasing small black bears. After numerous encounters with chasing these wild animals up trees and through the lowland forests, I knew I had to address her uncontrollable behavior, mostly for her own protection. So, I invested in a shock collar to help reinforce my stop commands, which she had obeyed previously, in addition to developing some new commands to help guard against her sometimes out-of control behavior.

By now, you’re probably wondering where I am headed with this personal tale. It’s simple. Out of love and fondness for our four-legged companions, we often assign them human traits, mostly the ability to think and reason, but what about man? Do we not sometimes exhibit that same lack of control of our behavior that we witness in our pets? We don’t have full reign over our lives entirely; we depend on others, much like our pets depend on us. Attorney-client relationships should be built on the premise of trust and dependence to consult with each other and openly discuss issues before chasing that proverbial bear up a tree.

My clients that have the most control over their businesses and the fewest legal conflicts are the ones that come to me early on to discuss potential problems before they escalate into legal dilemmas. In promulgating contractual relationships, we can modify documentation where necessary to protect clients’ interests, making sure they fully understand all pertinent issues beforehand. Those who instinctively feel they can handle their own legal matters or sign contracts without first consulting an attorney are the ones who usually end up in litigious situations because they don’t understand the ramifications of their decision.

Of course, I must confess that perhaps some of my clients occasionally gaze upon me unknowingly like my dog Eddi, asking herself, “What is he doing?” After the recent encounters with bears, she took on a new challenge a couple of times — herding elk. She gets behind the herd and chases them towards me, which is probably instinctual, encircling game and bringing it back to the hunter, waiting for the hunter to kill it. Well, I am no hunter, so she probably thinks I am the most inept owner in the world because she’s doing all the work and I’m not finishing the task. As Eddi’s master, though, it is my responsibility to protect her and safeguard her behavior as much as possible, particularly with new experiences, such as chasing elk. I have that same obligation to my clients.

Just as I have to constantly retrain Eddi to keep her clear of harmful encounters with other animals, I try to continually steer my clients in the right direction. In fact, it is often my role to discuss clients’ new business proposals. We review contract language; we talk about potential risks and rewards; we examine ways to avoid risk; and we look at how to increase the opportunities for more business and further benefits. I believe that all successful businesses, like pets and our selves, should require the same consideration of their well-being.