Tow-Truck: A service you call when you’ve driven off the road and land in the ditch.
See: “OMG! It all happened so fast. Epic Fail! Didn’t see that coming.”
Wingman: Someone who helps protect or guide a friend or associate.
See: “Yikes! I almost drove into the ditch; good thing my wingman was there to steer me back onto the right path.”
Too many lawyers are tow-truck drivers. Or, do our clients just think of us that way? I’ve driven my share of tow-trucks in 35+ years of practice. But my greatest value to my clients comes when I am their wingman.
Solving problems after they arise is expensive. Avoiding problems before they arrive is much more affordable. Advice that helps you see and seize opportunities that you otherwise might miss doesn’t cost – it pays!
A short story: a few weeks ago, a client called to tell me he was interested in joining the executive team of a company led by a local founder – how quickly could I review the Employment Agreement? “Pretty fast”, I said, “but before you send it over, you might want to know this guy was recently sued by his executive team in a former company; I’m not judging him, but I’ll send you the opinion and you can decide if you want to go forward.” I sent along the opinion. End of story. In this case, I knew of and remembered the lawsuit involving this particular founder – but oftentimes, before a client embarks on a key relationship with another party, I will search a service we have that reports all pending and resolved cases nationwide to see if the other party has a track record of litigation. Unearthing this knowledge ahead of time is pure “wingman law” – I never needed to don my overalls and fire up the tow-truck and my tipoff to him didn’t cost him a thing – but could have saved him years of his life.
Another example: when entrepreneurs start-up a company, the question always arises: “Should I be an LLC, a C Corporation or an S Corporation?” Statistics show that the vast majority of new companies in Michigan are formed as LLCs – and often for good reasons. But in a narrow set of cases (where the entrepreneur plans to grow the company very quickly and then sell it to a much larger company 5+ years later), the C Corporation may actually be the best result. Section 1202 of the Tax Code would allow that entrepreneur to sell his or her company virtually federal income tax free. Its one of the biggest tax bonanzas in the entire Code – but (with a few exceptions) you have to start life as a C Corporation in order to take advantage of this. Not a case of a problem solved, or a problem avoided – but rather seizing an opportunity that could have been missed.
How can you move away from putting out fires, to preventing them in the first place – or, even better, lighting a few of your own? Working with a “wingman lawyer” requires an attitude adjustment – both the client’s attitude and (in some cases) the lawyer’s attitude.
Some clients view their lawyers as someone to be called only as a last resort, because “the clock starts running awfully fast.” Clients should view their lawyer as part of their executive team – invite them to attend board meetings or key executive meetings (or, at a minimum, set up quarterly calls or visits with them). Many lawyers (yours truly included) are willing to participate in these for a reduced fee or no fee.
Lawyers view themselves as tow-truck drivers (because that’s what law school taught us – read the case law then make an argument for your side). Of coure, I keep up with trends in the law, but I also love to attend seminars and read books about entrepreneurship and strategic planning. Several years ago, I devoted a year to Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach course. Transformational. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to walk you through what Dan calls the “DOS Conversation,” a way for entrepreneurs to see the road ahead, seizing opportunities and choosing the best path to follow. I’ll bet it will be one of the most powerful couple of hours you’ve spent in recent memory.