Beat Lawyers At Their Own Game

                     Deaver Brown, Author

Brown co-founded the Umbroller stroller compan...
About the Survival Kit Series
    Our Survival Kits are designed to be quick, concise, and much
    easier to read than mo...
How We Got to Where We Are

                                                   These two rules have led to an...
dren’s information, and so on and so on.
You cannot opt out since anyone can sue you
“ You Have To Know The Law Well
To Make It Work For You.”

the legal system and the lawyers within it.        This Guide or Survival Kit is intended to guide
Written Agreements
Their Purpose

                                                   such as a loan to a family member, ...
es and overreach on behalf of their clients.
and companies on one side of the issue or the
reassuring feeling if you are “relying” on a pre-
                                                    dictable outcome.
often the case in disputes. Payment terms are
learned. In a football analogy, the quarterback
Warning sign: You pressed hard on certain             W hat The Agreement Should Say For Your
points and got their commitm...
not as “cute” or “subtle” as they think and
cost. Conflict is more easily enflamed than
tion agency, they are usually empowered to
teenagers on the loose, contracts, agreements,
cussing with them what you “can” do, remind
Collection Letter—Asset With a Lien Such As
you can usually get a broad release—for even
a lawyer you have to pay more than the value of
of course, as one can tell by a casual reading of   on this approach the most. Why? Because
newspapers. Just two examples:...
Agreements between
Friends or Relatives

                                                     have the ability to decide w...
selves so they “own” the agreement and its
meaning. And, of course, one of us might not
ified conditions take place such as no clear
parties, such as heirs, trustees, or administra-
Business Agreements

                                                    L ending institutions are always cramming
envelopes to give you the appearance of corpo-
The simpler the contract, the less likely a
Personal Litigation

                                                    as possible after the rupture. At a minimum,
what they are thinking about, and indirectly
           You Don’t Say                            about how you are doing w...
this is to do it every time you get a new license
or on every 5th reunion of a high school or col-
lege class. A m...
children under 18, there is rarely a problem.
Advice to the Former                                Courts are tough on maki...
Three Steps To Take
To protect yourself

                                                 activities do you or your spouse...
effort will produce most of the results. After
                                                      that you will have to...
Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng
Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng
Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng
Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng
Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng
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Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng Creativecommons Podcasting Legal Guide Eng

  1. 1. Beat Lawyers At Their Own Game Deaver Brown, Author Brown co-founded the Umbroller stroller company, American Power (APCC), and Simply Media. He published The Entrepreneurs Guide with Macmillan in hardcover and Ballantine in mass market paperback. He published a business series of CD-ROM’s with Macmillan and another series with Simply Media. Brown graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Business School. He has published numerous articles in trade journals and business magazines. Copyright 2001 Simply Media, Inc. Lincoln, MA 01773-0481
  2. 2. About the Survival Kit Series Our Survival Kits are designed to be quick, concise, and much easier to read than most reference books. As in true wilderness survival kits, the key to success is limiting your materials to the least amount of weight necessary. This provides users with fast, light, yet complete packs, and ensures easy travel without excess baggage. At Simply Media our hardest task is eliminating materials that are not absolutely necessary for traversing the subject’s territory. We take the time to make each of our Survival Kits as short and concise as possible so you can learn the most important facts with a fast cover-to-cover read. About the Legal Survival Kit The Legal Survival Kit pares down the huge amount of legal information available, and provides you with the essentials for your legal protection and planning. In the spirit of “less is more,” the contents are concise and divid- ed into small individual categories for faster reading and better comprehension. 2 Legal Survival Kit
  3. 3. Background How We Got to Where We Are These two rules have led to an explosion in American litigation. Well-financed lawyers can fund clients to prosecute. If the funded client loses, there is no financial consequence for the plaintiff in all but the rarest of cases. Is it any wonder, then, with these rules, that we have so much litigation in the US and other industrial countries so little? Other countries have these guys under control. These are the facts of life in the American legal world. The American Trial Lawyers Association is alive, well, and vigorously pro- tects its privileges. It is the largest political PAC, with all the implications of that powerful position, protecting the interests of litigators and defenders. Remember that for every liti- American lawyers used to belong to an elite gator there must be at least one legal defend- club that “did the right thing,” or so we er, usually another lawyer. thought. There have always been bad lawyers, Your Role in the Legal World: ambulance chasers, and the like. Even Winner or Loser Shakespeare said, “First, kill all the lawyers.” Of the major industrial countries, only the In the current legal environment, you will United States permits: either be the winner or loser in your legal affairs. As with most of us, you will sometimes (1) Contingency law suits. That is, the win and other times lose. The objective of this plaintiffs do not have to bear any costs other CD -ROM is to keep you out of litigation and than a potential percentage award to the help improve the odds you will win if you lawyer. become engaged in what has become a wide- (2) The loser does not have to pay the legal spread American activity. costs of the winner. 3 Legal Survival Kit
  4. 4. dren’s information, and so on and so on. You cannot opt out since anyone can sue you 2. Set up a word document file where you save for anything, and these days, they often do. At this information plus each form you create for work or at play, at home or on the road, you are later reference. If you wish to also keep this always vulnerable to legal attack. Our efforts record elsewhere, do so too (duplication will are devoted to provide you the best advice and only help you). You should also keep a hard tools to avoid litigation and prevail if it should copy file of signed documents and your key occur. fact documents. Insurance: Umbrella Liability Coverage to protect you from 3. If you do not have a fire proof safe, get one the lawyers on the prowl and put these documents into them. The office supply stores (e.g., Staples, Office Max, and Office Depot, and their on line affiliates) You should consider adding an umbrella liabili- have them and will usually deliver at no ty policy to your homeowner’s policy immedi- charge, so you don’t break your back carrying ately to protect you from unforeseen lawsuits. your safe home. They cost about $150 each. An annual additional liability policy of up to $1 You can get them cemented into your base- million often costs no more than $100 per year. ment or into your floor for extra protection. This not only protects you from additional Do this too, if you can. losses should they occur, it also usually pro- vides for the insurance company to cover and 4. Review these forms and consider doing well manage all legal costs and activities—so you care for yourself legally in advance of any can get on with your life in relative peace and prospective problems. This means doing quiet. Do it! proactive things you may not need immediate- This Guide With Step-by-Step ly (important but not urgent, a category we all Advice Per Form tend to ignore at our peril), such as wills, pow- ers of attorney, trusts, medical instructions, and the like. If you don’t do them immediate- We have provided you with this Guide in addi- ly, write out a schedule in which you will do tion to step-by-step advice for each legal form. them—and then do them. After each document, we have provided specif- ic advice for that form or letter in a “review 5. Encourage other members of your immedi- list”. This way, that advice is specific to the ate and extended family to do the same kinds form and not over generalized here. of things. You will give them a great gift by Notwithstanding that, the following is general- doing so. ly useful when filling out the forms and letters. Action items: 1. Prepare and keep a separate document with the key facts pertaining to each individual 1. Get additional umbrella liability and/or corporation and/or other entity you insurance policy coverage. enter into these documents. For individuals, 2. Get a home safe. this should include their legal name, address, social security number, passport number, other pertinent numbers (such as Medicare or Health Plan number), date of birth, date of marriage, date of divorce if applicable, chil- 4 Legal Survival Kit
  5. 5. Introduction “ You Have To Know The Law Well To Make It Work For You.” boldly than nonlawyers because they have been trained in the law, have experience and feedback from their prior activities, and there- fore have a better sense of how to use these tools (i.e. the forms) to expedite and formu- late agreements for themselves and their clients. If you are not a lawyer, you should restrict yourself to the simpler forms or fill out a form you need and then request a lawyer to review it on your behalf. Your very act of selecting and completing certain documentation in advance Clarence Darrow, the great trial lawyer, said of turning the matter over to an attorney will this long ago. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes save them time and therefore save you money. admonished a participant in a particularly ugly case, “Do not make the mistake of confusing justice with the law.” Finally, one can com- plete that thought with Winston Churchill’s repeated comment, said in various contexts, Audio One: Introduction that democracy, and the rule of law, although messy, is the fairest system people have yet invented. Our primary objective in this Guide, with illus- Tip: If you ever feel “concerned,” trative audios, is to provide you with a broad “worried,” or “uncertain” about any- background of the legal system and suggest thing discussed or presented in a legal the appropriate tools to use when dealing with form, that is your tip-off to contact a the legal system in general and lawyers in par- lawyer for clarification and implementation. ticular. Our 600-form section is used by many Self-help forms should never be used unless practicing lawyers who, like you, can benefit you are entirely confident of your actions. We from prepackaged forms that can be edited do not offer legal advice. We offer personal and upon demand. Lawyers can do this more business advice about how to interface with 5 Legal Survival Kit
  6. 6. the legal system and the lawyers within it. This Guide or Survival Kit is intended to guide you through the legal thicket. The primary Our business advice to you is to select the form purpose is to inform you of your options, sug- suitable to your needs. Then fill in the blanks, gest pitfalls to avoid and opportunities to seek, as you believe appropriate; and then have a as well as make you better informed when dis- lawyer review it. This approach will save you cussing these matters with an attorney when time, money, and permit the lawyer to focus on you believe it necessary. the legal issues, not the paperwork. If your lawyer advises against the form, take his or her advice. Simply Media’s role is similar to Stanley or Black & Decker in the tool business. We all make great tools, but we can only provide you with a limited amount of teaching instruction, and that is limited to business and personal advice. As in a construction project, the tools are usually better used by a professional, in this case a lawyer, especially if a complicated project is at hand. Our purpose in this disc is not to give you “legal” advice. The legal trade union, led by the Trial Lawyers Association, has prohibited us from doing so in any event. If you think the Teamsters are tough at guarding their turf, you have seen nothing like the Trial Lawyers Association. They are the largest political action group (PAC) and reportedly can intimidate even the President of the United States. So, they have Did You Know? effectively intimidated us, and we only give business and personal advice in this CD-ROM. Japan, unlike the US, graduates Not withstanding this restriction, we believe more engineers each year than the most important part of the law relates to lawyers. how individuals and corporations use the tools of the legal trade. The law is a means to an end. It is not the end in itself, except for the lawyers themselves who practice the trade. 6 Legal Survival Kit
  7. 7. Written Agreements Their Purpose such as a loan to a family member, or property, such as the use of a piece of equipment. In fact, in personal situations, just the request for a written agreement often dissuades other people from “borrowing” your money or prop- erty. Once they realize the activity will be doc- umented, they realize they have undertaken obligations of repayment or return of property that they never really intended to execute. Written agreements are especially important among friends, family, or close associates because one of the best ways to lose a friend or other close associate is to loan him or her The most significant thing about a written money or property. A written agreement at agreement is that it clarifies what “you get” least allows you, them, and the world to see and what “they get”. The most practical ben- what the actual agreement was. In summary, efit of a written agreement is that, unlike an then, written agreements are just as useful in oral contract, memory cannot alter the facts. personal as in professional or outside circum- On the simplest of levels, an agreement stances. reminds us of what we agreed to in order to get what we wanted. It also, of course, should serve to remind the other party of what they agreed to in order to receive what they want- ed. This may sound overly simplistic; but, in Audio Two: The Purpose of fact, most of us have wavering memories that Written Agreement favor our point of view; with the lapse of time it is much easier to forget our obligations to others. Written agreements identify these issues and can help resolve these problems. Your Responsibilities To Others: What You Owe Them Furthermore, written agreements are often especially useful in personal situations because The leading cause of legal conflict is people they clarify the terms of an exchange of money, 7 Legal Survival Kit
  8. 8. es and overreach on behalf of their clients. and companies on one side of the issue or the This stems from both their training to be vig- other not recognizing their responsibilities orous advocates and their compensation meth- under their agreement or agreements to the ods which relate to billable hours, the more the other party or parties. In simple terms, they merrier for them but not for you. Therefore, did not understand or did not properly review you are advised to seek out the other party what they had to pay or do to satisfy the other independently and try to negotiate a revised party. Often, once the bickering begins, both approach to your dealings first. If a lawsuit parties begin to point fingers at the other party breaks out, there will be time enough for the and overlook their own responsibilities. lawyers to try to settle the matter at a later date. Even after litigation has commenced, This difficulty usually arises because one or the best hopes for a negotiated settlement both parties ignore the reason the other party remain with the parties who have the most to signed the agreement in the first place. This gain from prompt resolution prior to extended reason is of “little” interest to the other party litigation and trial. because this is not why “they” signed the agreement. However, if you wish to avoid When conflict arises over an agreement, it is legal problems, it is always imperative you important to try to openly discuss this point as understand the motivation of the other party if it is a common problem without assigning so you can prevent legal conflict from arising. blame to the other party. Many times a frank, non-judgmental conversation can put the agreement back on track. Bite your tongue and stay calm. Try this approach if you can Audio Three: What You bring yourself to do so emotionally. Owe Them Above all, try to keep in mind that it is usually in both party’s interests to resolve a conflict early. Even when litigation is undertaken, the vast majority of cases are settled prior to trial. Recommended approach: When conflict Why? Because the litigation process usually- develops, identify what the other party wants. consumes more time, emotions, and money This often changes due to circumstances relat- than the case is worth. Therefore, you are well ed to the parties or the environment as a advised to seek out advice about how to whole. For example, in a poor economy, people resolve these issues, such as we offer in our and institutions get more desperate to get Negotiations Handbook and Conflict Resolution what they want; this often serves to inflame discs. problems. Then determine if you can provide what they want in full or in part. At a mini- mum, discuss with the other party their inter- ests in the contract. As you do this, they will usually become more amenable to discussing the issues you have with regard to the agree- ment. If you approach this matter patiently, you should be able to alter the odds in favor of a negotiated compromise satisfactory to you. Lawyers tend to stir the pot when conflict aris- 8 Legal Survival Kit
  9. 9. reassuring feeling if you are “relying” on a pre- dictable outcome. You Don’t Say On rare occasions, such as note collections, the results are indeed generally certain and you The essence of freedom “ ” can proceed with relative certainty that you is the legal right to be will get judgment. However, judgment is not left alone collection. If you are pursuing collection against an insolvent, or financially shaky, Justice William O. Douglas defendant, you are usually better off with a 1961 negotiated settlement they are comfortable with to assure eventual collection. So once again, what seems certain in the law may not be enforceable in reality (i.e., they can’t or won’t pay and bankruptcy or other approaches Justifications For Why You Will will prevent you from collection). Win The Dispute Tip:: Court is a poor place to win back Very rarely does anyone “win” a legal dispute. points you could not obtain in initial Both sides must hire and pay lawyers, who are contract negotiations. Interestingly, the ones who win because they get paid. Most Court often works very well for a defen- suits are settled for a walk a way (no one gets dant trying to get out of a “gotcha” clause. anything) or considerably less than they would “Intent” or what the parties “meant” is very have gotten if they had settled early in the dis- important as a mitigating factor. Tricks and pute. In some plaintiff cases, against insurance gotchas don’t help the plaintiff or stronger companies for example, some legal positioning party in these matters as much as you might can be useful to establish the value of the case. think; sometimes they do, of course. Better to Aside from this kind of suit, most legal suits use a “gotcha” clause as leverage to settle such as in divorce, collection, or other contract other issues. matters, the parties would have been prudent to seek negotiating assistance instead of legal “ They Have The Money And More At Stake; counsel. So They Must Settle On My Terms.” “My Lawyer-Friend-Associate Told Me We Those with the money are more apt to stand Would Win” and fight than ever before. The days of insur- ance companies rolling over, for example, are People often “take away” this thought from long gone. The increase in litigation has discussions with various people. The more reduced organizations and individuals’ fear of likely truth is that you were advised that you the process. In fact, the new conventional wis- “could,” not “will,” win. Once the people in dom is if you don’t stand and fight, more peo- black robes (judges) get a hold of a case, you ple will attack you because of your own per- are in the legal gristmill and most results are ceived weakness. uncertain. If you want proof of that uncertain- ty, remember how often cases are overturned Plaintiff lawyers went to the well once too on appeal. This means that another set of often: individuals and companies have judges disagreed with the first group. Not a 9 Legal Survival Kit
  10. 10. often the case in disputes. Payment terms are learned. In a football analogy, the quarterback examples of such clauses. You may have called this play once too often and now the agreed to pay them in 60 days, but wanted to defense is all over it! pay in 90 days. What’s the big deal, you may have thought, if you pay just thirty days late? Tip: Since you know settlements values Well, in fact, their entire banking relationship are down, consider taking less. Splitting may be in jeopardy if you do not pay within 60 the difference is usually the best days. Or, they may have been only able to set approach since neither side loses face. up their payment plans to their own vendors This is not legal advice; this is a quick practi- strictly based on their securing your firm writ- cal approach. ten commitment to pay in 60 days, promptly. Common Complaints In Note: This also may be part of the “gotcha” Disputes That Relate To The Problem Of Responsibility school of negotiating. One side tries to bludg- eon the other into agreement on points they really do not want to accept or cannot live up This section is about how you got into trouble. to. You are much better off openly discussing Understanding how you got there should help these issues early and ensuring that the other you get out this time and hopefully not fall party can live up to this part of the contract. It into the same trap next time. This section is one thing to get commitment on something describes the personal and business reasons they do not want to do, but can do. It is quite why you got to where you are in a dispute. It another to secure agreement on something is not about what the legal ramifications of they really cannot do. If this is understood your case or potential case are. Lawyers are early, you can often work around it. If you can- paid, and paid well, to unscramble these mess- not work around it, you may be better off not es. Our purpose here is to advise and forewarn making the agreement since it cannot be lived you in advance of ways to avoid these conflicts, up to later. and their ultimate resolution through negotia- tion or the use of lawyers. “But They Agreed To Do It!” “ That Wasn’t Why I Signed The Agreement.” They may have agreed to do it. But, if you forced them into a corner, and they felt they When a dispute arises, many people say, “That had no other option, they may have signed the wasn’t why I signed the Agreement.” They deal and hoped to renegotiate out of this point continue by saying, “That point isn’t impor- later. tant” or some other such comment. This may well be true for them. But the point that you consider obscure or unimportant may be the very reason they did sign the agreement in the first place. Without your having given in on that point in the initial negotiations, they may well not have signed the contract in question at all. In other words, what may seem trivial to you may have been critical to them. In fact, this is 10 Legal Survival Kit
  11. 11. Warning sign: You pressed hard on certain W hat The Agreement Should Say For Your points and got their commitment. They told Benefit you “we are going to have a hard time with that” but you pressed forward anyway, disre- In adjudicating (deciding) a case, the Court garding the flashing yellow lights. first looks at exactly what the agreement states. The Court tries to interpret the agree- It is a lot harder to get out of an agreement ment “strictly”, or according to what it actual- than into one. Do not rely on a legal document ly says. Ambiguity is what the potential to trap or compel the other party to live up to “loser ” tends to emphasize. The potential terms they have warned you are burdensome. winner focuses on the actual words, written You may eventually prevail in court. But you terms, and conduct, and thereby seeks “strict undoubtedly will have a lot of costs and heart- construction” of the language. burn along the way to this resolution, even if you achieve it. And, in the end, you may not Short, to-the-point contracts help here. Well collect on your judgment, even if you get it, known “boiler plate” or standard language due to defendant insolvency, being overruled helps your case because the Court “knows” on appeal, or for a host of other reasons. what it means. The longer the contract, the better the chance to find a loophole. So, why In fact, this uncovers a major weakness most do lawyers write long contracts? Because they lawyers have. They focus almost exclusively are paid by the hour and keep thinking they on a court victory, or a “judgment,” without will “help” their client by piling on more lan- giving proper weight to the probability of col- guage. Usually longer contracts tend to lection of an award, if granted. As a civilian, or obscure the core agreement and, worse yet, nonlawyer, you should use your business skills often introduce contradictory language that to determine whether the defendant can in defendant lawyers love to jump on and use fact pay; has a habit or ability of wiggling out of against the plaintiff. judgments; and the like. In sum, a lot more judgments are granted than collections made. As a defendant, pray for long contracts and as a Before becoming a plaintiff, be sure you have a plaintiff, fear them! solvent defendant with a habit of paying when they lose. Reconsider Your Position Common Approaches in Rarely does anything work as well to calm ten- Disputes: Negotiations to sions and set the tone for a solution than an Hardball tactics apology and offer to the other side to reconsid- er your position. Your next step is to suggest a time out, just as schools do, while the parties rethink their positions and try to understand the other side’s position. Audio Four: Common Approaches Start with reconsidering your objectives. If That Can Help you want to keep doing business together, and/or keep the relationship in tact, then hard- ball legal tactics rarely work well. In addition, consider whether the legal effort is worth the 11 Legal Survival Kit
  12. 12. not as “cute” or “subtle” as they think and cost. Conflict is more easily enflamed than often telegraph their intentions early on. If extinguished. Effort to extinguish conflict the other side starts out reasonably, you can early can produce surprisingly good results for often resolve the matter easily. If they start both parties. out tough, of the “hard ball” school of negotia- tions, you know that you have to prepare for If You Think Litigation is Inevitable, Get litigation. Advice Promptly Interesting point: Very few negotiations fall into the middle ground of balanced discussions It is under this circumstance that lawyers are and approaches. So, your challenge is to figure the most useful. Your first step should be to out whether you are dealing with reasonable or consult your lawyer vigorously about options. hardball people. Then you can proceed Often the best solution is to file suit, or answer accordingly. their complaint, and then, with both sides’ stakes in the ground, quickly move for a nego- Just because you are right or wrong up to this tiation session to see if a resolution can be point, does not mean the trend will continue. reached. Why? Because you have both proven You can make up a lot of lost ground by acting how tough you are. Now you can see what can properly with regard to the agreement in dis- be done. Early compromise to avoid litigation pute and noting how your opponent is not. is often seen as “weakness.” So, seeking a ses- The worse your case, the more important it is sion after complaints, answers, and counter- to mitigate your damages to minimize the ulti- claims have been filed, takes you out of this mate negative result. It is no different than in arena of perceived weakness. sports situations. When your opponent gets ahead, they tend to get confident, forgetful, If Inevitable, Invest In Your Initial Answer And and lazy. In fact, the potential loser can use Counterclaims this human tendency to sit on the lead and be sloppy to reduce their ultimate damages and even pull out a victory in the end—just like a Now is the time to plan your defense and come behind win in sports! counter-attack. Contrary to what many lawyers think, they are Defensive Actions This section deals with such actions as inter- You Don’t Say preting agreements and defending your inter- ests with the most appropriate methods. This part also suggests ways for you to minimize and The shortest distance ” “ avoid expense, conflict, dissension, and trou- between two points is ble. rarely a straight line in the law. Much Trouble Can Be Avoided Difficult neighbors, relatives, employees, boss- Deaver Brown, Author es, subordinates, town boards, hazardous con- ditions, barking dogs, dangerous equipment, 12 Legal Survival Kit
  13. 13. tion agency, they are usually empowered to teenagers on the loose, contracts, agreements, settle claims for at least 33% off the face value. inheritances, or other relationships are every- Keep this in mind if you can settle the matter where in most of our lives. The best single with cash. If not, keep reading. piece of advice is given under the section in the text entitled your inalienable right to back up and away from problems. In many situations, you cannot simply run out Audio Five: So You Got a the door or leave town. But you can reduce or Legal Letter mitigate your damages or problems by decou- pling, stepping back, or simply getting out of the way. The most difficult issues relate to events that cannot seemingly be changed: If the letter is from a lawyer, it is usually from boundary lines, divorce settlements, work rela- a collection lawyer who is also usually empow- tionships, teenagers, or agreements. Over ered to settle a claim for something less than time, though, you can substantially adjust your face value. Good lawyers do not generally activities and, essentially, duck. involve themselves in collection matters you would be involved in other than large corpo- Small appeasements can go a long way. Turn rate matters. So, you usually are not dealing down the radio or chain your dog for the neigh- with the A team here. bor. Praise the difficult relative to others so it gets back to them. Maneuver around to get a If the letter is about anything but straightfor- new boss or subordinate. Ease out the difficult ward collections, and is not a simple request employee. Resign from a troublesome town or for information, or forbearance, such as keep- nonprofit board or appease them. Give the big ing your dog chained up or quiet, complying dog away or don’t get a new one. Make con- with a zoning law, or other straightforward tingency plans for poor, weak, or onerous matters that you can promptly comply with if agreements, contracts, or settlements. Work you so chose, then you need to consult a lawyer on these issues continuously and you will be promptly for advice as to how to proceed. surprised at how they ease away or at least the decibel level is reduced. The Tough Guy Letter. Visualize a simple image: It is a lot easier to This kind of letter details how bad it is going dam up the Mississippi at the headwaters in to be for you if you do not do everything they Minnesota than when it is a mile wide in want you to immediately. This is a standard Missouri. Head off trouble early and you will off-tackle play these days. It is well known. benefit handsomely at a much lower cost. Even most lawyers don’t expect it to work very W hen Trouble Calls In The Form Of A Legal well since it has become so common and famil- Letter iar. So this circumstance gives you one key advantage: the other side knows they are “lying” by saying it is worse than they will set- Recognize and internalize immediately that tle for. Therefore, you have the moral high you have already “lost” something because you ground and can use it to settle for less. are involved and were not able to head off the problem earlier. If the letter is from a collec- 13 Legal Survival Kit
  14. 14. cussing with them what you “can” do, remind Collection Letter—Asset With a Lien Such As them of this problem of potential broken a Mortgage or Car Financing promises—and you do not want to go down that road nor do they want you to do so. That If it is about an asset they have a lien on such may help. If not, go back to the lawyer option as your car or house, they have all the leverage again. and all the advantages. If you truly cannot pay, work out the best payment plan you can and Collection Letter—Unsecured Debt contact them to see if it will be acceptable to them. If so, live up to it and try to regain your You have most of the advantages in this cir- financial footing. If it is not acceptable to cumstance. They have no lien or asset to them, explain that you must now see a lawyer repossess. They must first use the court about how to deal with the problem. Ask them process to get a judgment that they can later again, if they won’t reconsider their position. convert into a lien. Then they can apply the If so, wonderful; if not, get a lawyer. lien to something you own. This is a long expensive process that no collection agent or Remember that if you can pay, consider care- lawyer wants to undertake. This is especially fully exactly what you can pay and when you true since most of them are on contingency, can do it. Virtually all of us “know” when we which means they only get paid a percentage are late on a mortgage or car payment. You of what they collect. These circumstances “know” the problem. Only you can determine provide you with substantial leverage to rene- whether you can get current, or up to date gotiate your debt. If you haggle a bit, you can again, or not. If you can, or have a good chance often reduce the face value of your debt, with- of it, OK; deal. If not, see the lawyer. If in out accrued interest or fees, to 50% or less. doubt, see a lawyer. At this stage, you do not want to commit to an unrealistic payment Collection agencies generally get 25% to 50% plan. If you do, and you break the plan, it will of what they collect. So the firm that “owns” count against you with the collection agency or your debt has already given up to some extent. lawyer and they will only attack more vigorous- As a result, they are usually vulnerable to giv- ly on their next contact with you. When dis- ing up more, especially if convinced to do so by the collection agent or attorney who, in this circumstance, is your ally because they benefit from a quick settlement—which gets them a quick commission. You Don’t Say Tip: If you are having trouble with an unsecured debt such as a local contrac- You can discover what “ ” tor or a credit card bill, and believe a col- your enemy fears most lection agent is in your future, consider a set- tlement for a partial payment with no bad by observing the means impact on your credit history with the compa- he uses to frighten you. ny in question. 50% to 75% will generally do it. Sometimes you can even set up a payment Eric Hoffer, Philosopher and plan. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this Longshoreman yourself, see a lawyer. But, generally, if you see 14 Legal Survival Kit
  15. 15. you can usually get a broad release—for even a lawyer you have to pay more than the value of broader than the single claim—especially if the bill. Pay the bill if you feel nervous. you bring the check. The presence of a check Otherwise, negotiate or see a lawyer. will usually encourage the other side to take a Collection Call lesser amount. Use this advice prudently and you should be able to save yourself some money in Small Claims court. They will usual- Same situation as described in the collection ly let you try to work out the matter with an letter sections above. arbiter first, with you using the advice above. W hen You Are Sued If that does not work out, you will be forced to present your case to the judge sitting in court that day and he or she will determine the out- Get a lawyer—except for small claims court come. where you will usually do better answering complaints yourself. There are upper limits on How Courts Approach And the claims that can be brought against you in Interpret Agreements Small Claims court. These claims usually can- not exceed $2000. Therefore, the expense of hiring a lawyer usually exceeds the amount of Courts check out two things prior to applying the claim itself, making it more productive to the laws to your case: do the claim yourself. Notwithstanding that fact, you can often do well to run your What did the agreement state? “defense” and potential “counterclaim” by What did the parties mean or intend? your attorney to get their quick read on the matter. This small investment can often pay a substantial dividend for you in either negotiat- Audio Seven: The Court’s ing your claim with an arbiter at small claims Approach And court or with the judge. Interpretation Occasionally, Courts will decide to intervene Audio Six: PMI Thinking promptly by providing an injunction or restraining order in the case of extreme behav- ior such as egregious conduct, over-reaching, or lawless activity. Although most litigants pray for relief (i.e. in layperson’s language, “ask for Before you see a lawyer regarding litigation, help and enforcement”) on these grounds, write down the issues—their pluses, minuses, Courts are reluctant to enter into these types and interesting points. Be sure to line up the of immediate enforcement activities and gen- counter claims. erally do not act until a trial is conducted (or, as in most cases, the parties reach a settle- Small Claims Court ment). They will encourage you to negotiate. Take a Venue, or place of the lawsuit, can be very check with you. No matter what the claim, important for these purposes. Law is politics, 15 Legal Survival Kit
  16. 16. of course, as one can tell by a casual reading of on this approach the most. Why? Because newspapers. Just two examples: in a heavily “What the Agreement Says” works against Democratic state like Massachusetts, liberal them. The best way to beat this approach is to causes such as those of tenants (the disadvan- use a short agreement with the Entirety of the taged) will usually be heard with more favor Agreement clause; in layperson’s language this than in a Republican state. In a Republican means, “If it isn’t written down here, it doesn’t state, judges would be more likely to uphold apply, unless it is written down later and the landlord (property rights). So, the court is signed by both parties.” more apt to make a finding in favor of a tenant in Massachusetts and a landlord in a The recommended language for your agree- Republican state. ments to cover these two issues (venue and intent) is: Action Item: In your agreement, be sure to establish the venue, or place for resolution, in “This Agreement embodies and sets forth the the jurisdiction apt to be most favorable for full understanding and agreement between your cause. In our case at Simply Media, we the parties. No change can be made except in have locations in both Massachusetts and New writing and signed by both parties. Any dis- Hampshire. For issues that the Democrats putes must be brought in__________city, in ________ county, ___________ state and in no favor, we write in the venue as Massachusetts. For those that Republicans are apt to favor, we other venue.” write in New Hampshire. Dealing with intent of the parties is a more complex task. The best antidote is to write in a clause commonly referred to as “Entirety of Agreement.” This clause typically states that the Agreement embodies and sets forth the full understanding and agreement between the parties and nothing can be changed except in writing. This is not a perfect solution since lawyers often are able to persuade judges to “go behind” the written agreement; but it is generally the best you can do. 90% of discovery and the associated costs prior to trials relate to discovering what the intent was and what every one “meant.” In simple terms it means “what did you really mean” when you signed the agreement. Clearly this is a murky area subject to much conjecture and questioning. The weaker party in a conflict generally relies 16 Legal Survival Kit
  17. 17. Agreements between Friends or Relatives have the ability to decide when, where, and if they will make any repayment of any kind. This attitude usually comes about because the potential recipient is used to receiving “gifts” or their equivalent from the grantor. This is quite clear in the case of children and poor rel- atives. It is not as obvious in the case of friends, business associates, and younger peo- ple without longer business and/or life experi- ence. In these cases, it is even more important for the parties to have what they term in the law, “a meeting of the minds,” about repayment or return of rental property. The very process of discussion can flush out intent and usually lead Audio Eight: Agreements to a productive solution. Between Friends Commonly asked questions are: “Why do we need an agreement? “Don’t you trust me?” Financial and legal agreements between friends and relatives are the most challenging These lines tend to back us off. The natural ones to discuss, create, and enforce. In your response is to say, “No, I do trust you and....” discussion of these subjects, you should use the document creation process as a means to The best answer is, “It has nothing to do with flush out what the parties really mean. For trust; it has to do with clarity. If we write it example, a request for a loan or a rental is often down, we will remember it clearly. Memories just a plea for a gift. The requesting party may serve to change events; or, like the old game of think that somehow, some day they will repay whispering around the table, once a line is the grantor; but, in fact, they intend to receive repeated several times it loses its original the money or property and then unilaterally 17 Legal Survival Kit
  18. 18. selves so they “own” the agreement and its meaning. And, of course, one of us might not repayment and collection terms. If they make even be around to explain the matter.” a silly recommendation on a specific term or terms, usually just a lifted eyebrow will get the Often this kind of discussion causes the poten- terms into the right “ballpark.” These tial recipient to drop their demand entirely. arrangements are never easy and certainly wor- Since they never really intended to repay the risome. To minimize your potential financial loan they have requested nor pay for the rental and emotional losses in the matter, let the they wanted, they do not want to enter into a potential recipient set the terms initially so formal agreement so will often walk away from you have the least to haggle about. Then gird it entirely when confronted with your require- your loins as you go into battle to hammer out ment to sign a formal agreement. Your best the most reasonable and prudent terms you move is to give them room to retreat and avoid can, always keeping in mind that if they “walk moral spin so they do not feel belittled and away” from the entire matter that is usually humiliated by the process and their own the best result. retreat. If the demand is not dropped, then you can Stock Investments with family, put the request into standard promissory note friends, and business associ- or rental agreement format with the appropri- ates ate interest rates, repayment dates, collection expense recovery clauses, collateral backup, and the like. Under either alternative, you will As with family, friend, and business associate be well ahead of the game. loans and rental agreements, businesses involving these kinds of parties should be for- Our final suggestion, if you get to the point of malized and stock certificates issued. It is negotiating this kind of agreement, is to especially important that stock agreements request them to lay out all of the terms them- include the Entirety of the Agreement clause, referred to earlier, so that if the parties later dispute the division of the stock and roles within the company the resolution process can be as straightforward as possible. Memorializing the agreement compels all of the parties to set forth their purpose, expected compensation, and anticipated payments in You Don’t Say the situation. The risks in family/friend/business associate loans and rentals, as well as stock Never make the mistake investments, are due to the fact cir- “ ” cumstances change (e.g., a sharehold- of confusing justice and er wants his son or daughter to be the law. employed by the company on the sole basis that they are a stockholder). Sometimes the party investing the initial or Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. follow on money has financial setbacks and 1906 “needs” the money back. At other times, a death, liquidation, or sale occurs and “other” 18 Legal Survival Kit
  19. 19. ified conditions take place such as no clear parties, such as heirs, trustees, or administra- majority being in accord on a course of action. tors are involved. A second approach is to provide for an orderly sale process of the enterprise with the funds to In one such case involving a family loan to my be received divided up among the sharehold- first company, a written promissory note docu- ers, if contention breaks out. Just the process mented in corporate records resulted in the of offering a company for sale often makes all loan being promptly repaid by the new owners of the parties more realistic if the offers right on schedule without intervention by any received are far less than the insiders believe lawyer. This is just one example of how the the company is “worth.” Buy sell agreements written agreement can assist all parties with- usually require this approach to establish fair out being abusive of any of them. market value, or what the company is “worth.” At that point, you should be able to negotiate One of the most contentious areas in family a reasonably satisfactory buy/sell solution, as businesses relates to whom or which “side” long as you had it in place to start with. will get plum corporate jobs and the accompa- nying pay scales. It is our experience and rec- Tip: This kind of stockholder agree- ommendation that initial stock agreements should expressly state that stock ownership is ment requires the use of the best attor- separate from corporate management. ney you can afford to extract the facts, Dividends should be paid in cash not corporate set up a suitable agreement, and provide jobs or, as is referred to in government perks, a solid and agreeable exit position should the in pork. stockholders descend into contention. Since circumstances change rapidly these days, you Finally, the stock agreements should provide are well advised to update your stockholder for a straightforward exit position if contention agreement and buy sell agreement on a regular breaks out and no one party has clear majority basis. You should try to do this at least once control. A buy sell agreement works well to every five years, if not more frequently. establish a clear exit path should certain spec- 19 Legal Survival Kit
  20. 20. Business Agreements L ending institutions are always cramming these documents down borrowers’ throats. Yet, they rarely help them speed up the collec- tion process if something goes wrong. The best deal for the institution is really a note, a lien, and a simple agreement. More docu- ments than that usually results in it appearing that the lending institution had an unreason- able amount of power and “forced” the agree- ment. This does not mean a Court will “let you out of it.” It merely means that lots of documents do not help the stronger party. If a lender or powerful party goes after you, watch your lawyer use the length of the agree- ment against them. Institutions never seem to learn this lesson. So, when someone owes you money, get a note, a lien (if possible), and a Audio Nine: Business simple agreement. Again: Business advice. Agreements Unrealistic expectations lead to many prob- lems. This is why many large companies Before drafting an Agreement, you should first refuse to deal with very small companies or establish a term sheet. Term sheets are an individuals in many areas. They are rightfully outline of a proposed agreement. These are fearful of the “intent of the parties” conse- useful to prepare before entering a negotiation quences of their actions or other extreme posi- so you know what you want, what you will tions that the weaker party might charge them accept, and what is your walk away position. with and might just stick in Court. The problem with contracts is they draw you into liabilities. The risk is primarily to the Term sheets tend to eliminate many of these stronger party; and yet, interestingly, it is the problems by allowing you to work out carefully stronger party that usually demands the agree- your options and then having a reference point ment. Counter-intuitive but true. when you get into the heat of negotiations. 20 Legal Survival Kit
  21. 21. envelopes to give you the appearance of corpo- The simpler the contract, the less likely a rate respectability to go along with your formal Court will ascribe “broad” relationships to it. incorporation. You can click here to order your On the other hand, long contracts suggest a new stationery at an affordable price (the same substantial relationship and open you up company does checks and stationery). You potentially to very intrusive and expensive should set up a separate phone and fax line, as investigations in many Court encounters. well as email address (under AOL it can just Tip: Every business agreement should be another screen name), to give you the aura of being a going concern. In the corporate and have a well-defined exit position. You legal world, appearance counts. So do it! should aggressively seek a “give up” clause so you can get out (other than with mortgages, notes, and other simple financial instruments reflecting actual indebtedness). This back door lets you at least cut your losses should conflict arise. Incorporation Incorporation protects you personally from lit- igation. As long as you observe the proper cor- porate formalities, you can rarely be sued suc- cessfully on a personal basis. If you are named individually in such a suit, your lawyer can gen- erally get you removed in a quite straightfor- ward way. As with all layers of protection, no single approach is perfect, but they all help, as this one does. Tip: The best way to incorporate is through the Company Corporation that does 1 out every 7 incorporations in the US. They are specialists in the field so offer the best service at the lowest price. Click “Incorporate Your Business” on the main screen to get the forms to make this happen. Once you do this, you must call to get your Federal ID number by filling out that form. You can get the latest form off the IRS site at In addition, you should then set up a Business Checking account. You can order the checks by filling out the attached forms. You should also order business cards, stationery, and 21 Legal Survival Kit
  22. 22. Personal Litigation as possible after the rupture. At a minimum, this approach serves to contain the problem so things are less explosive and you don’t create the family situation where no one is speaking to one another. One great litigation lawyer pointed out to me though, “I never have a suit that isn’t person- al.” So beware of contributing to the problem yourself. Try to remove the personalities from the set- tlement or litigation process as soon as possi- ble. A little humility here can go a long way. You can say such things as, “I am too personal- ly involved in this as you may be too. Why don’t we get a different person on each side to deal with this.” Audio Ten: Personal Litigation Warning: We have observed that lawyers are beginning to take their cases more personally too. At a mini- mum, do not let your lawyer do this. If the Personal litigation can be particularly nasty other lawyer does this, actual litigation will because it involves things and people so close tend to uncover it and the Court may well see to you. Boundary lines, wills, and divorces are the bias that led the matter not to settle. infamous for their ugliness. You rarely hear about a nasty trademark or promissory note Boundary Line; Neighbor dispute. However, recently, more people have Disputes been taking these “personally” too. These only get “nasty”, in our experience, when the Business advice suggests selling and moving. parties get personal. No one wins these. They can be very bitter, debilitating, and linger for decades. Legal Tip: Try to keep conflicts as impersonal advice says you may win. Personal advice says as possible so you can heal the rift as soon 22 Legal Survival Kit
  23. 23. what they are thinking about, and indirectly You Don’t Say about how you are doing with them. You may be surprised by what you hear. Try to correct The law cannot make a ” “ what you can—which will lighten your load if a man love me, but it can legal problem arises later. keep him from lynching Wills me, and I think that’s pretty important. Martin Luther King, 1962 Audio Eleven: Wills that at a minimum, try to get out of the “way,” and find a way to soften the situation. Part of the solution is to care less about what the other side thinks, about who is tougher- Even lawyers avoid making wills for them- stronger-righter, and move on to other issues in selves. Superstition is the major problem for your life. As one old time lawyer told me, most of us. We all need to get over it. Make “The worst legal problems are boundary lines the will. It may save people close to you tons and wills.” At least with wills, you have finali- of trouble later. ty in that some conclusion will result and, to a large extent, you “know” your family. With Every family has stories about the great pro- neighbor problems, things can rapidly escalate bate fight that centered on the piano stool, out of control due to differing value systems summer cottage, or other item loaded with and a lack of family bonds to cover over some personal memories and feelings. of the bad feelings and disputes. Tip: In this age of divorce and remar- Having said this, there are many things you can riage, give your spouse half (usually do to limit your exposure and upset. First, be legally required), set up trusts for your polite and conciliatory without being a door- children for up to the other half (if the mat. If a neighbor asks for something above surviving spouse remarries your children the normal or outside of the context of your become “step-children” and Cinderella told us relationship, suggest that they reciprocate in all about how that works out) with the execu- some way so you can keep the relationship bal- tor being a banker or third party. This is not anced. Tell them that you “are sure they want about “trust.” This is business advice about to keep balance in the relationship as well.” human nature. Secondly, keep your children, pets, friends, Also, do not put too much pressure on the and cars off their property. This is an obvious process of drawing up a will by trying to antic- point but many people just slough it off saying, ipate all of the events for the rest of your life. “They don’t mind.” They may well be boiling In this fast changing world, drawing up a will inside and when the pot boils over you will not every three to five years makes perfectly good be happy. Third, engage and talk to them sense. Most of the changes will be minor occasionally to calibrate what they are up to, adjustments. A good way to remember to do 23 Legal Survival Kit
  24. 24. Divorce this is to do it every time you get a new license or on every 5th reunion of a high school or col- lege class. A more modest approach towards the scope of the will, just the next five years, will give you more courage to get it done and Audio Twelve: Divorce then revise it periodically. Use a form such as ours to draft your intent; give it to a lawyer to memorialize. It is impor- tant. Do it now, if you have not done it already. Bookshelves would collapse if all the books Tip: Provide for an auction of all ques- published on divorce in just one year were tionable value items. This is especially stacked on them. Without taking sides, our true for sentimental items. Everyone may business advice is to take note of the following: “want” the piano stool Mom sat on. But no Winners in Divorce one may be willing to pay $10 for it out of his or her proceeds from the auction. The mech- anism is to provide a final percentage division The only definite winners are some female for all of these objects. Then each party can members of the upper middle class and upper use their “percentage currency” to acquire class. They can make out well. Everyone else what they want or bid above the limits with loses, especially lower and middle class their own cash. This process usually works to women. Most divorces squabble about the turn down the heat and get the Estate liquida- kids. But, the kids become like Korea, and get tion process moving. It worked splendidly in battered and scarred, and 50 years later the my family to ward off battles over the silver- Koreas are still not reunited. ware, furniture, and similar items. It only takes one person to start a fight, as Real Estate Trusts Ogden Nash once said. So, above all, remem- ber that you are entering treacherous territory Real Estate trusts for your private residence or here and must therefore be doubly cautious, residences are a good idea in this litigious age. vigilant, and careful. It means that litigants in other matters cannot Tips to the Losers (Except For “attach” a lien or prejudgment attachment Husbands Of The Winners) against your property. It also tends to discour- age plaintiff lawyers because it prevents the quick kill of an attachment against your prop- Go easy on each other. Otherwise the lawyers erty that they might be able to use to make will get what little there is. Both sides may you settle up on another matter entirely. As benefit from Court enforced child support. with estates or wills, fill out the forms but be That way, the benefits both increase and sure to use a lawyer. These areas require in- decrease according to the actual received depth thought and experience to determine income of the parties. Split the property and the best ways to proceed. Again, an ounce of move on, if you can. This is easier said than prevention here can save you having to pay a done because of all the emotion attached to pound in cure later. the children, the property, and the old rela- tionship itself. 24 Legal Survival Kit
  25. 25. children under 18, there is rarely a problem. Advice to the Former Courts are tough on making people go back to Husbands of Winners work and “try” to earn a living (i.e. the poten- tial winner). So the potential winners usually only score big-time when minor children are Understand you are going to lose. Do not involved. If you have children near 18, consid- make the mistake that many men do in this er long and hard whether you don’t want to situation and be tempted to hold on to the soft wait until they are 18 before you start a divorce assets and hard debts while giving up the hard proceeding if you are one of these husbands. assets and soft debts. You are better off selling and splitting most assets, especially the mari- Tips For the Winners tal home. Then nothing lingers as long. If more husbands of winners forced the sale of the marital home, they would force the poten- This is one area lawyers perform magnificent- tial winner out of the old emotional zone and ly. You need no advice from us other than to get them moving towards a new life. decide how much pain you wish to inflict. The power is yours. Make child support dependent on your annu- ally earned actual income. Otherwise, if you Joan Lunden had this happen to her. It lose your job, off to jail you may go—and this changed her mind about this stuff after she isn’t Monopoly, there is no $50 card here to was attacked—and got whacked. Before get you out of jail. Some winners love to hear launching into such an attack yourself, you the jail door slam on their ex-husbands despite should read up on the Joan Lunden story. It the consequences to the children and their might just get you to holster your weapons. relationship with their children. Try to limit child support to the shortest peri- od possible. Try to get physical custody for some period of time or you may never get it at all. Consider this like a 5 on 3 penalty in hock- ey. They will score many points if given enough time. The only question is, how many times? If you don’t know hockey, ask about the You Don’t Say 5 on 3 penalty situation. Ouch. This is also good business advice for any case The law is only one of “ ” where you are the potential big time loser. several imperfect ways Always work to minimize the amount of the damage award and the time period you must of defending what is keep paying. Try to keep your cool and better in life against remember that owing the money may be out- what is worse. rageous, but every little discount helps. Vaclav Havel, Child (Mother) support is where the real Prime Minister and Playwright potential problem is, not the division of com- munity property. So if there are no minor 25 Legal Survival Kit
  26. 26. Three Steps To Take To protect yourself activities do you or your spouse participate in; your minor children; or items relating to your property. Examples include being a human helper to others: all kinds of risk exposure for you here. This is not just as a doctor or lawyer, but as a business advisor, coach, teacher, town board member, volunteer driver, and various other related activities. Think hard and make an exhaustive list of all such activities in which you participate. Do it. It is important. Property issues relate to hazards, attractive nuisances, animals, trees, and any other risks to others, including, believe it or not, a slip and fall accident to a door to door salesperson). Be sure to set up the basic protections such as Audio Thirteen: Review Your a will, real estate trust (s) for your property Exposure (ies), business agreements, and other agree- ments related to your situation (e.g., health care stipulations). Be sure to get the home safe and umbrella liability policy referred to in You can do a lot to protect yourself. The fact the Background section. you are reading this is a major step forward. Let’s go over some things to help you. Insurance Review Your Areas Of The best rule for insurance is to insure for Exposure what you cannot afford to lose. Pay directly yourself what you can afford to lose—it is Exposure relates to what you or your spouse much cheaper in the long run. So, with car do. What your minor children do. Or what insurance, you are better off with a high colli- happens on, to, or with your property. Make a sion deductible but spending the savings on list relating to these three categories: what 26 Legal Survival Kit
  27. 27. effort will produce most of the results. After that you will have to work harder to bring the remainder in. But, at least you know what you You Don’t Say have to work at, and that is usually half the battle. The defendant wants to ” “ Make a date with yourself to do this once a hide the truth because he year. Choose an anniversary date such as New Year ’s, your birthday, or some other such day. is generally guilty. Put the date on your calendar and stick to it. If you do this now, in a year or so you will have Alan Dershowitz, Trial Lawyer, 1982 eliminated, or at least limited, most of your lia- bility. getting large umbrella liability policies to cover extraordinary damages. In homeowners insur- ance, the same rules apply. In business and your personal life, be cautious about all of your business activities but be sure to have a large product or service and employee liability poli- cy or policies. Get A Legal Check Up Get a legal check up with a good lawyer. Give them a list of the areas of exposure you worked on earlier. Figure out which areas are most liable to be attacked. Perhaps you should reconsider serving on town boards, being a coach, taking your children’s friends on trips, and so forth. At a minimum, you should review your activities, and those of your family, to determine which ones, if any, should be modi- fied or eliminated. Be sure to memorialize your outstanding “oral” agreements that could use certification. You may not be able to get the other party to sign up. This is a warning sign itself. Think of yourself as the proverbial librarian calling in all of your overdue books. The first round of 27 Legal Survival Kit