I had just turned 25 when I got thrust into a very big case and it took me to meet some of the biggest lawyers in the country. Around that time I was also handling some very complicated Income tax ‘raid’ cases and that also meant I was being exposed to some top tax lawyers. One of the things that I learnt from them was the approach to a problem, and the bluntness that they used when talking to the client.
Simplify things: the way the asked the client as to what the client wanted in the case was an amazing learning. They would ask pointed questions, blankly, and stare at them in the eye. It would go like this –
Mr. Client you have already sunk in this money in the project, now what do you want?
Client: sir I want my money back
Lawyer: that I can see. Do you realize that the Rs. 1.2 crore is an amount of money you have given as ‘your share of the expenses incurred’ and this can almost not be recovered? Do you realize that the money paid as registration fee, etc. are as good as gone? Do you realize…
Lawyer: well we can see the shares ..maybe if we find a buyer..or..something can be salvaged.
Client:…hmm..that is all?
Lawyer: look it is a business decision, but you need to understand that to recover about Rs. 5 crores, you may end up…spending…on legal fees. Are you ready?
See how the conversation goes? it is a business discussion..not yet a legal one..but comes down to summarizing as:
“So you are willing to go to the High Court, and most surely SC to try to recover Rs. 5 crores..as well as to teach him a lesson so that your other partners do not mess around with you, and you are willing to TEACH HIM A LESSON – which has more emotional costs/benefits but nothing really financial” – is that a fair summary?
Numerical Fluency: Even in 1988 the top lawyers were CA who were practicing as lawyers. They could quickly calculate the financial implication of a decision, cost of delay, tax impact, interest cost impact,…amazingly quickly. I guess this came from answering the Judges and being able to take decisions on the spot..instead of saying ‘i will take instructions from the client and comeback to you’. So when they went to the court, they would have 2-3 options..and get the junior to sit with the client to weigh the pros and cons…however their math was super. No doubt.
Thinking Right through the problem: The lawyers could think right through the problem – what will be the implication of not fighting? why should we go for a fight at all? what happens if we get this, but the bigger problem is not solved, if you win against your brother and he does not pay will you push for bankruptcy? will your family allow that? Do you have the energy, money and desire to go right up to the SC if need be? What happens if you give up the case and just do not bother? will your partner come for a settlement? While solicitors take a lot of time to decide lawyers who go to the high court (and surgeons at the operating table are similar!) take decisions quickly.
They go to the basic and to the Bare Act: they go to the basic facts and to the basic bare Act. Some of the top lawyers – I do not wish to name them – have the bare Act lying next to them. Cos. Act, Income tax, Contract….and they read the section and come to a quick conclusion. I remember one of the SC lawyers (he is very much around) Mr. V waved the paper book at my client and said “at best we have a 50% chance Mr. J..” you need to decide, and remember it is a business decision. I am only the lawyer…
See Charlie Munger’s problem solving post…if you can find the similarities….it is just awesome…
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