Dear Norm,
I am a lawyer, but don't hold that against me. My goal is to put the service back into legal service for small businesses and entrepreneurs. I recently read an old column of yours titled "Don't Worry, Be a Little Unhappy" [April 1998]. I agreed with almost everything you wrote. You concluded by saying, "It almost never pays to use lawyers to resolve disputes." So here's my question: How can entrepreneurs get the most benefit and the best value from their attorneys?

-- Michael Haskins, attorney
HLG General Counsel, Lone Tree, Colorado

I called Michael and told him I thought he was pretty brave to ask this question. Most attorneys erroneously believe they are businesspeople, I noted, and so they feel they can butt into the decision-making process. That can lead to disastrous results for the entrepreneur. Why? Because the business advice lawyers give is almost always bad. By training and habit, they think differently from businesspeople. I say this as a former attorney. When I went into business, I had to unlearn a lot of the habits I'd developed in my practice.

The attorney's role should be to advise clients of the potential legal consequences of whatever decisions they make. Period. End. I have been known to fire lawyers who insist on arguing with me about business issues. Michael laughed and said his small-business clients often asked him what he thought they should do and that he told them he didn't give business advice. I said, "Well, then, you really are putting the service back into legal service."

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Please send all questions to AskNorm@inc.com. Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. Their book, The Knack, is now available in paperback under the title Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.