Questions and Answers with Jim Loots
How did you decide your primary areas of practice?
Working for Fortune 500 companies certainly pays well, but I truly prefer representing smaller businesses where the decision makers are directly affected by every legal issue they encounter and the clients with whom I deal have a personal stake in the outcome of our projects. With respect to the employment practices focus of my practice, everyone who has employees will have employee legal problems, and I like to be in a position where I can help avoid and manage those problems through advance planning, early intervention, and prompt effective defense when needed
What is your point of view regarding clients educating themselves on legal issues?
Generally speaking, the more a client knows about the legal issues affecting his or her case, the better that client will understand the pros and cons of settling, litigating, and evaluating that case. The key to making any knowledge of legal issues valuable, though, is the ability to apply that knowledge of the law to the facts of each case and, invariably, each case is different. With respect to general business operations (as opposed to litigation), I spend a great deal of time and effort helping clients to understand and comply with their regulatory and other legal obligations, developing sound employment practices and employee handbooks, assuring proper licensing and registration with proper authorities, and ensuring that contracts with landlords or vendors are sound, enforceable, and make good business sense.
Are you willing to review documents prepared by clients?
My clients know their businesses better than I ever will, although I do take some pride in spending the time necessary to understand and appreciate their specific needs, challenges and strengths. I much prefer a client to come to me with a strong sense of what he or she wants to accomplish, whether it is manifested in a terms sheet for a transaction, a partially-negotiated contract, or just some ideas scribbled on the back of a menu. I can take the ideas and draft comments and turn them into a legally binding document that will best protect my clients' interests. But it's not my money and not my business at stake. So the more work the client wishes to provide thinking about and negotiating a transaction or contract before coming to me, the more cost-effective it will be for me to do my part of the job.
Are you willing to coach clients who want to represent themselves?
I am reminded of the quote of Gomez Addams in the motion picture adaptation of The Addams Family (1991): "They say that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. And with God as my witness, I am that fool!"
That said, I often lead educational seminars and legal compliance training programs where the goal and focus is client education and self-help advocacy. Part of every initial consultation is an evaluation of whether any lawyer is needed to address the situation, whether it is yet time to hire a lawyer, and if so, am I the right lawyer for the task at hand. Quite often, I send clients away with a mission to try to resolve their disputes without engaging legal counsel, and only to come back if they have failed or been challenged in court. I serve not so much as a coach as a scout or pre-game analyst. I would never counsel a client to represent itself in litigation; nor do I ever wish for an opposing party to be pro se. The nuance and secret handshake society of the law is - for better or worse - far too laden with traps for the unwary. An experienced litigator always proves a good investment, be it me or someone else.
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