Like medical advice or the answers to HQ trivia questions, you need to be careful where you get your legal advice. Twenty-odd years into the internet, people still make terrible decisions based on a faulty understanding of the law. We asked several lawyers to share the one thing they wish everyone knew about the legal profession, or how to get a lawyer. Here are their answers.
Thomas Kretchmar, matrimonial and family law:
People assume that in a divorce, assets acquired during the marriage are divided equally between the spouses. In fact, property is divided under a nuanced doctrine called “equitable distribution” which calls for a fair – but not necessarily equal – division of marital property.
Hillary Benham-Baker, shareholder at Campins Benham-Baker, practicing employment law and civil rights law:
[Casual] employment does not mean that you can be terminated for any reason under the sun. [Casual] employees still cannot be terminated for an illegal reason such as discrimination or retaliation.
Roman Fichman, business attorney, owner of TheLegalist.com:
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
I represent startups, entrepreneurs and growing companies. For them funds are always stretched thin and their biggest concern is cost. As a result they often skip contacting me thinking it will be too expensive. The consequence is that they resort to DIY freestyle contract drafting, ignore brewing partner or client problems, delay calling me until they get a court summons.
If there is one thing that I try to instill in my clients is that small micro investments in on-going advice yield big results. I notably recall how a one hour consultation swayed an entrepreneur from investing in a deal which later tanked to the tune of several million dollars.
So, don’t be afraid to seek advice. The kicker is that often I (and many other good business attorneys) don’t even charge for micro advice.
Yosef Peretz, owner of Peretz & Associates, a plaintiff-side litigation firm representing employees:
Looking for an attorney to represent you can be stressful. But when you approach one, take it seriously and be prepared. Have your story together, put your documents in order, and create a timeline of the major events. The more focused and organised you are, the more likely you’ll get the attention you deserve.
Kavi Reddy, Deputy General Counsel for Gizmodo Media Group (Lifehacker’s publisher):
A lot of folks seem to think there’s a magic number of seconds that you can use of someone’s video or music and that this means it’s a “fair use” [Fair Dealing in Australia]. There’s no magic number! It’s a fact sensitive analysis looking at how much you’re using, in what way you’re using it/what you’re using it for, what is the underlying work, etc. It would be nice if there was a magic number, but that would be too easy.
When you have a big legal decision to make, try reaching out to an actual lawyer – they might answer your question for free. And when you have a smaller question, at least check your sources, and don’t trust anonymous information. Because “That’s what the internet said!” doesn’t tend to win court cases.