Lawyers can be and often are invaluable advisors to startups.
On the other hand, bum lawyering can come in all shapes and sizes. Some examples to watch out for:
1. Insecure (and particularly green) lawyers who are so bound to doing things by the book that no hint of common sense can be found in their advice or in their actions. They will tell you all you ever wanted to know about what the “tax law says” or what “judges do” but they have no idea how to give you custom advice that is practical for your situation. They will tell you they need to “look it up” only to bill you for many hours of research time that you had no idea you would be expected to pay for.
2. Arrogant lawyers who have become so imbued with a sense of their own self-importance that they actually presume to become actual decision-makers for their corporate clients (yes, this does happen, much to the chagrin of the clients involved). This is the point noted in the title of this post. I would say most principals will no longer put up with such nonsense but it still happens where lawyers with dominant personalities deal with deferential-type clients, sometimes from cultures where extreme deference can be common (e.g., Japanese clients).
3. Tin-ear lawyers who have no sense for a deal. This differs from #1 above in that the lawyers are secure in their abilities, as opposed to green young lawyers, yet they are so rigid on how something must be done that they effectively impede (or, in extreme cases, destroy) the deal they are supposed to be facilitating. This is the type of lawyering that tries to impose a 50-page contract upon a deal when a short and simple contract would do. Why? Because it “covers all the risks.” Of course, most of these risks have no practical significance for the size or scope of the deal, and the contract itself, being unduly complex, causes the parties to run up large costs and to incur significant delays, all to the detriment of the parties involved.
4. Disputatious lawyers who have an insatiable need to “win” at every turn even when this is off-putting and alienating to all concerned. Some principals think this is a good thing, to have a lawyer who concedes nothing in doing a deal. In reality, this tends to be a disaster, either killing the deal or causing the other side to close with such a bitter sense about it that future harmony between the parties is not possible.
I love my profession, and love what I do in practicing law, but the abuses and shortcomings in this field are enough to make one scream.