Another dispute bites the dust.

Out there on the horizon was  yet another job gone bad.   Payments were owed, or at least some said.  Liens were threatened, and then recorded.   Others were indignant, claiming that if anything was  owed it was owed to them.   Delays.  Defects.  Slow pay.  No pay.   Lousy contract documents and even worse communication.    It was a boiling cauldron of adversity ready to spill over into the district courts where it would soon waste everyone’s time and money.  Maybe even eat some youngsters.

Lawyers with calmer heads got together and smartly said to each other, “Hey, let’s call Tim Cook over at Cook Law & ADR, PLLC!  He’s a sharp tack and a hard-working guy.  And he has a great assistant in that Miss Linda lady! Let’s call them and  see if he can get this mess sorted out before we all spend a fortune with a lawsuit.”


Smart lawyers, those folks.  Phones rang.  E-mails were exchanged.  A date was confirmed.  A pre-mediation exchange of  documents and information was had.    Rather than spending time and effort on depositions and motion practice, the lawyers helped their clients prepare for mediation.


That day soon came.  Folks arrived with their game faces on.   They were greeted with a smile and ushered to  their private rooms.  It was a big crowd.  Four or five parties.  No problem.   At Cook Law & ADR, we have  plenty of room.   When we do not, we are willing to let others host and will travel at no charge.  Sorry, we digress.


The coffee was brewed fresh.  The  water and soda pops were ice cold. A big plate of the finest donuts this side of the river were at the ready.  Magazines on near all interesting  topics, and interesting but  not overly expensive art, were all around to bring the blood pressures down.  If those did not work, the heart start paddles were at fully charged  and  not far away.   We were ready to get things done.  The sleeves were rolled up. We started on time.  We did not waste  time.  At least not much.


The project players  were angry that day my friends.Tim Cook  worked hard.  So did everyone else.     All positions had some degree of justification and righteous indignation.   No one is ever completely right.  No one.    No one expects a job to go bad either.   Having not  called Tim immediately for some project claim mediation at the time, that job  went from bad to worse to near impossible.  And now it was time to vent, to reason, and to resolve. Voices were raised.  Tables were pounded.  Eyes were rolled.   Crying towels were passed around.   Doses of the cold hard truth were administered.   After a hard stretch, agreement was reached.  Yes, the gripes were over.  The dark scepter of bad things in court was gone.


A final mediated settlement agreement was drafted, reviewed,  revised slightly, and signed.   Business relationships were preserved.   Lawyer and expert fees were kept in a reasoned range.   The men and women who arrived in combat gear left in reasonably good cheer, and with the remaining few donuts in hand.     Sure, no one was immediately happy with the result.   But they would soon realize that they could box up their files, close their claim folders, and spend their lawyer money on more productive matters looking to the future rather than trying to change the past.


Collectively, those mediation participants  privately sang the praises of the fine folks at Cook Law & ADR for helping them get to common ground.   All the way home and some more the next day.  Hey, you can sing these praises too.  To  be clear,  mediation is not always successful.  Sometimes there is simply not enough  room for compromise.  Sometimes, people just do not  want the drama of a lawsuit out of their lives.  However, these are the exceptions rather than the rules.


Today’s lesson from this rambling sometimes incoherent recollection of yet another one of Tim Cook’s many successes?   Give ADR and mediation  a chance.   You’ll be glad you did.    Of course, we’d love to see you here at Cook Law & ADR.   If not here, there are many other fine men and women who are qualified ADR specialists.   Make sure that  they have the fresh donuts.  And the good cheer.  And a reasoned value.  And a firm commitment to do all that can be done to have your dispute  bite the dust.   We do.   Have a great week.

Trust me … . Write it down.

Trust me.   Those famous last words that end up breeding so many disputes in our lives.  “What the heck, don’t you trust me?”  Whether in friendship, marriage, business, or politics, much of our lives is  built upon the foundations of trust.  Merriam Webster’s defines “trust” as  the “assured  reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”    Hey, there is nothing wrong with trust.   But only when  you are absolutely rock solid in knowing with whom you are about to do business.   And that, my friends, is really only about 1.5% of the time, if that. Trust me.  ‘Tis true.


“Hey buddy,  trust me.  How long have we known each other? C’mon.   I would never screw you out of anything. C’mon. I know what I am doing. You know this. This deal  is going to be great!   Let’s do it!   Just give  me your time, your talent, and your treasure.  That’s all we need to ramp up and take off.  We’re gonna be rich!”


The next thing you know, you find yourself  drunk with the  promises  of a dishonest or an entirely incapable man.  You  change your position in reliance on a friend or business partner who proves to be a lazy lout or, worse, a charlatan.  For those of you who don’t like fancy words, a dirty  snake.   You contribute  great acts of labor or  large sums of money, or both,  in a business venture,  a property purchase, or some other grand plan.   You  do so on a handshake or, if you  are at least partially awake, with a few words scratched on a napkin or on some vague language in a text or an e-mail that you will later  be lucky to find.  You  are trusting and confident.  “Who needs a lawyer?” you ask yourself.  “I don’t trust them.”


And then, inevitably, things go south.  At least for you.  The charlatan spirals out of control.   He gets amnesia, claims credit and profits for himself, and suggests that you were nothing more than an employee or that the terms of “the deal” are not as you remember them.   Nice.  Now it is  time to do what is really aggravating in life.   Time to go and see that  lawyer.


“Let’s take a look at your contract documents,”  your lawyer says.  “Uh, I don’t really have any, or many.”  “What?  Are you kidding me?  How in the holy hell did you get this far, and go that deep, with this guy without any documents?”  “Ah, er, I ah trusted the guy … .”   Cripes almighty. Strap in and hang on.


Of course, there might be several  reasons why you  don’t have documents. Trust is the  leader among them.   Perhaps your business partner played the “Hey, I am a Christian, I would never screw you” card.  Lots of people in this world are Christians.  Most of these people are good and decent people.   However, those few who actually have the gall to play the “I am a Christian” card in a business deal invariably should be ignored.  Run away from these jokers.    Now.  And fast.  There, this is your snippet of free legal and practical advice on the CookLaw blog for today.  No need to thank me now.


Trust.  We govern our lives by trust.  On many many fronts.  I trust that you are not going to drop your end of the heavy safe that we are moving into my basement so as to crush  my toes.   The loves of our lives trust that we will remain faithful and true until the end of our days.  I trust that no one will steal the Milky Way bar that is patiently waiting for me in my freezer.  You trust me when I say that I will be at your house on time to safely get you to the airport, and that I will not have to stop for gasoline or a sleeve of Ding Dongs along the way.  Trust is a good thing.


However, one place where blind trust should not be placed is in a business or a real estate deal.  For the protection of everyone, reduce your agreements to writing.  Get  names and signatures on contracts, deeds, accounts, and other documents that evidence interest,  ownership,  and authority.  Having these protections may go a long way in protecting your legal rights.  In some situations, the law requires a writing.  The Statute of Frauds, for one example.  For those of you who are junior aspiring attorneys, go look it up.  For those of you who are smart business men and women, call your lawyer instead.  We are trained professionals.  Work with us.  Money spent up front may prove invaluable if that  day should ever  come when the  reptile who is your business partner reveals his true scales.


Written documents may not always give you bulletproof protection from heartache and loss.  But they can and will go far in helping you, your business partner  and, heaven forbid, a court of law to sort out the mess.