I first met my lawyer when he tried to sue me.
I was running a service consultancy for startups. I was young, stubborn, and new to the world of digital client services.
I had just booked my first client and needed to hire more development resources, ASAP.
I shouldn’t have taken anyone at face value.
But I had too much self-doubt to be exposed by some amateur developer who could have easily been an extra on HBO’s Silicon Valley.
I bought his perfect code quality testing shpeel and gave him a shot at the first major startup consulting gig I had ever landed.
Things went downhill fast.
The vision was changing from day-to-day and we didn’t do a good job at laying out the requirements. We were trying to catch a moving target.
We went over budget by $50,000. Then I got hit with this:
“Ben, as a quick reminder, I’m going on a cruise I booked almost a year ago. I won’t be available for 2 weeks of work before the release.”
I never got prior notice.
Scrambling to find offshore agile talent, I secured some resources in Vietnam and managed to run the engagement by myself for the two weeks he was gone.
I spent over $20,000 in fees with them and got mediocre code delivered with lots of feedback from the client.
When the developer got back from his cruise, he had to redo most of the code done by the offshore team and of course billed us for every hour spent.
Rather than handling the situation like a grown-up, I became litigious and went full offense. I got my law school buddy to draft an aggressive letter tearing up this developer’s invoice and offering a pretty small settlement.
The response I got?
A nasty 5pm Friday afternoon e-mail from his SF-based shark attorney that scared me pretty good.
This is a guy who’s handled Dropbox’s M&A deals and specializes in contract disputes with digital agencies.
In my heart, I knew I was right. But I played the victim card too strong.
I could have settled this with a simple phone call.
But I chose to let ego take over and create more noise.
I was maybe 22 at the time and new to tech consulting. I felt vulnerable to people who were more experienced than me. I thought it would be a good idea to try and send the first attack.
Within 72 hrs, I had paid the invoice in full.
I didn’t want to think about possible attorney costs or future litigation.
I made nothing on the project and almost went bankrupt because of it.
But here’s the twist:
It took six months to get in the same room as them. I needed legal counsel to review the contracts.
I told my co-founder,
“I know where to find the best lawyer.”
I called the lawyer who tried to sue me.
He negotiated the contract and got us an incredible deal in two days.
Six years later, Gabriel Levine is still my lawyer.
He’s helped me close deals from $100k to $1 million.
I still get a kick out of watching him explain knowledge qualifiers to clients’ attorneys or explain warranties on software.
Gabe is more than a lawyer. He is a business advisor on steroids who recommends avoiding litigation at all costs. Have you ever met a lawyer who does that?
I’ve been to his house in NorCal with his family where he’s helped me make important decisions about my business structure.
He’s introduced to me a support group of other digital agency owners.
After hundreds of projects under my belt, I’ve never once had to go to court (knock on wood).
I still look back on reading that 5pm Friday email – but now, I see it as a privilege to have gotten the sh*t scared out of me.
It taught me an invaluable lesson.
In this world, it’s good if you can beat your enemies.
But if you can turn them into friends?
There’s nothing out there that can stop you.