How Not to Get Screwed By Your Lawyer: Daniela Liscio

Today’s conversation on Author Hour is one with Daniela Liscio. She just wrote a book called, How Not to Get Screwed By Your Lawyer, and here’s a brief description. Many business owners dread hiring their next lawyer, and for good reason. All too often, companies will pay thousands of dollars only to be treated like second-class citizens, confused and frustrated by the very person who’s supposed to be on their side. No more. 

Written by a former lawyer who heard far too many horror stories, How Not to Get Screwed by Your Lawyer, guides you step-by-step through an easy process, to completely transform your attorney-client relationship. Change the power structure and take control of that relationship today. After all, your attorney works for you. 

Here’s my conversation with Daniela Liscio.

Today on The Author Hour, I am honored to be joined by Daniela Liscio. She’s just authored a new book titled, How Not to Get Screwed by Your Lawyer: A System for Business Owners to Manage Costs, Reduce Stress and Take That Control. Daniela, welcome to Author Hour.

Daniela Liscio: Thank you so much for having me, Benji. 

Benji Block: I was reading some on your backstory and on your life, and when you went into university, I read that you had no intention of getting your MBA and your law degree, but you ended up getting both. Talk a little bit about where those interests are founded, and give me some of your background in your own words.

Daniela Liscio: Okay, what a good question. I went to a law school that had a particularly strong business school. When I was there, some of my classmates were annoyed with the fact that the business school required that you have two years of consecutive work experience, before being able to even be considered for the business school program. They’re like: “How can you possibly not do it, you’re one of the few law students who’s actually worked ahead of time, why don’t you try and get in?”

I remember the first time someone said that to me, I said: “I have no intention of getting an MBA.” I just couldn’t care less. Then, I thought about it and I thought: “Yeah, but I’m interested in corporate law, why wouldn’t I consider it?”

So, I hummed and hawed about it and then, you know, kind of did the requirement and wrote the standardized test that they require you to do, and thought: “Well, let me just try it.” And I got in. In fact, I actually deferred my acceptance for a year because I still wasn’t positive that I wanted to extend out my schooling for another year, on top of the three years that law school is going to take. But I ended up doing it.

I was happy that I did because I actually ended up loving the business program and thought: “Well, why not, again, do it to supplement the corporate law interest that I already have?” Yeah, so that’s how that ended up happening.

Benji Block: You finished up school. How does it end up playing out in the real world, and lead to some decisions in your career, than having both the MBA and the law degree?

Daniela Liscio: A lot of my colleagues were heading into business from that program. But I was pretty clear throughout, and certainly when I graduated, that I really did still want to practice corporate law. So, I had done what law students do and applied to best firms — that were big firms that interest you the most — and, of course, the bigger corporate law firms in Canada, in Toronto — which is where I was graduating from — of most interest to me, and that’s where I applied and that’s what I ended up doing. It was actually a pretty easy decision from there. 

Your Lawyer Is a Part of Your Team

Benji Block: If you think of authors, you don’t necessarily — or many don’t get that behind the scenes of like: “Why was now the right time to write this book?” And, you’re busy. You’re doing other things with your life. What prompts a book like this? Is it conversations you’re in that you’re going: “Man, I’m having the same recurring conversations and I feel like I’m answering the same questions?” What leads a taking on a project like this?

Daniela Liscio: That is such a good question. So, there was a huge intervening period between when I finished practicing law full-time, and the genesis of even thinking about this book. Really, that came from me leaving the profession. I had worked at a large corporate law firm and I was a transactional lawyer. I worked on bigger deals, and it was primarily deal work. So, I was working with companies that had access to legal departments or, at least, certain key players who were spearheading the transactions on behalf of their companies.

Well, when I left to start my own business, and got in the world of online marketing and online course creation and different things like that, I was of course meeting other smaller business owners and entrepreneurs. People who were largely spearheading every single effort in their business, which is what most of us tend to do. It’s like, if you’re working on your own, you may have a small team around you, but you’re otherwise on your own. You’ve got your marketing hat on, you’ve got your finance hat on, you’re doing everything, including managing the legal work that your business requires.

What I was realizing was exactly as you just indicated, that I was having some of the same conversations with people, in that they were generally expressing a feeling that their own lawyer was not on their team. It kind of struck me as so counterproductive, first of all, right? Because, well, your lawyer, that’s your advocate. That’s the person that is, in an often very lonely period of time, a challenging period of time.

No one wants to deal with any kind of legal problem and yet, the people were feeling even more alone than they should have. To me, that was very sad. It was also just complete opposite of what sort of legal profession should be doing for clients, and it wasn’t even that necessarily the fault of lawyers. Sometimes, it was. 

People would tell me the things that they were dealing with, with their attorneys. And, in all professions, there are hiccups along the way. There are people that aren’t doing the jobs that they would be doing. What finally struck me was that business owners themselves, people themselves, the clients themselves, could in fact be helping themselves in this process. 

So, I really started thinking: “How would that look? What would that look like?” And, I wanted to create a system — as I use in the subtitle — is really just an actual framework that people could take and implement, no matter who they were, no matter what their skills were. Business people already have a lot of skills at their disposal, they’ve had to prove them by being in business in the first place. 

Why was it the case that we were just not using those skills to the best of our ability, when it came to dealing with our attorneys? That’s what I was noticing in conversation after conversation and headache after headache that I was listening to. I thought, we’ve got to be better at just taking back some of that control, and really taking a more proactive approach when it comes to dealing with our attorneys. That’s really what the book is about.

Benji Block: Yeah, I love the line that you say, when you finish this book, you’ll never return to that approach again. That approach being the submissive/passive approach. You say: “The world needs alphas.” I loved that, I highlighted that. Talk about your imagined reader. The person that you wrote this for, what are they facing, where are they situationally that they would pick up this book?

Daniela Liscio: Interestingly, I was so clear about who exactly I was writing this for. Because, in the process of sort of researching this and figuring out if there was really something that I could offer that would be useful, I ran some workshops. Just some casual, very small, group workshops to bring some people through the material, or what I assumed would be what they needed to know, to make this process a little better going forward.

I created an avatar based on very specific people that I had in my workshops and, in addition, between the workshops. What I was hearing along the way, and sort of the months that were leading up to the decision to write this book and have these workshops, kind of put together this person and that person, was a business person who had used lawyers in the past and was a sophisticated user of legal services. 

But, for whatever reason, always found him or herself in this relationship where they did not feel like their lawyer was actually on their team. That person is somewhat frustrated with the justice system, which we all are for many different reasons, and for many good reasons. And, like I say in the book, for many conflicting reasons. But those reasons are no less legitimate, even if they are conflicting for one — maybe the way I see the world of law is different than the way you see it. But each of us would have very legitimate and understandably aggravating reasons why we see things the way that we do.

So, that person is somebody who just wants to better use the skills they’ve already had to use in business, or the person does not want to enter a new relationship with their lawyer in the same way that they have in the past. When I first thought of it writing this book, I thought: “This is probably going to be most useful for someone who has never used a lawyer in the past, and someone who maybe is less sophisticated with respect to this entire process.” They’ve never had to use a lawyer and they just don’t know what to expect.

But what I realized — in fact, this is really what set the entire personality of the avatar — was that no. In fact, it was people who were still very sophisticated users of legal services, very successful people in business, people who had been in business for decades, running highly profitable businesses who were still feeling this way about their lawyers. Still feeling like: “Here we go again. I’m in another place where I’m spending money. I’m paying your retainer. Thousands and thousands of dollars are going to this lawyer for this problem that I need solved, and I still don’t feel like I am on a team.” 

“I don’t feel like my lawyer is on my team.” And I thought, how strange. How bizarre that it’s not only the first time user of legal services that might need some help, it is the person who may have hired five, ten lawyers, and they are still struggling with this relationship. So, that’s really the person. It’s that person who has been in business, they have been successful in business, and this is not the first time that they have used a lawyer. It is likely not going to be their last, and yet, they still just don’t feel good about that relationship, and they want to. 

They are willing to see that: “Wait a second. Maybe there is something that I can do to make this better the next time around.” 

Communication and Systems Are Vital

Benji Block: Let us dive into some of those problems real quick here. What is creating that breakdown, that feeling of isolation: “Okay, we are not on the same team?” Give me some examples that you see? I know money plays a part in this conversation, what are the other pieces of the puzzle? 

Daniela Liscio: Sure, yeah. Money is a very good example because, of course, little services are expensive. It is expensive to hire a lawyer, it is expensive to go through any of that process. Another big one comes down to communications, like in pretty much every aspect of life, this is the thing that we all need to work on. At times, when we hire that professional advisor like a lawyer, we take — like we said from the beginning — that more submissive approach. 

We don’t necessarily communicate in the same ways that we would otherwise in our normal business lives, because there is kind of like that backseat taken. It’s like: “My lawyer is handling it. I’ve got a million other things to do to run my business, I can’t be bothered dealing with him or her. Let them take care of it so that I can go build my own business.” That’s not necessarily the best way to approach it. 

In other context, if we just removed ourselves from the fact that: “Okay, this is a lawyer and I have hired this person, I’m the client.” If we step aside — let’s just say that lawyer was actually an employee of the business, for example — we would be dealing with that person in a different way, in terms of how we communicated, because there would not necessarily be such a less proactive approach.  

But, because we have hired them, I say in the book: “It’s hands-off after that point.” There is lots of different reasons. I go into some of them in the book but, for the most part, it is just the nature of the relationship that changes some of the ways in which we communicate with a lawyer. That, of course, ends up sometimes creating some friction, because when we have miscommunication, there are always problems that ensue. 

So, that would be one example and one of the things that I talk about in the book too, in terms of how to better that situation. 

Benji Block: I love how you basically scripted out and broke down the old you-versus-new-you conversation in the communication section —

Daniela Liscio: I would just do that. 

Benji Block: Yes. It’s such a great way of just showing how small tweaks in the way we talk would make all the difference. You actually just say, “Even at the beginning of the engagement, it’s helpful to establish how information is going to be passed.” Which is very normal in business life. We have established ways that we communicate within our business. 

But we can easily take for granted someone that’s on the periphery. They’re important, but they are not necessarily there day-in, day-out. So, having those ground rules laid for what this relationship is going to look like, I can imagine that takes a ton of pressure off. This is how we are proceeding from here.

Daniela Liscio: Exactly. And, a bunch of things in that that you just mentioned that are important. Number one is setting things out from the start of the relationship. That is always very helpful. The example you gave with the old you and the new you, I wanted to be very — I give a lot of examples in the book because I hate when I read something. It’s like, “Okay, this sounds very nice from a theoretical perspective but how exactly am I going to execute on this? How do I implement this?”

So, I was very conscious about creating something that people could work with. I give those examples to make sure that that can happen — but, again, isn’t it interesting how we speak like we have skill? We all have skill, and yet, sometimes, for certain relationships, we don’t execute on those skills in the same way. Some people are better at it than others, but I almost see this in pretty much every person I have ever met in my life. 

For whatever reason — and there’s lots of them — they’re just as not the same utilization of skills in one respect versus another.  What I want to impress on people through this book is that, “Wait a second, you have a whole bunch of skills. Evaluate why are you not using them, in the context of your legal relationship, in the same way.” And, sometimes, just recognizing that is helpful. 

It is just to say, “You know what? I normally ask a lot of very pointed questions of whatever —my employees, my partners and even the people that I work with — why am I not doing that when it comes to my lawyer?” I’ve seen it. I have been on the other side, you know. Even me, in a boardroom with a client, or someone where groups of people. And, you can just see sometimes, there are people who you know in a different context.  They would be speaking in a different way or asking different questions, and for whatever reason, in that setting, they are not. 

The reason that’s so important is because we need to say, “We are not communicating in the most productive way when it comes to our lawyer, in that case, what are the consequences of that?” Sometimes there are consequences that we just don’t realize and, again, that’s something that I try and emphasize through the book — that there are some significant consequences to that, including higher fees, including a misdirection of strategy, including higher stress levels. 

All of these things, that are very much within our control. There are a million things in the justice system that we cannot control. But, what are the things that we can, so far as our behavior goes, when it comes to dealing with our lawyers? 

Benji Block: If there was two words that describe the book to me — what I found so helpful, and you eluded to this earlier — the amount of examples that you provide. Then, the second word would just be “systems”. You harp on “system” over and over again, because that’s going to really set you apart and help this relationship run smoothly. Speak to systems real quick, as we begin to close here. The power of them, and having those set up from the very outset of a relationship with a lawyer, and bringing the lawyer in. 

Daniela Liscio: That is such a good question. It’s really been very popular to talk about systems, and I give credit to primarily Scott Adams, who I think put that on the table many years ago — not that many years ago, but I think 2014 or ’15 is when his book came out regarding systems over goals — and we talk about that. We are so good at creating systems around our business processes and yet, again, when it comes to dealing with a lawyer, who does that? 

Sometimes, for example, business people may say, “Well, I may do that in a litigation, where there are clearly defined periods, through discovery or due diligence on a deal, and then moving into other elements of litigation. But, for the most part, that deference that we pay to our attorneys — which in some respects needs to happen but in many others doesn’t — prevents the client from establishing their own system around the legal process.” That’s, I think, a mistake. 

Again, this is an example of where we have skills that we apply easily and readily in many different contexts, whether any number of business functions, day-to-day and special projects and so on and yet, again, legal issue, “No, I am just going to hand it over to my lawyer. I am going to be available when they come to me for information,” and those type of things. But, generally speaking, that process is often not laid out in a systemized way. Which, again, helps people save money, and themselves a lot of stress. 

Benji Block: Well, let’s end here. How do you want someone, a reader that’s going to go pick up the book, to approach this? Is it we sit down, we read through the whole thing? Is it that we go a chapter at a time and set these systems up as we’re reading? How do you want someone to view, How Not to Get Screwed by Your Lawyer, as a book? 

Daniela Liscio: Depending on whether they are embarking on a process of just hiring a new attorney, I think that would be a great idea to take the approach of “I am going to go chapter by chapter and lay this all out.” But, if it someone — they’ve already got a legal matter on the books or they’re sort of wrapping it up, then it’s probably going to be most effective to sort of read through the book, and they’re ready for the next time. 

So I think that the answer just depends on what stage people are at. Regardless, it is an easy read. Well, I think it is, but I hope my readers do as well. 

Benji Block: No, I would agree. 

Daniela Liscio: Again, just through the examples, I think it is a quick read, and each chapter gives very specific functions that can be done quite quickly, I think. It is just an easy thing for people who are embarking on a new legal matter to say “You know what? I am just going to go through the chapters and work as I work through the chapters,” and that way, it is kind of done. They don’t have to read the book and go back through the chapters. 

But, to be honest, either way will work. I think when readers see it, it will — very pinpointed things and tasks to do at the end of each chapter. 

Benji Block: Examples and systems, that’s what this book comes down to. And, it is extremely helpful for those that are in this situation now or will find themselves there in the future. So, thank you for taking the time to create a resource like this. I know it is going to be helpful to many. Again, the book is titled, How Not to Get Screwed by Your Lawyer. You can pick it up on Amazon. 

Daniela, for those that are interested in maybe reaching out to you, is there some way that you want people to do that to interact with more of your work? 

Daniela Liscio: For sure. Going to is the easiest way to do that. 

Benji Block: Wonderful. Thank you so much for stopping by Author Hour. It was a pleasure to get to chat with you about the book today. 

Daniela Liscio: Thank you so much.