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Underlawyered: it’s also a problem, especially in real estate


The success of the book Overlawyered, and the popular website that followed, is based on the conventional wisdom that the quality of modern American life has been significantly lowered–and the costs of health care tremendously inflated–by the proliferation of junk lawsuits and regulations that don’t accomplish their goals and cost way too much. Finding stories to support these claims is really easy. But those tales should not keep an individual from getting good legal help when needed.

I’m astounded by the underlawyering that I encounter. It takes two forms:

  • People call me for legal advice about small issues, but don’t seek legal advice or assistance–at the appropriate times–for issues that involve big bucks. Somebody will call me to ask about a fender-bender in a parking lot, but that same person will enter into a 10-year commercial real estate lease or loan somebody $50,000 without asking me to prepare or review documents.
  • Lawyers sometimes provide advice, free or paid, but apparently don’t advise their clients about key points. Example: Someone will bring me an easement that doesn’t include provisions about the uses permitted for the easement, how to change it, the responsibility maintaining the easement, whether gates are permitted, whether and how the easement can be terminated. The person who brings me the recorded easement will say that it was prepared by a lawyer (I often recognize that it came from a popular lawyers’ formbook).

Wishful thinking is often the reason for delay in seeking legal assistance, as the person with a problem hopes that it will resolve itself. And lawyers have done their part to discourage people from doing business with them, by not adequately explaining fees, creating delays in transactions, and being condescending or inattentive.

A lot of problems, though, get worse with time. It’s false economy to allow a tenant or borrower to get several months behind before terminating the lease or calling the note. The quicker the defaulting party knows that non-payment will not be tolerated, that party pays up or is soon out of the picture with a paying person put in place. The legal fees are about the same or less.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

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