No one wakes up wanting to need a lawyer


With rare exceptions, no one wakes up wanting to need a lawyer.  I’ve done more than 4,000 mediations, and every single one, without exception, involved an occurrence in people’s lives that they did not want or anticipate.

That is true whether it is a divorce, a catastrophic injury, a land condemnation, or siblings disagreeing about a parent’s estate.

There are more benign reasons see lawyers—estate planning, property transfers and business planning among others.  If the estate goes smoothly, the property gets bought or sold, and the business succeeds, you might wonder why you hired a lawyer instead of perhaps recognizing that the lawyer provided guidance that contributed to the success.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, you are likely sure that you are right and it is that other person who has it all wrong.  Unfortunately, they may feel the same way.

Since we all think we have the right amount of common sense, it is difficult to accept that any reasonable person could see the facts differently from the way we see them. And yet, those different points of view are precisely the reason that lawyers have jobs.

There are three questions that I find helpful for anyone considering making an appointment with a lawyer:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are your biggest fears and concerns?
  3. What tradeoffs are you willing to make?


If you are like me, the answers are not always as clear as we wish. The further challenge you may have is that you don’t want to make any tradeoffs.  You want the other person to make them. That is a perfectly natural desire, but we usually  find it to be Option F—Fantasy.  If the other person were going to do all the changing, then neither of you would need a lawyer.

A good lawyer, when at his or her best, should be similar to a good friend in two important ways.  First, the lawyer needs to be someone you trust. Second the lawyer needs to be someone who will share with you the hard truth, even if you don’t want to hear it.

It is far better to be frustrated with your lawyer for asking hard questions at the beginning, than frustrated years later when those questions have not been asked after you have invested thousands of dollars and months or years of time.


Sam has spent more than 30 years on both sides of cases doing complex commercial litigation, personal injury litigation, and dispute resolution. Whether it is a corporate client or a family that has suffered an unexpected personal tragedy, Sam is a problem solver of the highest order in state court, federal court, and jurisdictions throughout the United States. Sam is also the author of Positively Conflicted in which he draws on his decades of experience mediating more than four thousand disputes across the county as well as his own life experience to provide insightful advice for engaging with course, compassion and wisdom in a combative world. Positively Conflicted is available on Amazon: