Getting More: How to solve problems (and never have to find a lawyer like me) (Part 1)

I’m proud to announce that I intend to write a series titled “Getting More“.  This series will aim at giving everyday life tips on how to solve problems life throws at you – be it interpersonal relationships, commercial disputes, or whatnot.  As the title suggests, this series is inspired by Prof. Stuart Diamand‘s book, Getting More.

Getting more in life

I had the privilege of taking Prof. Diamond’s “negotiations and dispute resolution” class co-offered by the Wharton Business School and Penn Law during my master’s degree.  Learning Prof. Diamond’s problem solving skills was one of the most fruitful experiences I’ve had in my entire academic career.  School teaches us knowledge, but rarely teaches us how to solve life’s problems, including resolving personal disputes and mending relationships with others.

This series is about how to get more in life.  I’m not talking about getting everything, which is impossible (and one should never be so greedy).  I’m talking about simply getting more out of life.  Hong Kong is an extremely competitive place.  In competitive environments, disputes arise everyday.  Whether you prosper – be it in your business or your personal growth – depends on how you approach problems, and minimize unnecessary costs – whether your hard feelings, money, or lost opportunities.  Use your time to do something more worthwhile.

Lawyers monopolize, and rarely solve, problems

Let me find my lawyer!“, says you.  As a lawyer, I know first hand that law school does not really teach us how to resolve problems.  On the contrary, law school teaches us how to sue people – which creates more anger between the parties (and incur extortionate amounts of legal fees).  Most of the time, suing people does not actually solve the problem.  It intensifies them, by creating further animosity between both sides.

Due to the adversarial legal system inherited from our colonial masters, many lawyers are not trained to be good at “solving” problems (though there are some rare good ones who are).  Lawyers generally monopolize on problems and profit from legal fees.  Some lawyers would be happy to advise their clients to considering suing people just to make their clients feel good (and because that’s what some lawyers do to earn a living).  “Revenge” might feel good now, but it might not be profitable down the road – making you feel not so good in the long run.

I believe that lawyers should contribute to society by, yes, vindicating people’s rights (especially those who are oppressed, minorities and marginalized groups – that’s justice).  But lawyers should also see the big picture – see what’s best for the client (including emotionally, and their personal lives).  If your client is a business – see what’s best for the business in the long-term.  Litigation is not good for business.  It’s only good for lawyers’ business.

Most of the time, there is no winning by fighting

Even if you “win” the case in court, and you get a court judgment saying that you win, getting your claim vindicated (best case scenario) and some of your legal fees back from the other party.  But, you would have already spent thousands or even millions of dollars on legal fees, and most importantly, your time which will never come back.  In Hong Kong, time is money.  Losing time is losing money.  Life is too short for this game.

Time should be used productively, such as to build your business, expand your network, and for personal development.  Not fighting meaningless battles.  You would have not only spent thousands or millions, you will have invested all of your emotions (emotional cost is very real) in your battles, whilst neglecting other things – such as doing things which make you truly happy.  Build client connections.  Make friends.  Maintain relationships.  Help others succeed.  But not meaningless fights.

Fighting costs too much money

On the other hand, if you “lose” the case, you will be liable to the other side’s claim and probably most of their legal costs.  This is the worse scenario.  At the end, everyone loses whilst the lawyers always win (because lawyers will charge their hourly rates at thousands of dollars an hour whether you win or lose).  You do not want to go down this path, even if you have all the money in the world.  Spend your money in wiser ways – donate to charity, invest in the market, give it to your children, go on a vacation.  Burn it.  Just don’t let your lawyers burn it.

I’m not against people giving me business.  I love doing your business and in fact, I want to help you grow your business – make it bigger and more successful.  What I’m saying is that fighting costs a lot of money.  It’s just not worth it most of the time.  If your goal is to make money for your business, litigation costs should be minimized.  Likewise, if your goal is to be happy, fighting people will not give you happiness.  Trust me on this.  You will thank me years from now.

In conclusion, you will be much happier if you understand that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from evening happening – this requires you to have a tool box full of “real life” problem solving skills.  I hope my future sharings can help you develop that tool box to help solve your own problems, or to prevent them, so that you will never have to find me (except to thank me as your friend, not as your litigation lawyer).

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