"Business is not a play pen..."

“Business is not a play pen…”

by Kristine Hopkins, LLM, LLB(Hons), Australian Legal Practitioner

I talk to business people all the time when things go wrong.  Usually when they want to resolve a dispute or sue.  Being a dispute resolution specialist, by the time I see the deal, it has gone very, very badly.  Typically, someone hasn’t done what they said they would or something my client thought they would.    It is at these times, I can’t help but say to myself – what were you thinking? Why didn’t you get that in writing? or why did you sign that?   I can only explain it this way.

The excitement to do a deal is too much for some people.  These people get caught up in the emotion and forget to check the details.  They just want to get on with it, the big promise, the work, the money.   After a lot of talking, maybe a shake of hands and maybe signing something, or sending some emails, they hurry to do all the work or to complete their side of the deal, and then they wait for payment… crickets…

After a while, that great deal has lost its urgency, the debtor doesn’t pay up or things just go wrong.  The usual issue is that the other person isn’t doing what they promised they would.  So, you (the client) remember all of the conversations, get out your mobile and check the text messages, try to find all those emails, find the contract or documents (or wish you had some) and you see your lawyer and ask – can I sue??

I listen, have a look at the documents (if you have any) and usually say, unfortunately, that the conversations you had and the handshake (and maybe some documents) are not that helpful and suing will be risky and expensive for a number of reasons.  If there was just a conversation, it will be your word against theirs.  If there are documents but the documents do not bear resemblance to the actual deal you did, then it will be hard to fix the situation – or sue them.   When things go wrong it is too late to wish you had written that down, signed something, got them to sign something, read the contract better, sent an email handshake or invested in a well drafted agreement first.

As a lawyer I am fortunate to learn tough lessons through my clients.   I have learned that business is not a place where you can just hope that everything will be okay and everyone will do what they promise you.  Being in business means you will need to take responsibility for and monitor the promises you make and most importantly the promises people make to you.   Business is not a child’s play pen and the people you are doing a deal with are not your play friends.  Ensure you have leverage and negotiate hard – for yourself.  The best business people respect it… the bad ones loathe it.

If you are not willing to be a good negotiator, and you want a good deal – pay someone to do it for you.  If you cannot draft or read the contract (or understand it) then insist on time to read and understand it or pay someone who will explain it to you – before you sign.   Follow up a conversation with an email handshake.   Do your homework on the strangers you want to do business with and don’t sign or agree to anything unless you are 100% sure you are well advised and are doing a good deal – for yourself.   Also, ask yourself and them, what will happen if things go wrong?  That is business.

If you have any questions or need assistance negotiating a good deal, dispute resolution or suing people for money you can speak with Kristine Hopkins on 03 9607 8279 or email Kristine@hopkinslawyers.com.au