PRESS: ABA Perspectives magazine

I received a surprise call from a writer for the American Bar Association recently. That conversation lead to an article which appears in the ABA’s Perspectives magazine. It is always interesting to me to see how people shape their lives and careers. The portion of the article about me is copied below, but I encourage people to read the complete article here.

MelissaSayer (5 of 6)

Have you ever made an offer on a 23-acre citrus and avocado ranch as a lark, fully expecting rejection? And then your offer was accepted?

“I thought, ‘I guess we’re doing this!’” recalls Melissa Sayer, who fell into ranching exactly that way. She operates a general business law practice in Ventura, California, and then heads home to her ranch.

“My husband’s family has been in agriculture since the 1800s, and he always wanted to go back to it,” she says.

When the couple made the offer on the ranch, Sayer was figuring out whether to stay on a partner track at a Palo Alto, California, firm.

“I figure it turned out the way it was supposed to,” she says. “I think I’m a better lawyer because I have another business. And I have a much closer connection to my clients than I did in the Bay Area.”

She’s also more connected to her community. There’s a farm lab at the ranch for school-age kids, and California State University sends its students out for hands-on learning as the Sayers experiment with various grains. That can lead to unexpected outcomes, like a partnership with a distillery making moonshine with the Sayers’ experimental sugar beets.

“This was a really good move,” Sayer concludes. “I feel much more centered. It’s twice as much work, but I’m much happier.”

The cost of new carpet

Remodeling my new office has reminded me of a lesson in business. Most notably the cost of new carpet. I tried to cost out all my tenant improvements, and for the most part my budget came out on target. But my carpet estimate was terrible. Why?

It wasn’t because of the price of my new carpet. My estimate was off because I forgot about the cost of the carpet already there. It turns out that the most expensive part of new carpet is actually the removal and disposal of the old carpet.

I should have seen that coming. Not because I remodel commercial spaces on a regular basis. I don’t. But I do help clients again and again who are refreshing their business by expanding distribution channels, adding new partners, new equipment, or new products. The most difficult part of these projects is rarely the exciting new enterprise. It’s rewriting the existing terms and conditions or partnership agreement. Changing filing statuses. Dissolving the old company. Settling matters with the partner who wishes to cash out. In short, the demolition of the old corporate structure often costs more than the replacement.

It can be frustrating to spend money on something that’s no longer needed. But sometimes that’s simply where most of the hard work is hidden. You have to remove the old carpet before you can reap the benefits of the new one. 

Looking forward to 2017

With 2016 rapidly nearing its end, December is a perfect time to reflect on the year that has been and plan for the year to come. As a business owner myself, here are a few ideas I will  live by in 2017.

Don’t fear change. Change is inevitable and unstoppable. You can attempt to hold back the ocean, but you will be swallowed up. Or you can ride the ocean. That’s called surfing, and it is up to you which strategy you will pursue in 2017.

Control what you can, prepare for what you can’t. Focus energy on what you can control. If you are a farmer, you can’t control weather. But you can control wind frost protection and crop insurance. If you are part of a family owned business, you can’t control your family members (even though we wish we all could sometimes); but you can plan for orderly succession of your company or estate. Lastly, you can never control the litigiousness of others, but you can limit your exposure and liability.

Strive for excellence where it matters, but know when OK is OK. I never saw a company fail because they picked the wrong font for their business cards. But many businesses expend a tremendous amount of energy on decisions that won’t really matter in the long run. How to know when it matters? If it will kill the business if you get it wrong, then it definitely matters. Be a perfectionist when it counts. Most issues are open to some level of compromise.

Fear failure, but not mistakes. Every successful business, individual or organization has made mistakes in the past and will make more in the future. That’s part of life. Learn what you can, try not to repeat them, and be adaptable.

On the surface,these suggestions might not sound like legal advice, but many of the legal problems I see stem from choices my clients have made. Consider in advance how you will respond to some of these issues, and you will lay the foundation for a prosperous 2017 and beyond.