I have been very fortunate to work with many engineers over the years in my legal practice. I enjoy being around people who do things, make things and solve problems using a combination of smarts and creativity. To me, that really describes what good engineers really do. In most cases, you don’t want creativity out of your accountant—you need creativity from your engineers. However, with no offense to engineers, I do think the best lawyers are actually much more like engineers than accountants. If your lawyer acts like an accountant, you may want to move on.
Outside of patent and startup lawyers, not many lawyers spend time with engineers. As an outside lawyer, your direct contacts are typically upper managers or C-suite types who are more likely to be an MBA than a Double E. Of course, there are many C-Suite types with an engineering background and I’m making some generalizations here but startup lawyers often times work directly with engineers who are working as engineers. In many ways, it is a shame that more lawyers do not work with practicing engineers because engineers approach challenges from the perspective of solving problems and finding solutions while many business lawyers are taught (often by large law firms) that coming up with reasons that things cannot be done is much more favorable, from a liability standpoint, than determining how things can be done. If the lawyer advises against doing something and it goes badly, there is simply less liability for the law firm.
What many engineers do not know is that many times laws do not provide a definitive answer. There are more gray areas than black and white. There are many areas in the tech world where laws have not yet caught up with technology and no “rules” yet exist. I am certainly not suggesting that your lawyer should be aggressive to the point of being risky. I would, however, say that those that are unimaginative enough not to consider new or different structures where a client’s business goal can be prudently accomplished do their clients a great disservice. Unfortunately, many corporate and business lawyers start with “no” as the go to response. Startup lawyers typically need be more adaptive, responsive and creative. In my view, all lawyers should act like engineers.