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July 28, 2009


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It seems like legal departments define success as "problems/roadblocks identified" not "growth/progress achieved".

Thankfully there are new-model legal firms arriving that understand "growth" as the goal. (The guys over at http://www.outsidegc.com and a few other on-demand type firms for example. )

Business prevention, I could not agree more.

Jodi Kaplan

Business Prevention Department? Dear God!

Reminds of my dad's recent experience trying to buy something. He called the company and the only option was to spell out an employee's name to reach them. No "press 1 for sales" or "Press 0 for an operator."

He had to guess at names to find someone! The company apparently wanted to keep customers in the dark (even though they sold light bulbs).

Talk about business prevention!

Oh, and feel free to quote me anytime (grin).

Seth Godin


In this case, though, it's Wiley that's causing the problem.

There is no legal reason (none) for the nonsense that Wiley makes authors go through. Fair use is embedded in our Constitution and it gives you the absolute right to quote people you interview. Period.

Superstitious lawyers at Wiley (I'm not going to accuse them of looking for things to do, but I'm happy to accuse them of being silly) put authors like you through this ringer for no reason at all. Do you think Bob Woodward gets people to sign legal releases when he interviews them?

It bothers me when I'm asked to sign these, and I generally refuse. If enough authors say no, maybe they'll stop wasting our time.

Eric Riback

It comes down to how they understand their mission. If a lawyer believes her mission is to protect the enterprise, as opposed to building business, then she'll act accordingly. I was always impressed with the lawyers at my most recent job in that they were business-oriented.

Analogous to that is finance people. If they believe their mission is to prevent bad debt, as opposed to increasing profit, they will take little risk rather than moderating risk with opportunity.

I do agree with the commenter that a release should not be necessary to run a quote. So it's not unreasonable that the lawyer from the other side looks askance at a document that shouldn't even need to exist.

In terms of turnaround time, the lawyers at many companies are way overburdened and it's easy to see annoying documents like this being at the bottom of the pile even though it would take only a minute to review and approve. Fortunately, I've generally worked in environments where I felt free not to send such stuff up to legal before signing if I clearly understood it.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks all, for your comments.

Seth - holy cow. I just assumed that it was required for some legal reason. I'll have to have a little talk with my friends at Wiley! Thanks for letting me know.


Michael Sanjek

I've experienced scenarios where legal was not just the "business" prevention department, but more directly the "sales" prevention department.

Customers were required to provide so much info and sign off on so many documents that a simple transaction looked like a mortgage refinance.

It must be that litigious society we live in.

Omar Halabieh

I am currently managing a software development project. This project involves purchasing a specific software library to assist us in the process. As usual we obtained the contract that was to be signed. I reviewed it from a technical perspective and made a few changes which the vendor happily accepted. I was then aware that our legal department has to review it. I admit that the turnaround was quick (within 24 hours) but the amount of edits was more than the content of the contract itself. The vendor didn't bother with arguing any of the changes, since the cost of the software wouldn't be enough to cover lawyer fees! I think legal needs to always take a pragmatic view about what is the value added they are providing and if it justifies the high cost that is usually associated.


michael webster

I am an attorney, and generally support Seth Godin's view.

But, it does depends on how much is being quoted to qualify as fair use.

My solution would be to: simply notify the author that you believe that your quote constitutes fair use, and that unless you hear back from them within 30 days, you will assume that they agree, is a useful compromise.

Will it work all the time? No, but it probably cuts out a lot of silly time wasting.

John White


Why don't you interview somebody in one of these legal departments and get his/her perspective?

John Wall

Just as important as in-house counsel's perspective is the perspective of those who manage in-house counsel. A big part of it is getting on the same page as far as what is considered an acceptable amount of risk for the organization.

If management creates an environment that views litigation as the cardinal sin of the legal department you've built a perfect garden to grow a business prevention unit.

Keeping compensation tied to reaching financial goals can keep everyone focused on the prize rather than bureaucracy building.

Jamie Favreau

I totally agree that they should work for you... but I also see the point in having a great legal dept especially when it comes to software. When the person, totally wrecked havoc on the non profit. When dealing with software is one thing but when dealing with quotes are a different matter.
I mean how long does it take to write a disclosure? Aren't they pretty much standard these days?

David Meerman Scott

Thanks all for these comments. It is clearly a more complicated issue than I made it out to be. As Seth said, I may not even need the forms to begin with but my publisher's legal department is playing CYA.

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