From: Drew Robertson
Through my years in professional practice and in serving on various boards and committees, I have learned that the occasional independent legal opinion can be a valuable tool for resolving controverted matters. In my view, this tool should be valued rather than dismissed.
Of course it is usually preferable for disputants simply to talk things out. When repeated attempts at this have not been fruitful, though, a well-crafted legal opinion can often help settle the matter quickly.
Sometimes that opinion itself simply resolves the question. Even when it does not, though, it can help all parties construct a resolution that will withstand future challenges, particularly expensive legal challenges.
Clearly, it is impossible to calculate the savings on costs that are never incurred. Still, it is likely that the expenses of a legal challenge would be many times the cost of an independent attorney’s opinion, should those expenses ever be borne.
Here are some thoughts on how to establish confidence in such an opinion under particularly trying circumstances.
The legal firm engaged to do the work should have the required expertise in-house, and it should be geographically remote from the interested parties.
It should have a local, regional or even national reputation that it has a stake in maintaining.
In some cases it may be useful to insist that the firm have no other business with any of the parties involved in the controversy. (Be careful with this, though. It may severely restrict the number of law firms available for the engagement.)
Law practices that meet these criteria are likely to have rates that seem high. The cost of the sought-after opinion, however, can be controlled by carefully narrowing the questions to be addressed.
As I say, a well-wrought and truly independent legal opinion can be a cost-effective tool for resolving a challenging issue. It should be welcomed by all parties to a controversy.