A senior international lawyer this afternoon told me a story about how he saved his client millions of dollars in taxes by being called in to give a second opinion and helping to restructure a transaction involving access to waterways between cross border entities. I told him a story about one of my first clients after I hung my own shingle. I formed a New York not-for-profit corporation for her and then she told that she shared my work with another lawyer to "just to have it checked out." At first, I was a bit offended. I knew the work I did was top quality. What I forgot, and why I should not have been offended is that she was not a lawyer. There was no real way for her to judge the quality of my work. And in my previous big law life, it was routine to have my work checked by more senior attorneys - so routine, in fact, that I accepted it as normal without even questioning it.
Some of the reasons on why you should get a second opinion, whether it is a corporate or litigation matter, include "your case is costing a lot but you are not seeing results or value for those costs" and "you suspect improper, incompetent or insufficient handling" of a matter. Of course, if you bring your car to a mechanic, pay a hefty bill, and then your car does not work, you are going to get a second opinion.
However, often the car runs fine. But are you sure about what you paid for if you are not a mechanic?
The best reason to get a second opinion is simply peace of mind. People hire lawyers because something of value is at stake - whether it is managing a risk, prosecuting or defending a claim, or making a deal happen - and therefore, the thought goes, they want it done right. However, without a $150,000 law degree and many years in practice, the non-lawyer is usually not in a position to judge a lawyer's work. While sophisticated business people often know more than many lawyers, the usual scenario is that they are hiring their lawyer or lawyers to look out for their best interests (as fiduciaries and counselors) and add value to the matter at hand. If you have any doubt, a second opinion is right for you. And the more value is at stake, the more sense it makes to just do it.
But then do you need a second opinion on your second opinion? If the second opinion reveals that your lawyer is handling the matter professionally and at market rates, probably not. If the second opinion raises issues pertaining to the quality of your lawyer's work, their cost, their availability to you as a resource or any other number of issues, you can choose to do a number of things. First would be to address your attorney(s) with those concerns. This could be a warning sign for them that if the problem is not fixed, you will exercise your right to terminate the relationship and find new counsel. If your attorney does not handle your concerns such as to satisfy them, you may then wish to seek opinion of a third counsel. This process can go on and on.
Fret thee not, as it would not be reasonable to hire ten attorneys to help you draft your last will. However, public company executives, acting on behalf of shareholders, should definitely hire a second set of eyes to watch their legal counsel. Relationships between in-house counsel and outside counsel may create a conflict, or in-house counsel, where they exist, may not have experience in the field for which outside counsel is hired. Those individuals or smaller companies without in-house counsel who regularly hire attorneys should consider doing it every so often as well. The second opinion will provide you the peace of mind that your lawyer is really looking out for you. And when we have clients who seek second opinions, rather than take offense, we welcome it as we know it will ultimately improve the quality of service we provide.