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<xTITLE>Do You Have Your Primary Care Lawyer?</xTITLE>

Do You Have Your Primary Care Lawyer?

by Michael A. Zeytoonian
December 2015

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

Michael A.  Zeytoonian
Most people have a primary care physician. But people and small businesses don’t often have a primary care lawyer. This primary care lawyer that your closely held or family business or non-profit organization doesn’t have is probably the most important lawyer you need.

I often analogize between how we approach legal disputes and how we make medical decisions. A vital starting point is to have a “primary care lawyer”, just as we have a primary care physician.

When you have a legal counselor on your team of trusted advisors, you are more likely to get good counsel early on about what to do when you are faced with a legal dispute, as well as about certain proactive things to do to avoid disputes. This is where good, effective dispute resolution begins – with prevention and wise counsel. One of my colleagues used this tagline for his law firm:

“The worst time to hire a lawyer is when you need one.”

Your primary care lawyer is probably not a litigator, just as most of our primary care physicians aren’t surgeons. Surgeons are trained and passionate about operating on patients; that is what they do. It is not their purpose to spend time on the patient’s health history and all the factors that go into making health decisions. That is the realm of a doctor who, above all else, knows his patients, their histories, family lives, job stress levels, habits and propensities. With that knowledge, the primary care physician is in a good position to quarterback his patients’ health care and help them make good, well-informed decisions.

I trust my primary care physician completely. He has taken the time to know me, my habits and goals, and what I can handle well enough to give me good options. He won’t be doing the procedure I need done. He is invaluable because he will advise me and suggest the right next steps. He may not have a surgeon’s gifted hands, but he is the most important doctor I have.

Likewise, when it comes to figuring out how to handle a dispute, you need a primary care lawyer to advise you and suggest the best options. You need “dispute resolution counsel” to look at your unique circumstances, assess the situation, consider the kind of person you are, the speed at which the dispute needs to be resolved, your financial and emotional bandwidth, your level of risk aversion, your priorities, your goals, etc. With that knowledge, he/she gives you a good recommendation on what to do, which process option to choose and tells you why. If you skip this step and go to a litigator first, the “legal surgeon” will likely take you down the litigation road. That is what he wants to do; it is what he believes in. That is what he is trained for, passionate about and good at doing.

More often than not, “legal surgery” (litigation) is not the best procedure for the client’s situation. There may be a need for litigation in the future, if less risky and less complicated options don’t achieve the desired results. At the outset of the dispute, you want to choose the option that would best fit the situation and the circumstances of the parties involved in the dispute.

One major difference between resolving legal disputes and addressing medical issues should not be ignored. When you opt for surgery and start the prep, nine times out of ten you end up having the surgery. But when you opt for litigation and start the road to trial, nine times out of ten you will never have that trial. The chances of that trial ever happening, despite the years of time, expense, collateral damage and emotional draining you have invested in it are less than 5%! Some time very close to the start of the trial (imagine yourself right outside the operating room, about to be wheeled in), your litigation lawyer will discuss why you should consider some options to trial and 95% of the time, you will opt for another negotiation-based process.

You could have chosen that option much earlier on in your dispute, if you had first gotten some solid dispute resolution counsel from your primary care lawyer. If only you had one at the beginning.

Like I said above, my primary care physician is my most important and valuable doctor. Your primary care legal counselor should be your most important and valuable lawyer. If you don’t have one, now is a good time to get one so that you can be proactive, well-advised and ready to make good, well-informed choices.


Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education law, mediation, collaborative law and administrative law. He is admitted to practice in the state and federal district courts of Massachusetts and New York (Southern District) and the state of Connecticut. He has served as a mediator on the MWI panel in the district courts and on the BBA panel in the Boston Municipal Court.

He is a member and Massachusetts Bar Association and is chair of the MBA’s ADR committee and a member of the labor/employment section. He is a Past President (2006-2007) and member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the New England Association for Conflict Resolution. He writes frequently on collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and has trained lawyers and presented in collaborative law and ADR around the U.S., Canada and Ireland. He has lectured at Northeastern University School of Law, Suffolk University School of Law, New England Law Boston, UMASS School of Law and Roger Williams University School of Law.

He served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, as a deputy overseeing litigation in the State Counsel Bureau in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties and working on consumer advocacy cases. Prior to his work at the Attorney General’s Office, he was an Assistant County Attorney in the Westchester County (NY) Law Department, in the litigation and family court bureaus. His litigation work at both the County Law Department and the Attorney General’s office included cases in employment; labor; state, county and local municipal matters; environmental law; construction, administrative and tort law, and the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases. His undergraduate education was at Boston College and Iona College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree is history and education. He earned his J. D. from Pace University School of Law with a Certificate in Environmental Law in 1990.

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