Handcuffed by Lawyers

I’ve been doing business for a long time, but I am still shocked by the appalling clumsiness of big organizations.

After decades of Lean and Six Sigma, ISO 9000 and all the other baloney foisted upon us by consultants, the big organizations have capitulated to the sloth of the manual. The playbook keeps getting thicker and more clogged with sticky, obfuscating bubble gum. Decision making is becoming decision avoidance. Only after a disaster strikes will companies decide to buy a generator. If a crisis is sitting in the lobby, big companies ask it to leave because they have a meeting.

One of today’s leading operational impediments is SAFETY. Whether it is the threat of OSHA, insurance inspectors, over zealous lawyers or just “Six Sigmasizing,” I do not know, but the safety bureaucrats seem to have gained veto power in big companies.

I know big metal cutting machines can be dangerous, but they are not hot air balloons with a smoking pilot. Put a fire suppression system in, a good mist collector, proper guards, clear signage and go make parts.

Unfortunately, what I see today is safety becoming the excuse to slow down production and productivity growth.

Legal strictures on safety and many other issues seem to be vaulting onto the shop floor. The creative productive folks who produce things chafe under the 15 page legal scrolls tying their wrists when they want to make something good happen — like trying to buy a piece of capital equipment or institute an innovative process. The “cover your behind” epidemic has certainly taken root on the shop floor. The poor folks who work for big companies, governments, or schools live in fear of “Legal,” which is shorthand for mindless bureaucratic obstruction.

Large organizations are inherently conservative and lethargic, but the slow-as-molassesness seems to be getting worse these days. Banks blame Dodd-Frankenstein for their slowness, but why does a loan agreement have be 59 unreadable pages and a mortgage take six months to obtain? Government blames government. Companies call it CORPORATE. It all spells slowwwww.

We can blame Congress, lobbyists, Obama or George Clooney, but ultimately the fault lies within ourselves for allowing life by bureaucracy. It’s probably why Amazon and Netflix are so successful. These companies reroute us around delay and inertia with their efficient processes.

The bureaucratic, legal obstructionism bodes well for small and medium sized job shops who can help the clumsies stand up when their own inept practices push them toward collapse.

Question: Are lawyers the problem or the solution?

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19 thoughts on “Handcuffed by Lawyers

  1. Kelly

    Lloyd I could on for days about lawyers but life is far to important too waste time on the ilk of the human race. The lawyers themselves are not the main issue, we are. In short until we have term limits to clean the government of the ilk and put in real tort reform and make the losers of ALL LAW SUITS PAY all costs on both sides the system will stay set up to make the ilk, rich and self perpetuating.
    Great topic to bad nothing will ever get done about it.

  2. Val Zanchuk

    Lawyers provide useful advise which management should consider, along with all the other advice it receives, in making decisions. At least this is how it normally works in small companies. Gather info, consider the risks, make the decision. However, as you mentioned in the Warren Buffet piece, you should play to win (small company mentality), not play to not lose (big company, government, etc. mentality).

  3. David Krimm

    No, LAWMAKERS are the problem. There are a long list of requirements in place (enacted by lawmakers) to make sure that candidates have ample problem-solving skills before becoming a doctor or an engineer. There are no prerequisites at all in place to promote problem-solving skills in the lawmaking business. More laws are passed to manipulate the market in favor of special interest than those that end up actually solving social problems.

  4. Dick Crosby

    Someday comes the revolution!
    PS:- Have you seen the Newsmax article “The White House is for sale?”
    PPS:- Watching the fallout from the sequester taking hold is going to be interesting.
    I fear the WH & the administration can make all the worst happen. Damn ’em!

  5. dave

    IMHO, lawyers are the problem. Having lawyers write laws is THE BIGGEST conflict of interest in our system. Fortunately, recent law graduates are having difficulty finding jobs. Maybe a glut in the market will have eventual good results for the rest of us.

  6. Beau

    I believe the problem is lack of Leadership resulting in poor management. They have to have the knowledge and guts to make and move out with decisions. You see it in successful small businesses because they can’t afford to move slowly. In large business and Government it is more important to not make a mistake than to make progress. In mose cases doing nothing is the least risk.

  7. Mike O'Rourke

    The system is the problem. If it wasn’t profitable for lawyers to run with the liability cases, they wouldn’t do it. They’re like gambling guns for hire. What if the lawyers, judges and prosecuters were all civil service employees? No reward for winning or losing a case. A judge would decide if a case had merit and a lawyers would be assigned for both sides.

  8. Kelly

    You all have it wrong. Lawyers and big government are symptoms of the disease that is failure to take personal responsibility.
    Laws are usually vetted through standing case law. The moron who spilled their hot coffee and sued the fast food place established precedent for following morons to follow the money. Anyone who runs a business and must carry ever increasing liability insurance knows the “follow the money” axiom will always be applied.
    In California worker’s comp insurance is priced based on gross payroll, as if how much someone is paid has any bearing on accident probability. I know what many would say, “higher payroll means higher payout or more hours worked” but neither should apply before probability.

  9. Ken

    In the end it should be managers that run a company. They may (and perhaps should) get the views of the legal department and include them in their thinking and decision making. The legals views cannot however be the “last word”. No corporate lawyer is going to risk anything – no matter what. Hence the name “Business Prevention Group”.
    Business managers have to be the risk takers (it is what they are paid for) and there are about none of them left. A real problem is that many managers have no real idea of what it is they are managing and therefore can’t know what is a good idea vs a bad one. Hiding behind “legal” and “safety” provides great cover.

  10. Jeff Richlin

    I am constantly blown away by the lack of accountability in all aspects of life. Whether on a job site (business), at the local motor vehicle department (government), or at the local supermarket (life in general). As a society we have lost our way. Doing the right thing is no longer expected, it confuses others by the act of not doing the quickest or most self serving action. I see what Lloyd has pointed out all the time. I don’t think we will ever be able to get rid of the “what is in it for me” attitude. Since we can no longer trust the government, our churches, or our peers there is no reason to stretch and make it better. Nuts.

  11. Jim Goerges

    Jim Goerges
    February 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
    Please take a moment to digest this provocative article by a Jewish Rabbi from Teaneck, N.J. It is far and away the most succinct and thoughtful explanation of how our nation is changing. The article appeared in The Israel National News, and is directed to Jewish readership. 70% of American Jews vote as Democrats. The Rabbi has some interesting comments in that regard. Lloyd, it would be good to have your thoughts on this subject.

    Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
    Rabbi Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey.

    The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation and avoidance of responsibility. And fewer people voted.

    But as we awake from the nightmare, it is important to eschew the facile explanations for the Romney defeat that will prevail among the chattering classes. Romney did not lose because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy that devastated this area, nor did he lose because he ran a poor campaign, nor did he lose because the Republicans could have chosen better candidates, nor did he lose because Obama benefited from a slight uptick in the economy due to the business cycle.

    Romney lost because he didn’t get enough votes to win.

    That might seem obvious, but not for the obvious reasons. Romney lost because the conservative virtues – the traditional American virtues – of liberty, hard work, free enterprise, private initiative and aspirations to moral greatness – no longer inspire or animate a majority of the electorate.

    The simplest reason why Romney lost was because it is impossible to compete against free stuff.

    Every businessman knows this; that is why the “loss leader” or the giveaway is such a powerful marketing tool. Obama’s America is one in which free stuff is given away: the adults among the 47,000,000 on food stamps clearly recognized for whom they should vote, and so they did, by the tens of millions; those who – courtesy of Obama – receive two full years of unemployment benefits (which, of course, both disincentivizes looking for work and also motivates people to work off the books while collecting their windfall) surely know for whom to vote. The lure of free stuff is irresistible.

    The defining moment of the whole campaign was the revelation of the secretly-recorded video in which Romney acknowledged the difficulty of winning an election in which “47% of the people” start off against him because they pay no taxes and just receive money – “free stuff” – from the government. Almost half of the population has no skin in the game – they don’t care about high taxes, promoting business, or creating jobs, nor do they care that the money for their free stuff is being borrowed from their children and from the Chinese. They just want the free stuff that comes their way at someone else’s expense. In the end, that 47% leaves very little margin for error for any Republican, and does not bode well for the future.

    It is impossible to imagine a conservative candidate winning against such overwhelming odds. People do vote their pocketbooks. In essence, the people vote for a Congress who will not raise their taxes, and for a President who will give them free stuff, never mind who has to pay for it.

    That engenders the second reason why Romney lost: the inescapable conclusion that the electorate is ignorant and uninformed. Indeed, it does not pay to be an informed voter, because most other voters – the clear majority – are unintelligent and easily swayed by emotion and raw populism. That is the indelicate way of saying that too many people vote with their hearts and not their heads. That is why Obama did not have to produce a second term agenda or even defend his first-term record. He needed only to portray Mitt Romney as a rapacious capitalist who throws elderly women over a cliff, when he is not just snatching away their cancer medication, while starving the poor and cutting taxes for the rich.

    During his 1956 presidential campaign, a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!”
    Stevenson called back: “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!”
    Truer words were never spoken.

    Obama could get away with saying that “Romney wants the rich to play by a different set of rules” – without ever defining what those different rules were; with saying that the “rich should pay their fair share” – without ever defining what a “fair share” is; with saying that Romney wants the poor, elderly and sick to “fend for themselves” – without even acknowledging that all these government programs are going bankrupt, their current insolvency only papered over by deficit spending.

    Similarly, Obama (or his surrogates) could hint to blacks that a Romney victory would lead them back into chains and proclaim to women that their abortions and birth control would be taken away. He could appeal to Hispanics that Romney would have them all arrested and shipped to Mexico and unabashedly state that he will not enforce the current immigration laws. He could espouse the furtherance of the incestuous relationship between governments and unions – in which politicians ply the unions with public money, in exchange for which the unions provide the politicians with votes, in exchange for which the politicians provide more money and the unions provide more votes, etc., even though the money is gone.

    Obama also knows that the electorate has changed – that whites will soon be a minority in America (they’re already a minority in California) and that the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a different world, and a different America. Obama is part of that different America, knows it, and knows how to tap into it. That is why he won.

    Obama also proved again that negative advertising works, invective sells, and harsh personal attacks succeed. That Romney never engaged in such diatribes points to his essential goodness as a person; his “negative ads” were simple facts, never personal abuse – facts about high unemployment, lower take-home pay, a loss of American power and prestige abroad, a lack of leadership, etc. As a politician, though, Romney failed because he did not embrace the devil’s bargain of making unsustainable promises.

    It turned out that it was not possible for Romney and Ryan – people of substance, depth and ideas – to compete with the shallow populism and platitudes of their opponents. Obama mastered the politics of envy – of class warfare – never reaching out to Americans as such but to individual groups, and cobbling together a winning majority from these minority groups. If an Obama could not be defeated – with his record and his vision of America, in which free stuff seduces voters – it is hard to envision any change in the future. The road to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and to a European-socialist economy – those very economies that are collapsing today in Europe – is paved.

    For Jews, mostly assimilated anyway and staunch Democrats, the results demonstrate again that liberalism is their Torah. Almost 70% voted for
    a president widely perceived by Israelis and most committed Jews as hostile to Israel. They voted to secure Obama’s future at America’s expense and at Israel’s expense – in effect, preferring Obama to Netanyahu by a wide margin. A dangerous time is ahead. Under present circumstances, it is inconceivable that the US will take any aggressive action against Iran and will more likely thwart any Israeli initiative. The US will preach the importance of negotiations up until the production of the first Iranian nuclear weapon – and then state that the world must learn to live with this new reality.

    But this election should be a wake-up call to Jews. There is no permanent empire, nor is there is an enduring haven for Jews anywhere in the exile. The American empire began to decline in 2007, and the deterioration has been exacerbated in the last five years. This election only hastens that decline. Society is permeated with sloth, greed, envy and materialistic excess. It has lost its moorings and its moral foundations. The takers outnumber the givers, and that will only increase in years to come. The “Occupy” riots across this country in the last two years were mere dress rehearsals for what lies ahead – years of unrest sparked by the increasing discontent of the unsuccessful who want to seize the fruits and the bounty of the successful, and do not appreciate the slow pace of redistribution.

    If this election proves one thing, it is that the Old America is gone. And, sad for the world, it is not coming back.

  12. Jim Goerges

    Any thoughts about the most well known lawyer in the world about sequestration? I can’t Jedi Mind Meld a solution…..? Oh ya, it was his idea in the first place!

  13. clayton smith


    It’s more about tort reform and the fact that percentage wise to many bright young people don’t want to be farmers or manufacturers and see the law as an opportunity for riches.

    What is not well understood is that these folks like soldiers, rabbis, police, create no wealth so they have to rely on the productive portion of society.

    When the percentages of non productive advance too far everything falls apart and you can see that happening here. In Germany not so much…..reason…..plant and equipment research and development quality goods. Damn I’m smart…..call me if Bama decides to retire early like the Pope.


  14. clayton smith

    I take back what I said above as refers to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky.

    I might even step aside as pertains to my presidential asperations in favor of Rabbi Steve.


  15. anthony seidelamn

    If you ever have had to deal with a customer who after many years of a good relationship have it come to litigation we all would need a lawyer. When divorce is brought up horror stories about lawyers comes up. To me I think the smartest remark out of all of the responses I read is that they should practice law and not be allowed to have so much influence on the writing of them.

  16. Russ

    Of course we are handcuffed by lawyers, but if the fear of a lawsuit keep you from discharging pollutants into a river or ordering an employee to work using an unguarded machine, they are the right kind of handcuffs. There is no question that lawsuits made your car safer, your baby’s crib strangle proof, and the air cleaner. Most are too young to remember the resistance of automakers to mandatory seat belts in cars. Do you think without lawyers insider traders would willingly refund their ill-gotten gains because they woke up one day with regret for their actions? Nor do lawyers start lawsuits except in the most technical sense. Clients start lawsuits. Lawyers just serve them. We must get over the thinking that we can regulate our way to common sense. In that regard, Kelly is right. It is all about personal responsibility. By the way, if you couldn’t tell, I am a lawyer.

  17. Kelly

    The current moral corruption of the American people began with the creation of social security. The roots of the most enduring of sacred cows lie in those at the time wanting a way of. Controlling the populace into the future. Simple enough, as a generational transfer it necessarily creates division. This division is then exploited by those wishing ever more power.

    I’m 50 years old. I was raised in the projects (the only white family) by a mom on welfare who rebelled against her upper middle class upbringing by embracing the hippie drug culture. She was part of the first “me first” generation. The generation before hers had suffered greatly through a major world war and had just begun to create the greatest recovery the world has seen and gave excessively to their progeny. This great giving led the baby boomers to feel entitled to prosperity unearned.
    The greatness of the WW2 generation was followed by the greatest entitlement generation. These folks feeling entitled to anything unearned are the problem. That many of them created the laws and precedents we now suffer should come as no surprise. My mom never let pass an opportunity to tell me my problems were caused by the rich and that anyone who had something I didn’t was inherently evil. THAT is the reason there is no personal responsibility.
    Funny, like many of her peers she barely paid into the system now required to support her.
    I don’t things will have any hope of improving until the last of these socialist hippies dies off.

  18. Rozalia

    Lawyers are the problem, no question about that. Way too many of them: we have roughly 4% of the population of the world here in US and 66% of the lawyers of the world…..hmmmm…does that say anything to anyone else in the country of the “free speach”?


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