HOW TO GET FREE LEGAL ADVICE

Let’s face it – everyone objects to paying for advice; after all, our parents probably provided more than we ever wanted to hear when we were younger. Conversely, very few object to paying for emergency care after a disaster has struck. It is human nature to ignore or downplay the warning signs when you start your hike into the wildnerness; it is also human nature to spare no expense demanding a helicopter rescue when you’re trapped in a ravine with a painful broken leg, night is falling and so is the snow.

Here’s a critical fact that most people fail to grasp:  the hourly rate your attorney charges doesn’t change. However, the number of hours of legal service that you will require can be dramatically different, depending whether you are meeting with your attorney in his office before the transaction takes place, or in the courtroomafter the transaction went sour! Like the injured hiker stuck in a canyon with a broken leg, the cost to extract you from a legal mess is of secondary importance to the need for an immediate rescue. So, if it costs less to get the advice in advance, is it possible to get relevant legal advice for free?

The answer is a qualified “yes.” It is important to distinguish “legal advice” from “investment” and other forms of advice. Recently, I saw an article titled “How to Avoid Drowning,” and quipped: “Don’t go near the water.” Accurate, guaranteed, and free advice, but neither helpful or practical.  Good legal advice is designed to put you into the best position – from a legal perspective – to protect your interests while allowing you to achieve your objectives. Staying away from the water will protect them from drowning, but does little to help them achieve their objective of having a fun day sailing, surfing or swimming. By analogy, the answer to the question “How can I protect myself from risk in a real estate investment?” would be “Don’t invest in real estate.”  Again, accurate but useless advice.

For real estate investors, there is no shortage of “advice” provided in books, articles, seminars, workshops, and classes, as well as a virtually unlimited amount available on the Internet. You already knew that, or you wouldn’t be reading this!  If you take the time to review this material, attend courses, and identify your investment objectives, learn how to accurately calculate return on investment and account for expenses, and develop a plan that is designed to achieve your personal and financial objectives, you will drastically reduce the range of variables that need to be considered when assessing your legal risks. Further, understanding the importance and value of assembling a team of professionals: brokers, contractors, property managers, insurance agents, and accountants, you will develop decision-making methodologies designed to optimize your personal situation while identifying and – hopefully – minimizing the degree of risk involved.

In addition to assembling a team of professionals, you should join a local Real Estate Investment (REI) association that meets regularly and features guest speakers on different topics related to real estate investing. By listening carefully to these speakers, as well as interacting with like-minded individuals who attend the meetings, you will learn a lot more than you can imagine! Stick to REIs that offer educational programs, and steer clear of those that sell books, investment packages, etc. However, when you meet someone who specializes in selling certain types of real estate investment products, remember you are the customer. You can ask questions, check references, and do your due diligence to further minimize your risks. Make certain you get all agreements in writing. After a careful and objective analysis, if the proposed investment appears to help you achieve your personal and financial objectives, you will have accomplished the single, largest and most important element of reducing your exposure to liability or loss. Ignoring or postponing this analysis could be extremely expensive and, in most instances, futile.

And that, dear reader, is very relevant, practical — and free — legal advice. But it only works if you use it!

LOGIC IS SO OVERRATED

Fact checking is popular sport during election season, but as psychological studies repeatedly demonstrate, people will believe what they want to believe.  There are many theories, but it boils down to this:  we’re all human, and therefore subject to human foibles.  Whether it’s attributed to selective perception or redactive devalutation (where one side simply refuses to believe anything the other side says), or whether we’re all prone to confirmation bias – where we give greater weight to information that is consistent with our predetermined beliefs and devalue or ignore evidence to the contrary – as Spock would say: Humans are illogical. Yet, we manage to function, albeit not as efficiently as some would hope.

The importance of managing our investments is no less critical than the importance of managing our jobs, indeed our lives. Making the correct decisions as we go through the day requires discipline, wisdom, and focus – not unlike the choice whether or not to have a second helping of chocolate ice cream because, well, it’s right there in front of you! It matters somewhat that you saw your photo tagged on Facebook and initially wondered who was that chubby guy, but you blame the cell phone camera and pick up the scoop, rationalizing that you’ll do an extra 5 minutes on the exercise bike in the morning. Besides, you tell yourself, you missed lunch. Logic. I crave, therefore I am.

Getting information is not difficult. Making investment decisions without sufficient information is only part of the problem. The other part is understanding what information you really need. Your personal and financial goals play a bigger role in the process than you might realize, since they form the framework which helps determine more precisely what information you need to make a good decision. As individuals – and we are indeed individuals – each of us has a somewhat different focus or framework with which we process information. Just because your neighbor invested in precious metals doesn’t necessarily mean that you should, or that your decision to double-down on Facebook shares because, well, they’re so affordable right now, is necessarily crazy. Perhaps logical, but only time will tell.

The key is to develop and understand your own personal Goal, and seek out everything you can reasonably learn that will help you achieve that Goal. If an opportunity arises that will get you closer to your Goal, consider it. If the opportunity distracts or distances you from your Goal, determine if it creates a unique but unforeseen chance to achieve an even more attractive Goal – something you had not considered possible – and if not, discard it.  Warning: extreme discipline required; stay focused!

Over the course of the next two months I will be participating in and attending four separate seminar/symposium events designed to provide individuals with the necessary educational tools required to make intelligent investment decisions. I know in advance that I will be inundated with the proverbial “fire hose” of data, charts, theories, and forecasts from some very, very intelligent people. When I am not presenting myself, I plan to sit back and take it all in. But first, I will need to reflect what among the treasure trove of information I need to focus on,  mindful that I might hear or see something that will cause me to completely change my perspective.  And that’s part of the fun of going to these events – you never know what you might learn if you keep your mind open.  It’s not logical, but then, Spock was right.  Hand me that ice cream scoop!