The transportation industry is an unpredictable environment in which to do business. The trucking industry is a heavily regulated industry that involves many pitfalls and hurdles. Advisors to the transportation industry know that the best way to handle this challenge is to plan for it. Transportation entrepreneurs often need a full range of services to complement their management team. Such services often include crafting alternate carrier practices, creative planning, utilizing innovative information technology solutions and the implementation of best business practices.
Businesses today don’t need armchair philosophizers; they need business-savvy “real life” counselors who can help guide their company to success. Those in the trucking and logistics segments of the transportation industry often need advisors who can focus on business issues such as carrier profit improvement, enhancing margins, gaining efficiencies and driving down operating costs. Consultants often provide a thorough analysis of the current business operations and identify issues that need improvement. But an outside consultant usually lacks the trust of the leaders of a company and does not often grant them a seat at the decision-making table
Succeeding in the trucking industry requires allocating time and resources to the areas that your business will most benefit your bottom line. Beyond developing your services to target the market, transportation entities most often need advisors who have the heart and soul of your business in mind. The most accomplished lawyers are those that become "trusted advisors" to their transportation clients. This means that their counsel is sought not only for discrete cases, but also on an enterprise level- and not just for "legal" matters. The trusted advisor has a profound understanding of the clients’ business, the industry the client works in and can provide professional judgment, emotional intelligence, candor and experience tailored to the client’s risk tolerance and enterprise objectives. The trusted advisor must be more than just someone who knows the law or who can handle a case. The trusted advisor must be a part of the company's DNA.
Business leaders in the transportation industry today expect their lawyers to counsel them on legal matters, but not all realize that a lawyer who is knowledgeable in the business of transportation can contribute to the success of their business by serving as strategic advisors. While everyone ultimately seeks to earn a seat at the table and be considered a strategic advisor, many lawyers fall short. Nothing is more frustrating for the business team and the lawyer when this relationship doesn’t exist.
A lawyer can only be viewed as a strategic advisor to a transportation entity if they know the industry and the specific business well enough to selflessly contribute to the issues facing the company. Moreover, if the lawyer views their role as to only weigh in on legal issues or the legal implications of issues instead of the business implications, they will be viewed as a legal advisor and will not be thought of as being able to add value beyond that. The business lawyer is the one who leaders want to invite to participate in meetings which are viewed as strategic. Oftentimes, legal issues are raised in the typical “non-legal” meetings and, if a lawyer is not present, decisions may be made that need to be undone or modified in the future. A lawyer will be viewed as a strategic advisor when they are not just available, but are solution-oriented and well-respected by their peers in the company
The job of the strategic lawyer is to provide advice to the business decision makers regarding the legal risks of the various courses of action, devise practical legal and compliant solutions that get management and the company where they need to go to achieve the company’s goals, and objectives and aid the CEO, COO and Board in making those hard decisions. The strategic lawyer communicates his or her understanding of that role and who the proper decision makers. Too many lawyers think that they should be making the decisions. That’s fatal. Of course, the lawyer needs to always urge compliance with applicable laws and regulations and reports up the chain of command. The strategic advisor lawyer must be focused almost entirely on the company’s business and not just on the competitors of the company. They must be the innovator disruptors in the industry, focusing on executing plans and making the competition irrelevant.
The main reason lawyers fail at being strategic advisors is risk tolerance. Most lawyers are programmed to be risk adverse. How many attorneys have you heard of that won’t make decisions when there is a risk involved in the decision? I know a lot. While I subscribe to the general principle that corporate attorneys are advisors and not usually decision makers for business operations, corporate attorneys in the transportation field need to be ready to help the leaders make decisions and then support those decisions even when those decisions present risks. The best strategic advisors identify the risks for the business and then assist the business to mitigate and manage the risks. If the risks are extreme, a good strategic advisor will highlight those to the business as completely as possible which may include “what if” scenarios and case examples of other companies or other decisions AND if available, alternate decisions that may accomplish the same or similar purpose. A strong lawyer strategic advisor will have to work against the way he or she is programmed to avoid all risk and instead will have to consider the best interest of the company in advising management or the Board. If decisions are made by the company with the right information available and the right approach to manage the known and potential risks, the lawyer has done his or her job.
Lawyers succeed as strategic advisors by being appropriately balanced regarding risk and exercising good judgment. An excellent strategic advisor needs to constantly strive to find the right balance between supporting the business’s operational and strategic objectives and mitigating legal, regulatory, and reputational risk. The calls at either end of the spectrum are easy. The calls in the middle are typically far more nuanced and require good judgement in balancing multiple, often competing, considerations. The other way they fail is by not providing actionable advice or recommendations. A lawyer who simply describes the risks and opportunities of various options without providing a clear recommendation on which option the business ought to pursue is unlikely to be viewed as a good strategic advisor. A good strategic advisor will listen, truly understand, speak up and adapt to the changing needs of the business organization.
Properly serving the company as a trusted advisor means you have to be proactive with your business owner clients. Most lawyers who are serving business owners focus on incorporation or agreement review, intellectual property, trademarks, copyrights – things that are reactive. So they wait until one of their business owner clients comes to them with an issue and then they handle it. If there’s business litigation that’s needed, they handle it.
But what very few lawyers do – and I’m suggesting that transportation clients need – is to create a more proactive advisory relationship with your counsel.
The first thing that proactive counsel is going to do is to really get to know your clients’ business model. How do they earn their money? What types of customers do they have? How can you help them to collect payment and close deals more easily? This is one of the areas that the lawyer as trust counsel can provide, but is often overlooked by business owners. As a corporate trusted advisor, one of the things that counsel can and should do that will help the client make money (more money) right away is to help them to be able to close their deals more quickly and easily. The attorney as trusted advisor has a direct influence on this by how agreements are drafted and how counsel suggests that the agreement be signed. The Council as trusted advisor to a business owner must proactively meet with them at least one time per week. Speaking with the client on a regular basis empowers the trusted advisor to proactively make recommendations and be working on matters that will help to grow the business and secure the perimeter of the business.
The trust advisor must also meet with the company's leadership and financial team. This is one way that the trusted advisor can make a huge impact on their bottom line, by making sure that their financial systems and their financial controls are being maintained properly.
That also allows counsel to support them in getting in place a strong asset protection plan
Once you get involved in coordination and quarterbacking, transportation clients begin to see their counsel as the trusted advisor they can turn to when anything happens in their business and sometimes in their personal life. In the heavily regulated and dangerous field of trucking and transportation, there is simply too much at stake to rely upon old-school methods of business operations. Business leaders in the transportation world are always worried about disruption. Some high-tech rival might, after all, do to their sector what smartphones did to the photography industry, what e-commerce is doing to retail, and what financial technology (fintech) is threatening to do to consumer banking.
When disruption does affect a company, it is frequently because the enterprise was already vulnerable in some fundamental way; moreover, many incumbent companies accelerate their decline through their efforts to forestall it. Panic-driven efforts to avoid or combat disruption can easily lead to hasty, reactive, short-term-oriented decisions that move a company in many directions at once, distracting its management and squandering its resources. The fear of disruption can thus be worse for a company than the actual disruption itself.
Of course, complacency or inaction can be just as problematic. Technological changes in the transportation industry, and other external competitive forces, affect many business realities in the transportation world. Proactive measures are often needed. But they should be well thought out. The best means to be proactive is to look to your trusted advisor. While many transportation entities these days have counsel to turn to when there is a problem, many do not have an attorney as a trusted advisor who can be proactive and beneficial in many more ways than the legal industry has traditionally provided service to their clients.
The disruption in the transportation, and in other industries, has also caused a disruption in the traditional modes in which business leaders seek advice. The best means to proceed with a business decision or a corporate transaction is not to seek counseling after the fact, but to receive proactive advice from someone. That someone is increasingly becoming the attorney as trusted advisor. But this type of relationship between the attorney of trusted advisor in the business owner and/or CEO does not develop overnight. Sometimes it takes many years to find a counselor as trusted advisor. This is partly due to the fact that it takes time to find someone who a business leader can share their deepest darkest secrets as well as their confidential business plans. It is also partly due to the fact that not all attorneys see themselves as the person who should be providing proactive counseling to a company.
In my experience over the past 20 years, the businesses who succeed the most and are prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario are the ones who have an attorney as their trusted advisor in the corner to help deal with all aspects of the operations of the company. The transportation industry is changing right before our very eyes. The trucking industry is in a state of flux. The peer to peer car sharing industry has provided a means by which to revolutionize the trucking industry. To stay ahead of the curve in the trucking industry you must not only have a trusted advisor, but such trusted advisor must be able to be proactive for the day-to-day operations while keeping their eye on the horizon for changes and developments in the industry. The failure to do so can lead to disastrous consequences. Remember what happened the Kodak?