Q: How can my company save money on legal fees?

A: Attorneys sell their time. The less time you spend with the lawyer the less money you will spend on the lawyer.

I suggest the following principles when it comes to saving money on legal fees: be a proactive, sophisticated consumer of legal services, separate the personal from the legal in disputes and business transactions and consider do-it-yourself (DIY) legal research.

Be proactive about legal issues in your business. It is generally less expensive to pay an attorney upfront to adequately plan for the legal aspects of a commercial transaction or business arrangement than to try to fix a legal problem after the fact. For example, if one of your employees walks off with proprietary business information (what the law calls trade secrets) or starts to solicit your customers or clients, what recourse does your company have? You will be in a much better legal position if your employee had signed a noncompete or nonsolicitation agreement.

Become a legally sophisticated business leader. You don't have to go to law school, but understanding the basics of the law will help you communicate with your attorney and better understand the options you might have in a given case. In some situations, DIY research may be sufficient for your needs.

Finally, let's discuss personalities vs. legalities. For 30 years, I have been hired for disputes and too often bill for matters in which parties are fighting over personal rather than legal issues. To illustrate this point, I recall a church advertisement on a bus stop bench that says: "Forgive your spouse and wreck your lawyer's day." In a divorce case, a better return for legal fees spent involves discussing items such as retirement assets or credit card debt.

Some of the many resources you can access online are the following: Minnesota Statutes Search allows a user to search the table of contents among the laws that may apply to the matter. On the Minnesota Agencies, Boards and Commissions website, you can find out whether an agency has regulations applicable to your legal matter. LawMoose bills itself as home of the Minnesota legal web; the public version has a good list of links to the law.

John Del Vecchio has been operating a general practice, solo law office since 1988 and is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.