Legal Insight. Business Instinct.

Navigating the bar

The “Graveyard of the Pacific” is what you get when a river spanning 1,243 miles empties into an ocean which covers an area of 60-70 million square miles. These tumultuous waters, located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, are known as the Columbia River Bar. Since 1792 approximately 2,000 ships have met their demise in the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The water, weather, and geography can cause problems for even the most experienced boat captain. Because of this, all vessels engaged in foreign trade are required to use a licensed Columbia River Bar Pilot when crossing the Columbia River Bar. The pilots actually board the vessel, assume navigational control, and using their experience, they navigate the complex channels of the Columbia River Bar. The pilots rely on their experience and intimate knowledge of the shifting bar.

Attorneys come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of competency. There are general practice attorneys who dabble in many different areas and there are attorneys who specialize and focus their practice on specific areas. Perhaps the only thing attorneys have in common with each other is their innate ability to annoy people. On a side note, my own parents recognized this trait in me at an early age as I drove my brothers and everyone else around me crazy. They astutely suggested I might consider the practice of law.

Attorneys are a necessary evil. If you do find yourself in need of one, you would be wise to consider an attorney who specializes. Even the most experienced general practitioner may find difficulty navigating the particulars of your legal issue. For example, if you need some estate planning done, an attorney who specializes in drafting wills and trusts will be much better equipped to help you than an attorney who does a little bit of everything. The specialized attorney is like the bar pilots navigating the Columbia River. Because they deal with, study, and focus on a specific area, they know how to navigate the issues that could potentially cause damage. Like an experienced boat captain, a general practitioner may be skilled at his or her craft, but will not be as familiar with the terrain as a specialist. A specialist is better able to plan an effective route to success because of his or her intimate knowledge of and experience in a particular area of law.

Like the waters where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, legal disputes are tumultuous. Just as Bar Pilots navigate the Columbia River Bar to protect a vessel’s precious cargo, attorneys guide clients through legal disputes that often imperil family relationships, business opportunities, and even a person’s entire livelihood. Finding an attorney who can effectively navigate the tumultuous waters of legal dispute requires more than counting gray hairs. Experience is just one of many factors to consider. Experience dealing with your type of issue is more helpful than general experience. Determining whether your attorney intimately knows the landscape you will be dealing with is paramount to a successful outcome. It is perfectly acceptable to ask your potential attorney questions about his or her knowledge of a particular area of law. Especially during economic uncertainty, some attorneys advertise themselves as experts at everything so they can have enough legal work to pay the bills. It may seem harmless at first, but over time it can create quite a mess when an attorney working out of his league makes a mistake that makes everything blow up. By being diligent in your search for the right attorney at the beginning of your legal issue, you are more likely to avoid capsizing and being sunk by an attorney who finds himself or herself in unknown and treacherous waters.

Jeff Brunson is an attorney and shareholder at Beard St. Clair Gaffney PA. The opinions contained are his own and nothing written should be construed as legal advice. Jeff’s practice involves litigation, business disputes, and estate disputes. He can be reached at his Rexburg office, 520 First American Circle, (208) 359-5883, or follow him on Twitter @jeffbrunson.

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