What can astronauts teach us about delivering legal services?

Chris Hadfield’s ‘Guide to Life on Earth’, whilst a compelling view into the life of an astronaut, contains lessons for mere mortals.

Space travels involves 3 distinct phases, which we can also use for any legal transaction:

  • Pre-Launch: the preparation phase. His preparation phase lasted tens of years. This is often where the nitty-gritty of legal work is done: due diligence, searches, queries, sharing and exchanging documents, disclosure and so on.
  • Lift-Off: the climax. This is when the exciting stuff really happens. So for disputes this is the court proceedings, for sale of a business or a house this is the completion meeting, or when the trademark is finally approved.
  • Come Down to Earth: what you might call the anti-climax. This is when the ends are tidied up, paperwork filed, bills sent, and customer satisfaction monitored.

Chris Hadfield gives each phase equal importance. I suspect that’s not quite the way most lawyers see things! How can you make these phases work for you?

What should you do?

The pre-launch phase ensures that lift-off is as risk-free as possible. Many hours of preparation guarantee that informed decisions can be made in a vital split second.

Astronaut tip: ‘sweat the small stuff’ – as he calls it – and the project will be more successful. I still remember the massive over-preparation I did for a hearing with an arbitrator and our rather pernickety client. I planned, prepared, reviewed, and took summaries, agendas, maps and draft orders of every shade and hue. It was a roaring success!

During lift-off, Chris recognises that even though it’s the astronauts in the rocket who get all the credit, going into space is a massive team effort. His recommends that everyone should try to help others and the project to succeed, not go for individual glory. Occasionally, legal teams can get hide-bound by status issues, doggedly pursue dead-ends, or fail to see the bigger picture.

Astronaut tip: focus on achieving the best results for everyone. This produces better client satisfaction, and better work satisfaction too!

When you are coming down to earth, small failings can destroy years of evidence, data and experiments, as well as astronaut’s lives. How many times at the end of the matter, do you take your eye off the ball and create problems for the future? How about leases with pages missing? Wills misplaced? Agreements not signed by the authorised people or adequately witnessed?

Astronaut tip: keep your attention until the very last task is properly finished. Many years ago as a paralegal, I was part of a team scheduling all the leases on all the UK sites for a huge retailer – it was incredibly rare that the paperwork was properly signed by all parties, dated, with the right map attached and put in the correct  deeds packet. The client was not impressed!

Spend more time thinking ‘what’s the next thing that could derail this matter?’ and plan to avoid it.

This article was first published in January 2016 on Charon QC blog.

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