By Heidi Slinkard Brasher at McAfee & Taft, PC. This article appears in the May/June 2013 issue of Inspectioneering Journal
Some involvement with legal issues is inevitable for professionals, including individuals and the companies for whom they work. But too often, companies – their management, their personnel, and their counsel – accept the status quo as providing adequate protection from legal risks. They fail to see their practices as such practices might be viewed by regulators, who may mistrust business, or by the public, which may fear unknown impacts from the business operations, or by plaintiff lawyers, who see a moneymaking opportunity. Too often, management thinks that because “it has always been done this way,” legal risks are minimal. The problem is, the way it has always been done may be precisely the reason exposures and liabilities exist.
Well-drafted contracts mean work and revenue, and not only provide clarity for scope of work, but also valuable protections in an ever more competitive world. Lawyers appreciate clients who help make deals clear and tight, and clients need to understand how they can get the best service from their legal counsel. But much of what non-lawyers find in experiencing the legal world is negative.
Receiving a letter containing accusations from a lawyer is distressing, responding to discovery is excruciatingly burdensome, and going through a deposition or trial is expensive financially, emotionally, and in time required. If the government is the accusing party, the trouble is only magnified. This column is to provide non-lawyers an introduction to the legal system; information about various laws and regulations related to inspections and equipment integrity; commentary on issues that are potentially significant to organizations; discussions of specific types of pitfalls you may encounter, how these pitfalls are pursued and sometimes prosecuted in the legal arena, and most importantly, how professionals can protect themselves and their organizations from legal exposures; and if a lawsuit or government action cannot be avoided, how to position themselves to win or at least minimize the damage.
This column is not legal advice. Rather, the concepts and issues raised are intended to increase awareness about legal issues and allow readers to then decide whether or not their particular situation would be best served by consultation with an attorney. The goal will be to provide the reader with a broad view of typical legal issues encountered by businesses and persons employed in those businesses. Transactions and contracting will be discussed along with compliance and enforcement programs, sometimes focused on high level issues such as new statutes or regulations and sometimes working through nuts and bolts issues related to subjects that some see as minor (but they are not), such as the significance in legal contexts of training and communications within an organization.
In the next issue of Inspectioneering Journal we will provide an overview of the various legal liabilities facing organizations in the Inspectioneering community. In order to prevent potential legal problems from surfacing, it is critical that one appreciates how, and from whom, certain liabilities may arise.
Work hard. Work smart!