May 24, 2022
Peter Shand is a partner, Murray Beth Murray

It may well be that they were made by Chocolate Thorntons, a well-known brand in the UK, but with a great backstory for a family business.

Given what it means today, it is a pity that there was so little love and understanding in Thornton’s tragic story. For a classic case study, you don’t need to look beyond this company to see what could happen when a sibling feud starts and the devastating consequences and effects that can have on all concerned. ۔

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Thornton’s story, reportedly, covers everything from shaking a professional counselor, to character animosities and quarrels between siblings – even throwing cousins ​​for good – and interracial conflicts. Inevitably, this tragic story ends with a well-known ‘boardroom uprising’ and a bitter leave for a brother, a scene where no one clearly wins.

I think the important question is whether or not all family businesses run this way and I wish I could give a more satisfactory answer. The default position for a family business dispute is always an antagonism between the main characters – in the analogy of sports, everyone goes their own way.

This can often be due to age-related sibling competition, perceived parental bias and poor thinking and the root causes of succession. The situation can be further complicated if the couple enters the arena, increasing the effects of the difficult spider web problems. Governance issues caused by the founder’s inability to address the failures of his or her offspring make it difficult to resolve issues.

Legal training is about providing answers and solutions, and as a profession we, as lawyers, are principled in our solutions to our problems and in our dealings with clients. Over time, this is exactly what they expect from us. Communication between all parties, including lawyers, is of paramount importance, and it is extremely frustrating for advisers to find out at a later date what the real issues and causes of the dispute are. Better multi-faceted communication means that more complex issues can be dealt with and resolved more effectively in times of conflict, if they are openly discussed and broadcast. It’s easier said than done.

Perhaps a more consultative approach can lead to better results and you just need to think about the medical professionals who nowadays often ask their patients which path of treatment they want to take. So if they can, why can’t lawyers? The questions that arise in the minds of Rodyard Kipling’s six honest service men are ‘what, why, when, how, where and who’, he says, all designed to ensure a better understanding. If many problems are misunderstood in the beginning, you will not find many correct solutions.

Arbitration in family disputes is a better solution because if complaints are not broadcast, arguments and positions are inevitably strengthened. Sitting in the middle, the unfortunate professional consultant needs to channel their inner coupling and ask more and less to avoid conclusions for clients, often obtained in other unrelated cases. Based on experiences. It is really better if the warring boardroom factions reach their respective settlements and are encouraged through proper facilities and guidance.

This is a different professional approach for lawyers whose training has probably been about offering solutions. However, this is not a new idea, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “As a peacemaker, the lawyer has the best chance of becoming a good man.” Some people may argue against it, but we need to listen to the advice of such sages and follow it.

As a recognized mediator as well as a lawyer, I have adopted my own method of asking important questions in an attempt to change the dynamics in any family dispute. These include questions about what each side wants to get out of the conflict and what happens if both sides cannot reach a settlement. Negotiating agreements will always provide better short and long term benefits for the business.

Peter Shand is a partner, Murray Beth Murray.

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