The Smoot-Hawley (or Hawley-Smoot) Tariff Act of 1930 seemed like a good idea.  Raise tariffs, generate revenue for the federal government, and encourage domestic business.  But that’s not quite the way it played out — Our foreign trading partners retaliated, and the resulting trade wars helped lead the country into the Great Depression.

It didn’t have to be that way.  There were plenty of warning signs that the Act would fail:  hundreds of respected economists publicly pointed out the flaws; boycotts preceded the passage of the Act; and prominent business leaders such as Henry Ford and Abe Froman tried desperately to dissuade President Hoover from signing the bill.  Hoover signed it anyway.

As I look down on the Von Steuben Day parade from Chicago’s Willis Tower, it occurs to me that lawyers could learn a lot from Hoover’s mistake.  We often think our clients are righteous dudes and it’s easy to overlook warning signs that we might be better off (or even required) to withdraw from a representation.  While it is usually a course of last resort, there are some telltale signs that a prompt withdrawal might be the best, or even only, course:

*The client brags about his 1961 Ferrari GT250, yet the A/R is growing and, despite promises to pay, nothing has come in.

*The client ignores your advice and insists on pursuing a course that you believe is unwise.

*The client is repeatedly complaining about the bills, your work, and everything else.

*Joint clients disagree on a course of action or are otherwise at each other’s throats.

*The client is engaging in activity that you think may be questionable.

If you come across any of these warning signs, don’t just wait for things to get better; if you get too far down the road, it’s hard to dial back the odometer.  Give some serious thought to whether withdrawal is appropriate and, if so, how best to accomplish it.  While no one wants to let a client go, in the long run, you may say danke schoen that you did.  After all, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Need more convincing?  Check out this stirring analysis of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=dxPVyieptwA