A Lesson From Apollo 11

A little over a week ago was the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon. A lot of news stories and documentaries were published and broadcast commemorating the anniversary of the event. We’d like to share one of those stories that caught our attention.

Shortly before launch, Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, who acted as a liaison with the White House, called President Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire. “You’ll want to consider an alternative posture for the president in the event of mishaps,” Borman told Safire. In other words, Borman wanted President Nixon to have a speech ready to deliver if the Apollo 11 crew wasn’t going to be coming home from the moon.

A number of things could’ve gone wrong with the mission. Scientists weren’t entirely sure that it was safe to land and walk on the moon. The lunar module could have failed to lift off from the moon. And after liftoff from the moon, the lunar module could have failed to dock with the command capsule for the return flight home. There was a real possibility that the astronauts could have been stranded on the moon or be left floating in space.

So to be prepared, Safire wrote a speech entitled “In the Event of Moon Disaster.” Thankfully, President Nixon never had to use it.

That NASA and the White House planned for the potential failure of the Apollo 11 mission serves as a reminder of the need for contingency planning. Without that planning, it would have been exceedingly difficult if not impossible for the president to effectively lead the nation and the world in coping with the loss of the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Good lawyers do a lot of contingency planning for their clients. When drafting contracts, a good lawyer will think about the ways in which the business relationship can go sour and plan for them. In litigation, good lawyers try to anticipate what the opposing party may do and plan how to respond. Good lawyers also think in advance about what needs to happen if you get an adverse ruling from the Court.

Good lawyers plan ahead in case things don’t go their client’s way, and they get their client to confront and plan for those possibilities before they happen. Such advance planning is a good idea in other business settings too. (If you’re in a manufacturing business, what would you do if your supply chain is interrupted? What would happen to your data if your computers break down? What would you do if you lose a key employee to a competitor?)