Business Attorneys: Business attorneys handle a wide array of business legal matters.
Many of which protect your money and protect your business from legal disputes.
Whether your business is one you run by yourself or you have many employees.
You will run into legal matters that require the assistance of an attorney.
You need to know how to find a good and trusted attorney.
When you find qualified candidates, you need to know how to select the best one for your needs.
1. Begin looking before you need help.
Running a good business is about anticipating your needs, and selecting an attorney is no different.
You should plan to find a good attorney for your business before an actual need arises.
If you wait, you may wind up feeling the time pressure.
May already be in trouble, and may wind up paying more for the same legal help.
- As an example, if you are incorporating your business, you should look for an attorney before you even incorporate, so the attorney can help you with that process.
- You do not want to wait until, for example, your company gets sued for some reason.
- If you wait that long and then really need an attorney, you will be facing court deadlines for responding to pleadings. This kind of delay makes the attorney’s work more difficult (and more expensive).
2. Contact business colleagues for referrals.
Look around in your community for other businesses that are somewhat similar to yours.
Without breaking any business confidences or disclosing any company secrets.
You should be able to ask for attorney referrals.
In many cases, your best source for a referral may be another business owner who deals with the same issues you do.
- Contact someone you know or just call another business owner in your area.
- Let them know that you are starting out in business and ask if they would recommend their business lawyer. There generally will be no concern for a conflict of interest, as long as you and the other business are not directly opposing each other in a legal case.
3. Check with the local or state bar association.
A bar association is a professional organization of lawyers that serves several different purposes.
Among other things, the bar association often provides contact lists of attorneys or law firms, arranged by location and area of specialty.
You can either call the office of the bar association in your area, or check its website.
- The American Bar Association is a nationwide group of lawyers.
4. Search for lawyers with a commercial referral service.
Many commercial referral services have sites online that you can use.
One popular site is Findlaw.com, where you can search by your location as well as by specialty.
- To find these referral services, search online.
- Type “lawyer referral” into your favorite search engine.
- Some of these commercial services may seek to collect a fee for a legal referral.
- You should not have to pay. If you find a site that requires a fee, move on to another site or stick with your bar association.
5. Ask another lawyer.
If you know a lawyer through other dealings, you may be able to ask him or her for a referral.
For example, if you worked with an attorney for a real estate purchase.
That attorney may not want to represent your business but might know someone who does.
Lawyers often know the reputations of others in the field.
And they can recommend someone who can handle your business needs.
6. Review each the lawyer’s website.
After you receive some qualified referrals, visit the websites for those lawyers.
Most lawyers do maintain websites these days.
And you should be able to get a good idea of the attorney’s areas of expertise.
Look over the website and look for discussion of your specific needs.
- When you are reviewing an attorney’s website, pay attention both to the content of the site as well as its overall appearance. If the website appears sloppy or contains misspellings or grammatical errors, you should be concerned that the attorney’s written work may appear the same way.
7. Check the lawyer’s credentials.
A lawyer’s website should contain some basic information about that lawyer’s work and history.
Review the website for some of these details.
By reading the whole website, you can make a more informed decision. Look for the following information:
- Where and when the lawyer graduated from law school.
- Not every good attorney had to go to Harvard, but you should make sure that the school was an accredited law school with a positive reputation.
- The types of cases the lawyer generally works on. Many websites will report several representative cases, with short summaries of the facts and results.
- Client testimonials. Some attorneys may include the names of other business clients and a provide some positive comments from company officers.
- Whether the attorney has credentials as a specialist. Some states allow attorneys to earn specialist credentials in certain areas of law. For example, in California, a lawyer can become a certified specialist in franchise and distribution law, as well as in taxation.
8. Consider the size of the firm.
You need to decide if you want an attorney who works alone or one who is part of a larger law firm.
As the size of the firm increases, the cost is likely to increase as well.
However, a larger law firm may be able to offer more services that your business might need.
You should consider the future of your company and what legal work you might require.
- Cost should not be your only consideration.
- Larger firms often have specialists in several different fields.
- If you need help with an intellectual property issue, your lawyer might be able to enlist the help of an IP lawyer in the firm.
- If you suddenly are sued for employment discrimination.
- Then the same firm may have employment lawyers who can help you.
- Small firms may not house all of the specialties you need under one roof and may not have the reputation and reach of a larger firm. However, they charge considerably less than larger firms. If you are running a small, local business, a small firm may be able to handle all of your needs.
9. Find out any disciplinary history.
Each state has a disciplinary commission that receives and investigates complaints about lawyers.
You should find your state’s agency and search the lawyer’s history.
If you find a record of any serious violations, you may want to steer clear.
- Consider the timing of any violation. A lawyer with with a violation on record from 20 years ago, for example, may be perfectly fine now. You may want to ask the attorney about the details, but every record does not automatically have to be a disqualification.
10. Look for online reviews.
Many websites contain reviews on lawyers—Avvo, Yelp, Google+.
These reviews can be helpful, but you should also be careful in taking them too seriously.
Such reviews are often posted anonymously, and therefore the person posting may have too much freedom.
Understand that people who are upset are often more motivated to post something than people who were satisfied.
As a result, these reviews are often skewed toward negative feedback.
- In addition, it is possible to hire agencies to post positive reviews, so a string of unusually positive reports might not be legitimate either.
11. Plan introductory consultations.
Lawyers generally offer introductory consultations to meet and talk about their experience.
If you already are involved in a legal matter, you would be able to discuss that and the merits of your case.
Initial consultations may last thirty minutes to an hour and be held in the lawyer’s office.
If you run a large business, you might meet the lawyer for dinner or lunch.
- From your list of referrals, select two or three candidates who seem most likely to serve your needs.
- When you make the first call, ask directly if the lawyer charges for the first consultation. Most attorneys will not charge just to meet you.
12. Prepare questions.
When you go to the initial meeting, you should take a series of questions about your specific needs.
Consider this a job interview, and you are deciding whether to hire this person.
You need to examine whether the attorney will be able to meet your needs both now and in the future.
You may wish to ask the following types of questions:
- ”How much experience do you have in this particular field?” For example, if you are starting a record label, you will want an attorney who practices entertainment and contract law, but you probably don’t care about real estate experience. Ask for a list of representative clients.
- ”How long have you been practicing?” Ask particularly about years of legal work. Some attorneys may report that they graduated from law school 20 years ago, but then you may find out that for ten years they were doing other, non-legal work.
- ”Have you ever handled this specific kind of problem?” For example, you might need help incorporating a business. Ask the lawyer if they have ever done this before.
- ”How do you communicate with clients?” Ask specific questions about email or telephone use. Try to find out how prompt the attorney is about returning phone calls.
- ”Can you refer me to any of your current clients?” You should understand that specific details of some business matters may be privileged, but a good attorney should be able to refer you to a few contacts for client references.
13. Ask about payment.
Payment is a major part of doing business, and there is no reason to avoid the question.
Ask directly how much the attorney charges and how often you will be billed.
Find out whether the attorney may consider an alternative fee arrangement.
- Traditionally, attorneys charge by the hour and bill in ten- or fifteen-minute increments. For example, a lawyer who charges #2000 an hour will bill $50 for fifteen minutes of work and $100 for half an hour of work.
- Some lawyers may be willing to charge a flat fee for routine matters like incorporating a business or reviewing a contract. Ask the lawyer if he or she is willing to offer flat fee arrangements.
- Be prepared to pay a “retainer.” This is a sum of money that you pay ahead of time, like a deposit. The attorney deposits that into a client-funds account, and pays himself from that money as he issues bills to you. If you need regular work, then your lawyer might charge a monthly retainer.
14. Take relevant documents along to the consultation.
If you are already involved in a legal matter.
You can use the time during the initial consultation to review it with the attorney.
It will help if you take any relevant documents with you.
The attorney would be able to review the paperwork and give you a better analysis of the case.
- For example, if you have recently been notified that you are being sued on a contract.
- Take along a copy of the contract and any payment receipts that you might have.
15. Take good notes during or immediately after your meeting.
After meeting with your candidates, write down some notes of your thoughts so that your experience will remain fresh in your memory.
During the consultation, you may want to take notes about the plan for your case.
The attorney’s billing practices, or any other details that you may want to recall.
In particular, think about the following issues.
- Your impressions of the attorney’s communication skills.
- How well did you understand the issues?
- Did the attorney make you feel that you will be a part of decision-making going forward? Did the attorney clearly explain your options?
- Is the attorney’s office in a convenient location? You need to consider your own willingness to travel, either long distances or through traffic. If this is a concern for you, then you may want someone who is local.
- How comfortable did the attorney make you feel? You should realize that you will need to be able to communicate your company’s needs, and you should be able to understand your attorney’s responses. If you feel the attorney talks down to you or always speaks in “legalese,” that may not be someone you want to hire.
16. Select the best candidate.
Review the notes you made from your consultations and any referrals that you received from other people.
Select the attorney who seems to best meet your company’s needs.
While providing a level of communication and comfort that you can trust.
Remember that you are not locked into your choice.
You can always release the attorney and move on to someone else, if the need arises.
When making your final decision, keep in mind the following concerns:
- Will you be comfortable working with this person?
- Does the attorney seem sufficiently experienced to help you?
- Are you satisfied that the attorney’s fee is reasonable?
- Do you feel comfortable with the level of communication between yourself and the attorney?
17. Enter into an engagement letter.
When you make your final decision, contact the attorney.
Ask about the next steps going forward.
The attorney will probably have a procedure for taking on a new client.
Typically, the attorney will prepare an engagement letter.
Which serves as the contract between your company and the lawyer.
The attorney will personalize the engagement letter.
Including any details that are specific to your company or your case and then give it to you to review and sign.
- The engagement letter should outline precisely what the lawyer will do for you and what you agree to do. It should also explain the attorney’s billing procedures, including the payment of a retainer and monthly billing practices going forward.
- Review the agreement carefully. If you have any questions, either about items that are in the letter or anything that you discussed that is not in the letter, you should ask about them. Feel free to ask for the letter to be revised if necessary. You should not sign an engagement letter unless you agree with everything in it.
18. Pay the retainer fee.
If payment of a retainer is part of the agreement, you should pay it as soon as possible.
Many attorneys will not begin working for you until they receive that payment.
Be sure that you understand the amount and the billing procedures.
Usually, by state law, the funds are deposited into a client funds trust account and are charged against as the attorney’s time accrues.
19. More tips
Attorneys’ personal websites are a great way to investigate potential attorneys before moving forward with the interview process.
You may also be able to find client testimonials online.
As well as confidentiality rankings from attorney directories.
Ask for a list of current clients for each business attorney you are considering.
If the attorney is representing your competition and/or a business entity you could possibly end up in a dispute with, then it may not be a good idea to choose that attorney.
Don’t put off choosing an attorney until you need legal representation for a dispute.
While it is true that attorney services cost money, disputes can cost much more money.
A good attorney will advise you on measures to avoid disputes before they happen.