Attorneys - Picking
the Right Business Attorney
If you are in
business for yourself, chances are you will need a business
attorney sooner or later.
Choosing the right attorney is the biggest question because
for most of us, we donít know the difference between a good
attorney and a bad attorney.
Picking the wrong attorney can lead to legal mistakes and
cost you a fortune.
Unfortunately, having a license to practice law doesn't
necessarily mean that the attorney is qualified or even that they
aren't a complete hack.
an attorney for any purpose, you should know that just like in
medicine, there are generalists and there are specialists.
Even attorneys that specialize in a given area can be
generalists or specialists within that given area of law.
attorneys practice business law, which is different than family
law, real estate law, tax law, patent law, or criminal law.
But a business attorney may specialize even further into
areas such as incorporation, employment law, product liability,
healthcare law, and so on. There
are literally hundreds of subgroups and it takes a bit of
knowledge to know which direction to go.
when selling a small business, it can be a good idea to work with
someone who is more of a generalist in business law than it is to work with
someone who only does corporate mergers.
The later is highly specialized and will almost certainly
cost you more for the same amount of work.
On the other hand when incorporating, you should consider a
basic incorporation attorney because itís a fairly limited area
of law, relatively simple, and thereís not a lot of time or
expense involved for most cases. In
this instance, a specialist could actually be cheaper.
business generalist attorney can help you define the structure of
your business, write or review your standard client contracts and
waivers, and generally make sure that you stay out of minor legal
Few things make
a cash-poor business owner more nervous than hiring a lawyer.
So do your homework ahead of time.
advantages and disadvantages of large vs. small firms.
have specialized expertise that can become critical as you grow.
Small firms can offer a more personal touch and can be more
efficient. Most entrepreneurs need something in between.
Understand your needs (e.g., contract law, employment law, etc.)
and make sure they have an expert that can address your needs as
these issues arise.
Additional considerations in
choosing an attorney
at least three referrals from people you trust. Your best source
is other entrepreneurs. Interview
each firm carefully. Think about things such as:
- You may need to spend a lot of time with these folks during
stressful times in your life.
How compatible do you think the working relationship would
be with these folks?
Ė Adequate understanding and use of technology can make
things more efficient (and cheaper) for you.
Can they use email? Do they understand conference
attorney that must dictate every letter to his assistant
rather than just putting it into an email will cost you a lot
It is amazing how technologically behind most attorneys really are.
Ė The timeliness in returning phone calls.
If they are not returning your phone calls quickly when
they are trying to get your business, they simply aren't going
to return your phone calls after you write the retainer check.
of your industry Ė This is not essential, but it can be
some of the basics of what you do and the risks you face can
make a difference. At the very least, your attorney
should be familiar with working with businesses that are your
size, working on your kind of budget, and with your limitation
Ė What kinds of connections do they have?
If you could be expanding in the future, an
attorney who is well connected with funding sources is of
Not only that, but you may come upon
situations that require some legal expertise out of his area
of specialty. It's always nice to know that if your
attorney must make a recommendation, it is because he/she is
familiar with the other lawyer and has a working relationship
some questions to ask a prospective business attorney before you
Do you have
time for my business?
This might seem
like an odd question, but a business attorney that is trying to
stack client on top of client might not be there when you need
him. No attorney is
going to divulge how many clients he has and few will tell you
that they donít have time for you.
You are pretty much going to have to use your intuition on
typically work with small businesses and what do you do for them?
businesses and large businesses have different needs. A
lawyer who is used to handling million dollar cases may not be as
likely to consider your measly little $25,000 case to be worth
investing any real time in. It's a different world.
You should have
a good idea of what you want the attorney to do for you.
Find out if they have flat rates for each service or if
they charge by the hour. Donít be afraid to ask for an estimate. If an attorney gets a bit flaky talking about prices, go
Do you work
means that you pay the lawyer a certain amount of money each month
and in return, they handle routine legal matters for you.
In the beginning, this probably doesnít make much sense,
but as you grow, it can save you money.
When lawyers take retainers, they often give discounted hourly
provide me with references?
attorney will be able to provide these.
Ask the provided references about how the attorney is to
work with, if he listen to the client, if they are satisfied with
his billing practices, his communication skills, and anything else
that may be important to you.
Listen to your
gut feeling as to whether or not you could work with this person.
If you donít feel comfortable, move on.
There are enough choices in the world.
Use your attorney appropriately
donít just dump all of your problems on your attorney.
The best clients ask about strategy and help make
donít ask the attorney to do everything for them. The best attorneys however, let clients do the things they
can do and they involve them in the decision making process.
an attorney who will not listen is a complete waste of time and
should be avoided at all costs.
They are expensive, and most people will not be pleased
with the results. Arrogant
attorneys ironically often have a minimal understanding of the
issues involved because they already believe they know it all and
they donít wish to be corrected. Their mistakes are costly, but only to their clients.