Finding a skilled business attorney may be the most important step you can take toward winning a legal case and it does not have to be a difficult task. You will, however, need to take your time with the search. Focus your efforts on finding a lawyer that will be dealing with your specific legal issue in the future and that you get along with personally. Make good use of the time to find the right lawyer will be worth it, as they are more likely to help you win your case.
In this article, we shall provide some useful tips on how to find and pick a business attorney or lawyer who can help you with consultation and keep you safe from any legal lawsuits that may be filed against you and putting your business at risk.
When you own or run a small business in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter, one of your biggest fears is probably getting sued. Also, no matter how carefully you conduct business, hiring the wrong individual or a business deal gone wrong can come back to haunt you. Therefore, the best way to hedge your bets against legal problems in the future is to invest time and resources now in finding a small business attorney.
A good business attorney is like a partner to your business who can see you through some of the most challenging times for your company. Additionally, they can be a great resource for any legal questions you have or legal services you require, whether it is for drafting agreements, raising money, or handling employment issues, such as lawsuits.
After all, there are over a million civil cases that are filed every year in U.S. courts. As such, more than half of those cases are contract disputes or employment disputes targeted at businesses. Also, defending a lawsuit can cost several thousands of dollars, which is enough to cripple a small business.
However, the good news is that hiring an experienced business attorney does not have to break your budget, but it can help protect you from costly legal trouble down the road.
All of this being said, we shall discuss some important things on how to know when you need a business attorney, how to find and choose the best one, as well as explore top tips on conserving costs.
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Business attorneys manage and 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. When you find qualified candidates, you need to know how to select the best one for your needs.
Here are five simple steps that will give you a brief idea about how to find and pick a business attorney for your small business
The best time to hire a business attorney or lawyer is before you need one. That said, here are some common situations where start-ups and small businesses should consider retaining a business attorney
Your choice of business entity impacts your ability to grow your company in the future. For example, if you plan to raise venture capital, then a C-corp is the best choice to adapt. A small business lawyer will effectively walk you through the pros and cons of the different business entities and help you decide which will be right for your company.
(b) Raising money
When raising venture capital and selling equity to investors, it is wise to have a business attorney to help you draft up term sheets and navigate securities laws.
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(c) Drafting founder agreements
If you are planning to initiate a business with partners, then outlining each partner’s rights and responsibilities from the start can prevent disagreements down the line. A small business lawyer is ideal to assist you to draft both partnership agreements and corporate by-laws.
Businesses grow by forming contracts with other companies or clients. A business attorney can help you negotiate favorable contracts and ensure you understand all the fine print.
As a business’s workforce grows larger, business attorneys often step in to help with labor law compliance and to resolve wrongful termination lawsuits.
For businesses in the tech, health, or research sectors, obtaining a trademark or patent can be important to the business’ future. Business attorneys who specialize in IP, also called trademark lawyers, can help you protect your business’ creations.
Along with these more common issues, sometimes an event that happened before you started the business can come back to haunt you like a nightmare. Therefore, although you may not need to hire a business attorney right when you start your business, it may be worth looking into different local small business lawyers anyway, so that in the case you do decide you need one, you will have an individual (or maybe a few) in mind.
This being said, many business attorneys focus on a specific practice area, whereas others are “generalists” who can help you with a range of legal concerns. There are pros and cons to both of these options and the kind of small business lawyer you need will ultimately depend on the specifics of your company.
Whether you decide to find a small business attorney before you need one or you are looking for legal advice for a certain situation, there are a few best practices you should find the lawyer that’s right for your business. Hiring a small business lawyer is, in some ways, similar to searching for a business lender, accountant, or your next employee.
It is wise to have multiple options to compare. We suggest meeting with a few different business attorneys and then choosing the individual that is the right fit for your business. One of the best ways to source potential business attorneys near you is through your own personal or professional network.
A recommendation from a trusted friend or family member, or from a business owner in the same industry can be very valuable, especially if they are facing the same legal concerns as you are. You might also consider asking for a recommendation from a business professional you already work with, for instance, your bookkeeper or accountant. Furthermore, you might use online legal directories to find business attorneys near you.
In many states, lawyer bar associations maintain an up-to-date list of licensed attorneys in the area, sortable by the lawyer’s area of focus. Moreover, U.S. News and Best Lawyers also have curated attorney listings, though these attorneys typically work at large, expensive corporate law firms.
In order to get a local attorney with a business specialty, Nance L. Schick, of The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick, suggests turning to “the Small Business Administration and other small business organizations, such as New York City Business Solutions, your local chamber of commerce, and SCORE, (who) often have relationships with attorneys who are well-experienced working with small businesses.”
On the other hand, you can find that legal help sites like Avvo, Rocket Lawyer, and LegalZoom are particularly useful resources for finding a business attorney. These sites have a variety set of attorney listings, coupled with attorney reviews. Even though it is important to perform your due diligence to vet any small business lawyer you find, you also want to be wary of putting too much stock into online reviews.
Not all of these sites require reviews to come from verified clients and there is often no context provided about the legal issue that the client was facing. Therefore, on top of reading reviews on any business attorney, you find online, you can also perform some additional research, be sure to verify that the lawyer is indeed licensed in your state, check their website and LinkedIn profile (if available) and see what other pertinent information comes up by performing a simple Google search.
The next step after sourcing a handful of business attorneys is to meet with all of them. Most lawyers provide and spend a half-hour or one-hour consultations to meet with potential clients at no cost. Conducting meetings with an attorney is a good way to see if a small business lawyer is a good fit without committing. Whenever possible, you will want to try to arrange for an in-person consultation.
An in-person meeting signals that the lawyer places importance on building client relationships and is willing to make time for you. Also, by meeting with a potential business attorney in person, you will be able to get a better sense of that individual’s personality to determine if you think you will work well together. At the time of consultation, you can ask the following questions to help you find the best business attorney for your company:
An experienced business attorney working with small businesses is important from a cost standpoint. A lawyer who generally works with Fortune 500 clients will probably charge an hourly rate to match. They might also prefer more litigious means of resolving a case, as opposed to more cost-effective methods of dispute resolution.
For privacy reasons, lawyers cannot discuss past clients in detail with you, but they should be able to say something like “25% of my clients are businesses with fewer than 20 employees.”
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Next, you will want to ask a small business lawyer how much experience they have with your legal issue. In most cases, it is best to hire a business attorney who focuses on the specific area that you need help in. However, if you have multiple issues related to launching your business, a generalist lawyer could be just what you need. For instance, a start-up lawyer can help you choose the best structure for your business, develop term sheets for investors and negotiate your first few contracts. In fact, hiring a lawyer for multiple services can actually save you time and money.
On the other hand, however, if you are looking for a business attorney for a very specific purpose, such as to deal with litigation, then you will want to be sure that the lawyer you choose has prior experience directly related to litigation.
Many business attorneys pride themselves on having a big network and will be able to refer you to another small business lawyer if you need help with something that does not fall within their area of expertise. The not-so-good attorneys will avoid providing referrals because they do not want to lose business. You will want to make sure you know where your business attorney stands on this. After all, most businesses need help with a range of legal issues over the long run.
Attorneys work with multiple people, such as associates, paralegals, and law clerks. A lawyer’s time is limited, so they often outsource some work to more junior-level staff. Although you might want your small business lawyer to do all of your work, having multiple people on your case can actually work in your favor.
This seems a quite important question to ask, particularly if a business attorney works closely with multiple businesses in the same community. For instance, say you have a contract dispute with a local supplier. If the small business lawyer has previously represented that supplier (even if it was a different case), they might not be able to represent you without creating a conflict of interest.
Different business attorneys or lawyers have different communication preferences. Some old-school business attorneys prefer in-person meetings and phone calls for quick questions. Others prefer e-mail and use e-signature software to store and sign documents. If you are a small business owner with a busy daytime schedule, you will want to make sure the lawyer understands this and that you have a way to communicate urgent matters.
This is probably one of the most important questions that you will ask of a prospective small business lawyer. You will want to keep in mind, however, that less expensive does not necessarily equate to better. The opposite could be true. More experienced, successful lawyers often charge higher rates. This being said, small businesses should work within a budget.
As a small business owner with a budget, fees are likely one of your top concerns when looking for a business attorney. Generally, hourly billing rates for business attorneys may range anywhere from $150 per hour for a junior attorney in a small city to $1,000 or more per hour for a top attorney at a big-city law firm.
With this in mind, it is important to get all the details of your fee agreement in writing, so that you know exactly how much you will be paying for your small business attorney’s services.
This being said, below are some of the budget-friendly fee arrangements business attorneys sometimes offer for small businesses
Depending on what type of legal work you need help with, a business attorney might charge you a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. This can save you a lot of money, especially on straightforward matters that attorneys handle on a regular basis. Also, if you are engaging the same attorney for multiple services, they might offer you a discount or “package deal”.And attorneys do this because they know happy clients will come back to them in the future if they need a lawyer again.
If your case includes and involves litigation, then the business attorney might work out a contingent fee arrangement with you. A contingent fee is when the attorney gets paid only if they win the case on your behalf. There are various ethical reasons, however, why an attorney might avoid a contingent fee arrangement. Just take at one example, an attorney who is fired midway through a case by their client might find it difficult to recoup compensation if a contingent fee arrangement is in place.
Business attorneys sometimes will take a portion of the equity in your business in exchange for providing legal help. This happens very rarely because small businesses have high failure rates, so there is no guarantee that the attorney will receive payment. However, this might be something you are able to work out with a small business lawyer if you have a fast-growing start-up.
For small businesses that are likely to have a lot of legal work, having a business attorney on retainer can be helpful. An attorney on retainer is basically “on-call” to respond to whatever legal needs come up for your business. To hire an attorney on retainer, you typically have to pay a small amount of money each month, which covers a specific number of hours of legal work.
For projects that exceed that time, you pay an hourly rate or flat fee. Essentially, the major advantage and benefit of having a business attorney on retainer are that you can proactively address legal issues before they start to negatively impact your business.
Ultimately, whatever fee structure you decide, you will want to be sure it is clear, established in writing, and of course, fits within the budget of your small business.
In most cases, if you think you need a lawyer’s advice, you are probably right. Business attorneys can offer guidance to a growing small business on a range of issues. However, billing costs can add up quickly and one of the best ways to contain costs is by knowing when and when not to contact a business attorney or lawyer.
The following types of tasks typically do not require the help of a business attorney:
In most cases, you should be able to manage the tasks above on your own or, in the case of balancing your books, for example, with the assistance of a business professional that does not need to be a business attorney or lawyer. However, a complicated situation can attain a business attorney’s assistance. Just take an example, if the city that your business is located in has complicated zoning laws or just rezoned, then it might be beneficial to retain an attorney when you apply for a business license.
Not sure should you hire a business attorney for something? Legal help sites can provide some guidance. You might already have heard of sites like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer for the assistance they provide to consumers. These sites also provide and grants business legal services, usually at low flat fees designed to fit small business budgets. For instance, you can incorporate a business on LegalZoom for under $150. Furthermore, these sites also offer access to standard legal forms.
Many also have an “attorney on-call” service. In exchange for around $30 per month on LegalZoom, you can get phone advice from attorneys on anything from contract law to trademarks.
When using legal help sites, however, you will want to be watchful of a few things. First, some forms can be out of date, or you might be charged for a form that you can access for free on a government website. in addition to this, generic forms might not hold up in court. When in doubt, therefore, it is best to consult a small business lawyer about laws that are specific to your industry or state.
Thus, by now, it is clear that the main reason to hire a business attorney is to save yourself money and time down the line. The savviest small business owners are proactive about accessing legal help before they need it. You can find good small business attorneys through multiple channels and most of these lawyers are happy to work out a fee arrangement that fits within your budget.
This being said, whether you find a business attorney or lawyer through a referral, legal directory, or legal help site, you should have an open conversation with them and make sure they are the right fit for your business, both now and in the future. In addition to this, do not forget that when it comes to working with a small business lawyer, you are the client.
You can talk to as many business attorneys as you need to before choosing the right one for your small business and if at any time you are unsatisfied with the business lawyer you choose, you always have the option to discontinue your relationship and start your search afresh.