Startup Business Seeking Business Attorney

You have decided to take the entrepreneurial leap and start your business, and you are ready to hire a small business attorney. Trouble is, you don’t personally know any lawyers, and the ones you see advertised on billboards and bus wraps talk about car accidents and being injured on the job.  What’s your move?  Below is some guidance on finding the right lawyer to fit your needs.

Shop Around

Obviously the Internet is a wealth of knowledge for almost everything, and it is no different for attorneys.  Go ahead and try searching “small business attorney” in your area and see what comes up.  When you find a few law firms, dig into their website and see what they are all about. Do they advertise that they represent small businesses? Do they have client testimonials or case studies to view?  Also check their online reviews, just like you would for any other type of service.  The site www.avvo.com is to lawyers what Yelp is for restaurants.  However, a word of caution: Avvo tends to favor the personal injury-type attorneys more than corporate attorneys, but it is definitely another great resource to get some feedback about a potential attorney. 

Once you have identified a few potential law firms or lawyers, set up consultations with them.  Some law firms charge for initial consultations, others don’t.  But treat this consultation as if you are interviewing an employee for a job, because essentially, you are.  You are under no obligation to hire the first attorney you meet. Trust me, there are MANY of us out there and shopping attorneys is a common practice.  Your attorney is an integral part of your team whom you are paying as an independent contractor.  You need to make sure they are the right fit for your business.  I always tell people that at a fundamental level, you need to like your attorney as a person.  You are going to speak to this person more than you think, and you definitely don’t want to cringe every time you need to call them or you see their name come up on your phone. You also need to feel that this person is invested in your business; that they want to see you succeed.

Not All Lawyers Are Created Equal

A few fun facts about the practice of law…

First: attorneys are licensed to practice in specific states. 

Many attorneys are licensed to practice in multiple states, but you want to make sure that whomever you hire is (1) licensed to practice in the state where you and/or your business are located and (2) are in good standing with that state bar association. 

Second: a criminal lawyer and a corporate lawyer are not the same thing. 

While it is true that we attorneys are all deemed competent to practice law by our respective state bars, that does not mean that we should.  Most of us cannot say that we “specialize” in any specific area of law, but I know only enough about criminal law to be amusing at parties and would not take on a criminal case as I do not feel experienced or competent enough to do so.  It is up to us attorneys to make that judgment call, so when you meet with your potential attorney, ask them some questions about the type of clients they handle.  If they have never handled a business client before they may not be a good fit for your needs.

It’s Not Your Job to Know What Legal Services You Need

I have always found this interesting about lawyer websites: most of them like to list out the type of legal services they can provide right out the gate.  The problem with that is unless you know either what those services are or that you need them, how would you know?  You have come to us to tell you what you need, right?  A proper business attorney should take an assessment of your business and suggest legal services and advice they feel you need.  I also believe we attorneys need to have the heart of a teacher and explain what the service is and why you need it.  If you go to our website at www.schafferlawfirmtn.com you will not find a link to a list of services on the main navigation bar.  Instead you will see “Hospitality”, “Entrepreneurs”, and “Nonprofit”.  It is our philosophy that my clients only need to know which of these three categories they fall within (they may fall into all three!) and from there, I provide a list of services those types of businesses need. 

Ask your potential attorney what they charge and if they offer various types of billing options.  The billable hour is becoming less frequent, especially in the business sector.  Businesses large and small want to know what their legal costs are going to be upfront, so flat fees are becoming more in demand.  You need to determine upfront if you can afford the potential attorney’s rates.

Deciding that it is time to hire an attorney is usually not something people get overly excited about.  The day someone wakes up and says, “I think I will take my hard-earned money and hire a lawyer today,” is the day I have truly made it!  And whether we in the legal profession like it or not, we are usually described as a necessary evil. But it does not have to be this way.  I truly believe an attorney, and specifically a business attorney, is a trusted advisor to the small business entrepreneur. If you take the time to perform due diligence on your prospective attorney, you too can have a legal match made in heaven! 

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