Although it sounds exciting to own your own business, every business owner says that they were not prepared for all the duties beyond bringing their special service or product to consumers. Marketing, bookkeeping, logistics and other daily chores can become overwhelming, which is why businesses turn to professionals. Unfortunately, you may have missed one important professional for your company – hiring a business attorney for your company. These tips can help you choose the right attorney for your business, reducing the chance of legal problems in the future as well as gaining advice that could help improve your bottom line.
When to Hire a Business Attorney
The Small Business Association says that every new business owner should consult with an attorney before starting their business. Business lawyer fees are usually fairly low for an initial consultation to set up your business, such as determining paperwork that must be filed with the state and federal government or whether the business will be a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation. If you will need to create contracts as part of your business, an attorney can help you word the contracts so both you and your clients are protected. Although it is possible to create contracts on your own, many business owners have learned the hard way what happens when a contract does not cover all scenarios. If you plan to form a corporation or intend to file a patent, you will need a lawyer. Of course, if litigation is filed against your company, you will also need a business lawyer.
Research is Critical
When hiring an attorney for your business, research is critical. Of course, you can simply do a Google search using “business attorney near me”, but Google does not know the best attorney for your business needs. If you do search online, read the attorney biographies closely, looking for terms like “business law,” “corporate law,” “emerging growth,” or “startups.” Look to see if the attorney has experience with other companies in your industry. There are other resources available as well that can help you identify a lawyer that fits with your needs, including the American Bar Association. Speak to others in your industry to get recommendations for attorneys as well. Beyond referrals, you can look up online reviews and see if there is a pattern of success and satisfaction among clients.
Questions to Ask Before Hiring
Even if an attorney comes with a glowing reference, you want to be sure they are a good fit for your company. You want to be sure that the attorney’s philosophy toward clients works well with your company needs. For example, if you are opening a yoga studio, you may not want to choose an attorney who appears rigid and unbending when it comes to alternative methods for healing. Although they may be an excellent attorney, you may find it difficult to work with them in the future. Ask the attorney about potential conflicts of interest, especially if you live in a small town. If you are considering a large firm, ask how much attention the partners will be devoting to your needs and how much will be delegated to paralegals. There are business attorneys who prefer to litigate cases rather than settle which could increase your business lawyer fees significantly.
Be Sure to Discuss Costs
There is no question that business lawyer fees can be excessive. Business lawyers can cost between $150 per hour for a first-year associate to over $1,000 per hour for senior partners in large firms. In some cases, more than one lawyer or associate may work on your case, adding to the costs. Unfortunately, many small business owners avoid discussing the financial aspect when choosing an attorney. The American Bar Association recommends that you talk to the attorney about their billing practices and what they will charge for their services. You want to ask them what they will charge for paralegal services, research and even whether they charge for each phone call or email. Ask what suggestions they have for keeping their costs at a minimum. Some attorneys will agree to work on relatively routine matters, such as forming a new LLC, for an agreed upon flat rate.
Choosing a Law Firm
Many business owners prefer working with a small firm or one-attorney practice because they appreciate knowing which person is handling what exact matter related to their case, as well as somewhat lower legal fees. However, there are benefits to working with a larger firm as well. Like doctors, the legal profession has grown highly specialized over the past few decades and if you choose a one-lawyer firm, you may not get the specialization that you need to get the results you want. You also may be tempted to simply use a lawyer you have used in the past for a personal matter, such as the lawyer who handled the settlement on your home. An attorney that specializes in real estate may not understand how to file a patent or be able to adequately advise you on international intellectual property laws. Large firms often have multiple legal specialists under one roof so they are better able to handle all your legal needs as opposed to a single-lawyer firm who may have to refer you to a second, third or even fourth lawyer for various business needs.
Investing in legal services early and periodically throughout the life-cycle of your business can save you major costs and headaches in the long run. If you are already facing litigation and you do not have a business attorney, you have waited too long. Too often, business owners wait until they have been served documents before they start looking for an attorney. Once you have received a court summons, cease-and-desist order or other court document, you already have a legal problem and it is going to cost you money. Even if the complaint seems petty or frivolous, you will still have court costs, attorney fees and other expenses in order to fight the complaint. The issue could be caused by a clause in a contract that was not clear or perceived discrimination against an employee. By hiring a business attorney to review your contract language or set up your human resources processes, you can better protect yourself and your company.
Rather than using “business attorney near me” in a search engine, talk to others in your industry about lawyers who specialize in that area. Ask questions and be sure to talk about the costs involved in hiring any attorney. Your company depends on valid and accurate legal advice in order to grow.