What to Consider When Hiring a Business Lawyer
Starting a business is a complex process, involving a substantial investment of time and resources. Hiring an attorney during business formation can make a huge difference down the road. A lawyer can make sure that you meet the legal requirements for your preferred business form, while taking advantage of all the benefits that it offers. They can help you set up the tangible and intangible assets of your business, such as real estate and intellectual property.
As your business grows, you may need a lawyer to assist you with drafting contracts and negotiating transactions. They also can advise you on hiring and managing employees in a way that complies with federal, state, and local laws without imposing excessive costs. Getting legal assistance with business operations reduces the risk of future conflicts and liabilities. Sometimes litigation proves inevitable, though, and then you will want an aggressive advocate to protect your interests in the courtroom.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or colleagues who have hired a business lawyer, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience assisting businesses that are similar to yours. If they are familiar with your industry, they will understand your goals more clearly, and they can anticipate issues that are likely to arise. For example, if you are launching a software startup, you may want to retain an attorney who has assisted other businesses in the tech world. If you are opening a restaurant, you should consult an attorney who understands how the hospitality industry works. Your lawyer also should have experience addressing the specific issue with which you need assistance. For example, if a former employee has sued you for firing them, you will want to hire a lawyer who has defended against wrongful termination claims. If your business is facing an IRS investigation, you should retain an attorney who understands the nuances of business taxes. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to derail the future of your business.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your situation are different from a previous client’s situation. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, they likely have a strong reputation in the legal community. When a dispute arises, they may be more likely to be respected by judges, opposing counsel, and regulatory agencies, which can help resolve your matter more favorably and efficiently.
Often, a business lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each matter is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of positive results for businesses in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the matters in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of issue.
Some business lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients, while others provide consultations for a modest fee. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your situation, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to describe your goals and ask how likely you are to attain them, based on the law governing your situation. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. While many business lawyers charge an hourly fee, others charge a fixed fee for a certain service in its entirety. You are more likely to pay an hourly fee if your matter is complex or distinctive, while a fixed fee is more common if you need assistance with a routine task, such as filing articles of incorporation or reviewing an employment contract. In some cases, an attorney will ask a client to pay a retainer fee, which is an upfront payment. If the costs of the case fall short of the retainer amount, the rest of the retainer fee may be refunded to the client. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in the representation agreement so that you understand your obligations.
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