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Nobody likes to hire an attorney but as a business owner, you’ll probably need one at some point—possibly at the very beginning. Everything from legally forming your business to leasing office space might require the use of legal counsel, especially if you’re a first-time business owner. Here are some questions to consider before hiring an attorney.
1.) What do they charge?
Let’s get the big question out of the way first. As a small business owner, you’re very cost-conscious. In fact, you probably don’t have a lot of extra money lying around for an attorney so the price becomes important. Tej Prakash, co-CEO and co-Founder of shouldisign.com, an online legal marketplace that helps small businesses and start-ups connect with pre-vetted attorneys, says to negotiate fixed fees for their needs rather than an hourly rate. “An experienced attorney will know what needs to be done and how much time they will likely spend on the matter and will be able to (more or less) accurately price it upfront.”
Of course, if you’re sued or have a complicated legal matter, a flat fee probably won’t be possible.
Why think about price first? Because you don’t want to waste yours or the attorney’s time by going through the vetting process with somebody who is outside of your budget.
2.) Do they require a retainer?
Many attorneys require that you put some money down upfront as a retainer. If they do, ask if the retainer is refundable if you don’t use all of it. Ask about all the terms and conditions related to the retainer.
3.) Were they (or are they) a business owner?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a business attorney who has been or is an entrepreneur? In fact, if the person has experienced both business failure and success, that’s a plus because they already know first-hand what you’re asking about. There are plenty of business attorneys who haven’t owned a business of their own but experience on your side of the table is a definite plus.
4.) Can you vet them for free?
Finding a business attorney is a big decision so spending a brief amount of time getting to know them seems like a wise move. However, some attorneys will charge their normal hourly rate if you want to talk to them in an interview capacity.
Small business attorney Mathew Odgers says, “From the attorney’s perspective there are a lot of people who come in and try and get free information with no intention of ever hiring the attorney. So more and more attorneys are charging a nominal fee for the initial meeting. This allows them to be compensated for their time and still add value to the client.”
If a free consultation is important to you, ask about it upfront.
5.) What are their specialties?
You can find general practioners but look for a business attorney for business matters. Attorney Andrew Legrand says, “If an attorney is practicing in multiple areas (for instance, business law, family law, and criminal law), there’s no way they know all the ins and outs.”
Some attorneys are well versed in tax law and can help in these capacities but the more complex the case, the more you may need a specialist. Specialists will likely charge more but the level of knowledge and service should match the higher price.
RELATED: How to Build a Relationship with a Business Lawyer (Before You Need One)
6.) Who will work on your case?
Especially in the case of smaller, more routine matters, sometimes staffers will work on the case rather than the attorney you spoke to. Make sure to ask about that upfront and if another attorney or somebody on staff will work on the case, ask about their experience and credentials.
7.) Will they go to trial?
If you have a case that is a dispute of some sort, you may need a trial attorney. Some attorneys resist going to trial. They will try and settle the case at all costs. Ask about their trial experience before hiring them to help with a dispute. If you have to go to trial, you want somebody who is comfortable arguing a case.
8.) Are they local?
Basic legal matters probably won’t require many meetings but if you’re looking to establish an ongoing relationship with an attorney, you want them to be within a short drive unless the case is so specialized that you need a certain type of professional. Remember that as a business owner, your time is valuable. You don’t want to spend a large portion of your day driving to meet your attorney.
There are plenty of review sites online along with doing a basic Google search but still, the best way to find professionals is to ask people in your network about people they’ve worked with that they recommend. This goes for attorneys and anybody else you may need to hire.
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