How to Build a Relationship with a Business Lawyer (Before You Need One)

by Lenore Horton

Choosing a lawyer for your business isn't as simple as opening up the yellow pages and picking the one with the best looking ad. And asking for free legal advice when you're in a pinch isn't likely to gain you any popularity points with attorney friends. Here's how to go about finding the best lawyer for your business situation.

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Image source: Photospin.com

As a business owner or investor, you likely already know the important role a lawyer can play in the success of your ventures. Certainly, for those with multiple projects, it is essential to have a legal advisor who is familiar with how layered business interests intersect and impact each other. What you may not realize is that the best time to develop a relationship with a lawyer is before you actually need one.

Knowing several lawyers and building a relationship with them are two different things entirely. Savvy networkers understand that asking for free advice from friends who happen to be lawyers is not the same thing as building a relationship with a business lawyer. When you develop relationships with attorneys before hiring one, you expand your options and increase the chances of choosing one who can best serve your needs.  If you already work with an attorney, maintaining meaningful connections with several will also make it easier to explore your options if you ever want to diversify dependence upon a single lawyer or law firm.

Here, I provide 4 easy tips on how to create meaningful connections with business attorneys that will give insight into their practice areas, competence, scale, clientele and connections, and overall working style.

Use Your Online Social Network

Many lawyers and law firms have an online presence, at least by way of a website, and there you should easily find where to connect with their social networking profiles. Wherever you regularly use a social networking site for yourself or your business—e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, About.Me—is an opportunity to follow business lawyers and practice groups. Add or follow the company page on Google+ and LinkedIn. Follow an attorney or law firm on Twitter, like the company page on Facebook, or connect directly with attorneys on LinkedIn. 

These social networking profiles represent an opportunity to have regular exposure to the type of information distributed by them. You will likely also find information regarding other attorneys and firms with similar or complementary law practices, expanding your ability to find and build relationships.

Liking, adding, and following are only starting points, however. Useful connection involves using a system to save and organize helpful information, forwarding information to those who might find it useful, reposting with commentary of your own, and commenting or replying directly. Be warned, however, that an attorney is unlikely to give legal advice or address highly specific situations on an online forum. The goal here is not to receive free advice, but to foster a level of engagement that leads to informed decision-making on whom to hire when you need an attorney to represent or advise you.

Get Your Free Newsletter, Right Here!

Many lawyers and law firms offer a newsletter that can be easily subscribed to by email. Sign up! Newsletters are used to feature relevant content in a more substantive, impactful way. It is also an opportunity to read about a firm’s successes and extracurricular initiatives. Having yet another item in your email inbox may seem like the last thing you could possibly want, but subscribed newsletters often make it worth the effort by providing exclusive content, advance notice on special events, and promotional offers.

Reviewing these need not consume too much of your time. Pick two to four newsletters to subscribe to, and then designate one hour each month to review them. It can even be scheduled as a recurring appointment in your calendar. That one hour each month is an investment into expanding your options and building a foundation of knowledge that will increase the chances of choosing the best lawyer or team of lawyers for accomplishing your business objectives.

Special Event: Take Note

Event pages, calendars and notices offer two unique ways of building a knowledge base regarding a business lawyer or practice group. First, this type of information indicates the type of events believed to be useful to the lawyer’s clientele. If you regularly see events that raise your interest or even directly address issues relevant to you, then you have already established this person as a useful resource and point of reference. Second, this type of information likely includes events hosted or attended by the attorney. Aside from the program’s substantive value to you, here presents an opportunity to engage directly with the attorney in person and in one-on-one conversation. Events allow you to meet, establish a rapport, and explore areas of mutual interest.

High Value Offers

High-value offers are exactly that: high value. Many business lawyers, particularly those aimed at entrepreneurs, startups & small business owners, offer advice or programs at entry-level pricing for you to get a sense of what they can do for you.  The range of what constitutes entry-level depends upon numerous factors, such as your needs, industry, development stage, and method of operating. High value offers can come in many forms.

  • A $25 registration fee for a networking event or community-sponsored educational program
  • A slightly higher range for workshops and legal programs with more individualized attention
  • $300 - $600 for a one-on-one consultation falling under formal attorney-client rules
  • Legal audits or compliance checks often beginning as little as $1000

The key advantage here is value and timing. It is an opportunity to engage even more directly for relatively little financial expenditure compared to the level of individualized service. The timing of these are advantageous because it comes before an issue or immediate need arises, giving you more control and more options.

Choosing a business lawyer can be a daunting and intimidating task. These four tips put you in a position to learn what a lawyer has to offer and how you two might work together before needing to hire one. First, use your social media networks to gain regular exposure to what these attorneys do and who the target market is. Second, sign up for email newsletters. Manage the time by designating one hour each month to review them so that you can be regularly updated with exclusive content regarding their practice and success stories. Third, pay attention to special events and attend events helpful to you, especially if it is hosted or attended by the lawyers. Finally, take advantage of entry-level offers that pack a high value. Following these steps will help set the stage for knowing who to turn to in a time of need and increase the chances of choosing someone whom you trust and with whom you have a rapport.

Related: Managing Litigation Costs: Five Tips for Business Clients

© 2014 by Lenore F. Horton, Esq.

Lenore Horton is a licensed attorney and the Founder of LFH ESQ Attorneys & Advisors. She provides business & legal advice to business leaders, investors, and change agents. Her clientele ranges from startups, to artists & creative, to nonprofits. Learn more about her at www.LenoreHorton.com and about her law firm at www.LFHESQ.com

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