Finding the Right Lawyer for Your Small Business

(Courtesy Photo of Cliff Ennico)
Cliff Ennico
Succeeding In Your Business

Most small businesses wait until it’s too late before hiring their first lawyer – usually after someone has served them with a lawsuit or has sent a threatening letter.

While nobody enjoys paying legal fees, having a good business lawyer on your team from the beginning can save you tons of money and heartache down the road.

What should you look for in a business lawyer? 

Here Are Some Tips:


Do Not Hire A Litigator

A litigator is someone who primarily handles lawsuits. Once you’ve been sued, you need a litigator. But a good business lawyer’s primary goal is to keep your business out of court and prevent lawsuits from happening in the first place. Look for a lawyer who can help you: 

* Form and manage your corporation or limited liability company (LLC)

* Draft and negotiate contracts (including your website terms and conditions and privacy policy)

* Handle basic tax, employer/employee and trademark/copyright matters


Look For Business Savvy

A good business lawyer knows more than just the law. He or she should be able to understand your business well enough to be able to help you understand the business consequences of taking a particular legal action, and anticipate which legal and tax issues your business may face in the future. Though, beware the attorney who thinks he or she knows more about your business than you do, and remember the adage, “Never take business advice from a lawyer.” Lawyers are not risk-takers. They can help you assess the consequences of taking a calculated risk, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide if the risk is worth taking. 


Make Sure Your Lawyer Is Well-Connected

Your business lawyer is the general practitioner or internist you go to when you first need help. Just like a doctor, if your business lawyer cannot help you with a particular problem or transaction, he or she should be able to introduce you to a more specialized attorney who can.


Make Sure Your Lawyer Can Communicate

Too many attorneys have forgotten how to speak plain English. If you cannot understand what your attorney is saying, do not blame yourself for not having gone to law school. Ask for clarification. If you still don’t understand his or her advice on the second go-round, find another attorney. 


Make Sure You Like Your Lawyer

No matter how qualified an attorney may be on paper, if you just don’t feel comfortable dealing with him or her, look for someone else. You are going to be sharing a lot of confidential information and trade secrets with this person, and you don’t want to lie awake at night wondering if he or she will act professionally.


Make Sure Your Lawyer Is Flexible On Fees 

A good business lawyer realizes that most small businesses don’t have tons of money lying around and will work with you to manage the cost of the relationship. An attorney who charges by the hour for everything they do is not the right attorney for your small business. A great business lawyer posts the fees on his or her website or Facebook page, so you can see exactly how much his or her services will cost without you even having to ask.

The law is an extremely competitive profession, and most lawyers will be flexible on their fees -- for example, by charging flat fees for small matters, spreading their fee out over several months or agreeing to cap their hourly fees at a certain figure. But only if you ask. If you are on a limited budget for legal assistance, be sure to communicate that to your attorney up front so there are no surprises down the road.

Having said that, do not try to haggle with an attorney who has offered you a fair price. Remember that he or she is running a small business just like you are and cannot afford to sell his or her services at a price that won’t provide a decent income. Also, if an attorney perceives that all you care about is the lowest possible fee, you will become his or her lowest priority client. A long-term relationship with the right attorney is as much an investment as equipment, supplies or inventory -- and you wouldn’t scrimp on those, would you?


Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.” This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.


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