Many attorneys concentrate in a particular range of the law. Be sure your attorney has significant experience. An attorney who regularly breezes wills may not be the best choice to exemplify you in a court room if the subject is an auto accident. If family, friends or co-workers have engaged an attorney for a similar reason, ask them for approvals. If not, check with your state and local bar associations. Some groups offer attorney referral services for their members.
Types of Attorneys
Like doctors, attorneys are becoming more and more specialized. Somebody who does typically wills, house closings and other “non-business” matters is doubtless a good fit for your business. At the very least, you will need the resulting sets of skills. The more skills live in the same human being, the better!
1. Contracts: You will need an attorney who can understand your business hastily. prepare the regular form agreements you will need with customers, clients and suppliers and help you retort to contracts that other people will want you to sign.
2. Business organizations: You will need an attorney who can help you decide whether a organization or limited liability company (LLC) is the better way to organize your business, and prepare the necessary paperwork.
3. Real estate: Leases of commercial space–such as offices and retail stores–are highly complex and are always drafted to benefit the landlord. Because they tend to be “published form” documents, you may be interested to think they are not negotiable. Not so
4. Taxes and licenses: Although your bookkeeper will prepare and file your business tax returns each year, your attorney should know how to register your business for federal and state tax identification numbers, and understand the tax consequences of the more basic business transactions in which your business will engage.
5. Intellectual property: If you are in a media, design or other creative-type business, it is certainly a “plus” if your attorney can help you register your products and services for federal trademark and copyright protection. Generally, though, these tasks are performed by specialists who do nothing but “intellectual property” legal work. If your attorney says he or she “specializes in small businesses,” then he or she should have a close working relationship with one or more intellectual property specialist.
What to Ask When Interviewing Attorneys:
Are you experienced? Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about an attorney’s experience. If you know you want to incorporate your business, for example, ask if he or she has ever handled incorporation.
Are you well-connected? Your business attorney should be something of a legal “internist” one who can diagnose your problem, perform any “minor surgery” that may be needed, and refer you to local specialists for “major surgery” if needed. No attorney can possibly know everything about every area of law. If your business has specialized legal needs a graphic designer, for example, may need someone who is familiar with copyright laws, your attorney should either be familiar with that special area or have a working relationship with someone who is. You shouldn’t have to go scrounging for a new attorney each time a different type of legal problem comes up.
Do you have other clients in my industry? Your attorney should be to a certain extent familiar with your industry and its legal environment. If not, he or she should be willing to learn the ins and outs of it. Scan your candidate’s bookshelf or magazine rack for copies of the same journals and professional literature that you read. Be wary, however, of attorneys who represent one or more of your competitors. While the legal code of ethics (yes, there is one, believe it or not) involves that your attorney keep everything you tell him or her stringently confidential, you do not want to risk an accidental leak of profound information to a competitor.
Are you a good teacher? Your attorney should be willing to take the time to educate you and your staff about the legal environment of your business. He or she should tell you what the law says and explain how it affects the way you do business so that you can spot problems well in advance. The right attorney will distribute such freebies as newsletters or memoranda that describe recent developments in the law affecting your business.
Are you a finder, a minder or a grinder? Nearly every law firm has three types of attorney. The “finder” scouts for business and brings in new clients; the “minder” takes on new clients and makes sure existing ones are happy; the “grinder” does the clients’ work. Your attorney should be a combination of a “minder” and a “grinder.” If you sense that the attorney you are talking to is not the one who will actually be doing your work, ask to meet the “grinder,” and be sure you are comfortable with him or her.
Will you be flexible in your billing? Because there is at this time a “glut” of attorneys, with far too many practicing in most geographic locales, attorneys are in a position to have to negotiate their fees as never before, and it is definitely a “buyer’s market.” Still, there are limits-unlike the personal injury attorneys who advertise on TV, business attorneys almost always will not work for a “contingency fee,” payable only if your legal work is completed to your satisfaction.