Finding legal representation is one of those tasks that many small business owners put off until they actually need that legal representation — when there is a crisis that needs a lawyer's attention. But by spending time on finding the right legal representation for your business when you're not under the gun, you can make sure that you're working with the person who can best represent your company, as well as head off potential problems before they impact your day-to-day operations.
The Value of a Recommendation
When you have time in which to learn more about a particular lawyer, it's worth starting by looking into those lawyers that your contacts recommend. Most small businesses need general legal help: assistance with planning the company's growth, writing contracts and the sort of business matters that go smoother when you can consistently work with the same lawyer. You'll likely find that most business owners you network have a go-to-guy — a lawyer who they turn to for most legal matters that come up. Asking for recommendations within your network can be the simplest way to find a lawyer.
On top of the ease of relying on recommendations, you will be able to sort through the stack of options available in your area much faster if you have some indication of which lawyers do well at working with small business owners. There are many lawyers who will take on general legal matters without much trouble, but when you can find someone who deals with small business situations on a regular basis, you can be assured that you're getting a lawyer especially familiar with the issues that small businesses face on a regular basis.
When you've narrowed down your list to just a few names, it's useful to interview the lawyers you are considering. While they are professionals and will work independently, making sure that you'll have a good relationship from the start makes an interview an important step. In your first discussion, it's important to establish the parameters of what you need, the costs you can expect and how the lawyer will handle matters for you. If you have a specific legal issue you need to address, lay out the matter for the lawyer and ask how he would approach it.
It's a good practice to interview more than one lawyer, when possible. Comparing their responses can give you a good feel for who will be the best legal representation for your business.
More than an Immediate Fix
By finding legal representation that you can work with for the long-term, you have access to certain benefits that are unavailable to a small business that just goes through the search results every time there is a problem. You can build up a relationship with your lawyer, much like you do with a CPA or other professional adviser. Your lawyer can become very familiar with your business and give you a head's up if there is potential for a problem. You may be able to take preventative measures that are far less expensive than actually taking a matter to court.
There will always be legal situations that the lawyer you work with on routine matters won't be able to help you with. However, if you have a good working relationship with your legal representation, you can get a recommendation for the specialized help you may need. If, for instance, you need a tax attorney, you can get tips on which firms are most adept at cases involving small businesses, as well as who will be the best fit in terms of personality.
Depending on your legal needs, you may be able to find a better financial situation when you're working with a lawyer on a long-term basis. Many lawyers are comfortable working on a retainer, allowing you to make advance payments to cover hourly rates and fees on routine matters. There are many regulations governing the specific manners in which a retainer is handled, but when you have an ongoing relationship with a lawyer, you may be able to negotiate a lower rate. Fees can go beyond a simple hourly rate when working with a lawyer; your legal representation may have different rates for time spent in the office versus time spent in court, as well as costs such as fees and costs passed on to you. Some lawyers offer different financial approaches, as well, such as guiding a client through legal matters rather than doing the lion's share of the work.
Finding a Lawyer in a Rush
It's not always possible to make time to hunt for a lawyer when you don't actually need one, leaving you in a position where you have to move fast if a legal crisis shows up on your desk. If you don't have time to find someone who is a good fit with your business, finding someone who is a great fit with your problem is a good shortcut. You may not work with such a lawyer in the long-term, but finding the right lawyer for a particular problem is relatively easy.
You can simply search for a lawyer's specialty. Finding legal representation based on a recommendation is ideal, but not absolutely necessary, since you're not looking for someone you can work with on a long-term basis.
Comparing prices can also be a useful indicator, but if you need to resolve a specific problem, cost may not be the most important aspect. The interview process is crucial, however. Getting a feel for how an individual lawyer would approach the situation you're facing can directly lead you to the legal representation that will work hard to win your case. And if there is a situation where taking the matter to court may not offer the best income, the interview process is the only way to find a lawyer who will recommend other solutions. After all, if you simply go in and ask a lawyer to represent you in court, you aren't going to hear many alternatives.
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