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Lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some work at large firms or as in-house corporate counsel, others at boutique firms, and a minority are self-employed.
You might meet an attorney and his high-priced, power-suited colleagues for a client lunch at a hotel restaurant. Or, you might meet a lawyer at his desk behind bars under a fluorescent sign reading, “Bail Bonds.”
Lawyers also come with years-level of experience, the legal world’s version of karate belts. They’re awarded first-years or second-years or fifth-years, for example.
Among the suits, you’ll also find degrees of specialization—from transactional and contract work to high-pressure litigation and trial law.
With such a variety to choose from, how do you decide who makes the best lawyer for your small business?
Begin online. There are a variety of online resources that can help you refine your research to the appropriate fields of law, location, and peer rating, including Super Lawyers,1 Justia Legal Services & Lawyers,2 and Lawfirmdirectory.org.3 The American Bar Association also maintains a list of bar associations by state and locality on its website.4
Narrow the field. The attorney chosen for a patent filing will differ from the attorney chosen to represent your business in small-claims court. So, first restrict your search by specialty.
Specialties of law can include family, criminal, injury or disability, bankruptcy, immigration, trusts and estates, intellectual property, or job and employment.
Attorneys are not only specialized in areas of practice, but they are also localized. Lawyers are only licensed to practice in certain states.
As a small-business owner, you may want to narrow this search even more by searching for attorneys practicing in your neighborhood. Thus, you limit your search to lawyers already familiar with your market area, business needs, local competition, and pertinent state, city, and county laws.
Once you have narrowed the field to a small list of firms and individuals, try a quick Google search for news items that mention the attorneys. You’ll get an idea of the types of cases (and successes) the firms or individuals have tried.
In addition, news articles give insight into the reputations of the firms or individuals.
Get a referral. As a small-business owner, you may not have an exorbitant budget to hire a lawyer. Therefore, you might want to look for lawyers who offer negotiable rates or contingency-fee arrangements.
To do this, find other small-business owners with similar legal issues and budgets as your own, then ask them about their legal representation. Find out if the business owners have been satisfied with the legal work provided and at what cost.
Still, don’t be swayed by one person’s referral. What works for one person may not work for you.
Invite a few of the legal frontrunners to your office. In a short but meaningful question-and-answer session, find out which firm or individual has the right character for your small business.
When it comes to legal expertise, no doubt there will be numerous qualified candidates. However, it’s important to hire a lawyer who will make the time to speak with you (off the clock), cut through convoluted legalese, generally practice patience, and possess the skill to discuss your company’s legal options simply and succinctly.
When tenuous business situations arise, you should feel comfortable calling your lawyer for help. Preventative measures and early action can save you valuable time and prevent costly liability risk.
Start (literally) on a case-by-case basis. You have total freedom to negotiate contract terms. So, start by hiring a lawyer to consult on a singular case. From there, evaluate the lawyer’s performance, provide feedback, and decide whether to transform your relationship from provisional to permanent.
Your interaction on the first case will also determine the attitude and expectations for all other cases—something that both attorney and client can appreciate.
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