When seeking help the small business owner must analyze the specific needs of the company and carefully enlist the services of a legal professional. Selecting a good lawyer whose skills, experience, and rapport match the needs of the business should begin with a recognition of the legal matters that may require an attorney's assistance.
A good business lawyer will provide services that:
- Review partnership agreements or incorporation documents;
- Review proposed leases,
- Interpret zoning ordinances regarding land use;
- Evaluate employment agreements or advise regarding difficult terminations;
- Assist in patent, copyright, trademark, and business name proceedings;
- Represent the company interests in lawsuits or arbitrations;
- Review documents regarding business or real estate sale or purchase;
- Draft or evaluate estate planning documents such as wills and trusts;
- Advise on public offerings of corporate stock.
Selecting a lawyer to represent business interests is no casual task, but a business owner should nut be intimidated by the process. By following some basic steps, an individual can accumulate a list of prospective attorneys.
- Talk to people in the business community and ask whose legal services they've used and, more important, why they've made those selections.
- Ask a trusted banker, accountant, insurance agent, or real estate broker for a recommendation.
- Inquire among friends, relatives, and business associates for candidate suggestions.
- Solicit the advice of the director of the local chamber of commerce.
- Visit a law librarian to ascertain the names of authors of business law books who may practice in the area. Their recommendations, while potentially more difficult to obtain, may be particularly useful for unusual, specialized businesses.
- If a continuing legal education program (CLE) is available in the area, ask the director to suggest the names of well-qualified individuals.
- In many states, the bar association will provide a Lawyer Referral and Information Service. Where available, the service offers the caller a referral to a local lawyer who provides the type of legal services needed by the caller. Participating lawyers will usually agree to provide an initial consultation for a nominal fee. The rest is up to the individual and the attorney. It must be noted that the state bar associations can provide names of attorneys, but they cannot provide evaluations of these individuals.
After compiling a list of candidates, it is wise to seek additional information from the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, available at most law libraries and some local public libraries. This directory offers a compilation of biographical information, education, professional organizations, and the specialties of all listed lawyers. Each individual is also given a confidential rating solicited from lawyers and judges. While some ratings are not published at the behest of a lawyer or because one is not available, the information and rating system can serve to narrow the list considerably.
The final step in the selection process is to request interviews from several good prospects, making clear the purpose of the interview and thus avoiding consultation fees. It is important to look for experience, rapport, accessibility, and value by assessing the interview in terms of the following criteria:
- Does the candidate understand your field and the needs of your business?
- How accessible is this attorney to client phone calls, questions, document review?
- Is this attorney willing to assist in your business legal education, or is he or she allusive and secretive about legal matters?
- Is this candidate willing to allow you to defray some legal costs by performing negotiations and preparing preliminary drafts of documents, and willing to advise, review, and fine tune transactions when necessary?
- Is the candidate a practical problem solver or likely to become entangled in legalistic technicalities?
- Is the prospective attorney willing to leave the control of the business to you, as owner, and serve as advisor in legal matters?
- Which services are billed by flat fees, contingency fees, annual fees, and hourly charges? Is the billing method clear and concise?
- Are all your questions answered?
- Is the individual clear and understandable in his or her answers?
- Do you feel comfortable and compatible with this individual?