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You can find the best business attorney by doing your research and asking a lot of questions. Before you start your search, you'll want to understand what you're going to need a lawyer for and what kind of relationship works best for you and your business.
Why Hire a Business Lawyer?
You may want to hire someone that you will be able to deal with on all facets of your business in the long-term, or you may just want someone for specific purposes. Either way, you want the best lawyer for the task. Here are some of the many ways a good attorney can help your business:
- Planning your business: Hiring a business lawyer as you begin putting your business together is an important place to start. Your attorney can advise you on whether you should register your business as a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), or business partnership.
- Preventing lawsuits: If you wait to hire a business attorney until after you've been sued, it may be too late. Hiring a good business lawyer while you are getting your company up and running will help ensure that you prevent any lawsuits before they occur. The legal fees you pay upfront could save you thousands of dollars in future lawsuits.
- Reducing damages: If you are sued, having a lawyer who knows your business well can help to reduce any damages you may have to pay.
- Drafting contracts: As a business owner, you may need to draft contracts with customers, employees, or suppliers. The assistance of a business lawyer in this situation could be vital. You don't want to miss anything that could get you in trouble later.
- Incorporating the business: If you wish to incorporate your business, it's best to have an attorney on your side to make sure it is done properly.
- Knowing state and federal business laws: Any legitimate business must pay taxes. You may also need to do business across state lines or even overseas. Almost every action you do as a business owner has rules and regulations that must be complied with at both the state and federal levels. Having a business lawyer ensures that you are always operating within the law.
- Advising about employee issues: Business lawyers can help with several facets of the employee process, including hiring, workers compensation, contracts for independent contractors, and terminating employees with minimal legal repercussions.
- Buying or selling your business: Buying or selling a business is a complex transaction. A business lawyer who can help you value the business, write the acquisition or purchasing agreement, and transfer any permits and licenses is invaluable.
- Getting a patent: You should speak to a lawyer if you want to patent your products or services. Your attorney can advise you on the process of patent registration and whether it is the right choice for your business.
- Raising capital: If you are planning to raise funds from outside investors, you will definitely want to speak to a lawyer about your best options.
- When there are several founders: If you are starting a business with someone other than yourself, it is a good idea to have a lawyer involved. All partners should be protected and know their rights as partial owners, whether or not there are ever any disagreements.
How to Hire the Best Business Lawyer
Finding the right attorney for your business can seem overwhelming. You want to find someone who understands your business and your vision for its future. He or she should also have experience in your field and be someone with whom you have good rapport. Here are some suggestions for finding this ideal individual:
- Ask for recommendations: Asking other business owners in your industry is a good place to start. Don't just ask for their contact details, though; ask about their strengths and weaknesses. Ask several business owners so that you can compile a list of people to contact.
- Contact your local Bar Association: Many of them have referral services that can put you in contact with business attorneys in your area.
- Do some research: Once you have names, do some digging online. Learn whether these lawyers work with businesses like yours and then make a short list.
- Set up interviews: Make appointments to interview your top five choices. Explain that you are interested in setting up a long-term relationship and see if they will have this first meeting free of charge.
- At the interviews: Be prepared to explain your business and what your legal needs will be. Have questions prepared that you want to ask the candidates. You want to find out what their experience is in your industry, whether they understand your vision for the future of your business, whether they can easily explain the legal concepts without using confusing legal jargon, whether they will be available when you need them, and what their fees are.
- Don't make price your main criterion: Often the least expensive lawyers are also the least experienced. This doesn't mean you should completely blow your budget, but it is important to find someone that is good for your business in the long term.
- Ask for fixed fees: If you are worried about legal costs, ask for a fixed fee for certain tasks. Most lawyers know how long it will take them to draft a contract or negotiate an agreement. A fixed price means that you won't incur open-ended hourly rates that you can't afford.
- Find out who will do the work: You want to make sure that the lawyer you are dealing with during the interview process is the one who will actually be doing the work you require. Often in larger law firms, the younger and more inexperienced lawyers are set to tasks. Ask up front what the setup is at each law firm.
- Work with a team: Sometimes the best lawyer is actually several lawyers. No attorney can handle everything, so the best attorney could actually be a law firm with several lawyers that have different specialties. If your business is going to require legal advice on several topics, this may be the best option for you.
Questions for Business Lawyers
When you have your initial consultation with each of the lawyers, you'll want to ask plenty of questions. It's important to know exactly what you're getting into, including the lawyer's experience in your industry, what the costs will be, and whether or not this person will be a good fit for your business. Here are some questions you might ask:
- How long have you been a lawyer? Make sure your lawyer has experience not only in practicing law, but doing so in the fields you require.
- Which lawyer in the firm will be working on my projects? If the person you are interviewing will not be the main person working on your cases, who will be? You'll want to speak to that person and understand exactly how experienced he or she is.
- Do you have any limitations on what you can represent me for? It's good to understand from the beginning if you will need different lawyers for different facets of your business. Will they recommend someone else in their firm that can assist with other problems that arise?
- What are the best ways for me to communicate with you? Will you be speaking to each other over the phone, via email, or with preset monthly (or bi-monthly) meetings?
- How quickly do you respond to phone calls or emails? You want to know exactly how much time this lawyer will be able to devote to you and your business. Will he or she be able to answer your questions in a timely fashion?
- Will I be able to reach you after normal business hours? If you think that at any point in your business relationship you may need to reach your lawyer outside of normal business hours, you should establish this from the beginning.
- What does your typical client look like in terms of industry and size? Is it similar to yours? You want a lawyer who is used to dealing with clients like you.
- What are your main areas of expertise? Make sure they align with your needs.
- Are there other business lawyers in this firm? If your lawyer cannot deal with all of your business law needs or you do not think they are the right fit but the firm seems to adhere to your needs, it may be a good idea to speak to a few other lawyers from the same firm.
- What are their areas of expertise? This allows you to narrow down which lawyers in this firm you may want to speak to.
- What percentage of the firm is dedicated to representing businesses? If you are looking for business support but most of the lawyers here deal with family law, this may not be the firm for you.
- Do you have any clients who could create possible conflicts of interest in the future? This is an important question. You don't want your lawyer to be representing a competitor in your industry. It could lead to a conflict of interest.
- What is your rate, and if there are other lawyers working on my project, how much will their rates be? If the lawyer doesn't bring it up in the meeting, don't leave without talking about rates. It is not impolite to ask upfront what the cost will be.
- What are the fee arrangements: flat, hourly, capped, contingency, or something else? How will they charge you?
- How often will you bill me? Will you be charged monthly, quarterly, or more frequently? Discuss what you feel most comfortable with. There's always room for negotiation.
- Can I see what is being billed in real time? Is there a website where you can keep tabs on how the time is being spent and how much billing you are accruing?
- Can I pay online? Or will you have to come into the office every time you pay? Make clear your preferred method of payment.
- Are there any ways to reduce the cost of your services? Is there room for negotiation?
- How often will we meet? Understand exactly how often you will need to meet to discuss your legal issues. This will play a large part in how much you will spend.
- Will you be my main contact? Is there a secretary or associate that will be your main contact, or will this lawyer be the sole person you deal with on all of your future contacts?
- What, in your opinion, makes a lawyer-client relationship work? What makes it difficult? Before completing the interview, you should discuss what sort of relationship will work best for the two of you. Understand the lawyer's side of things and ask how you can make things smoother for him or her.
- Can I speak to client references who are like me in terms of size and industry and for whom you have done similar work? Be sure to ask for references from the lawyer before you take him or her on as your counsel. Ask the clients about their experience with the lawyer. If he or she doesn't want to give you any references, this is a big red flag.
On UpCounsel, you can find and connect with top-rated business attorneys & lawyers that provide a range of business law services for startups to large businesses. Any of the top-rated business lawyers you connect with will be available to help with a variety of your business legal needs on-demand or on an ongoing basis.
From business formation to agreements, contract negotiations, licensing, IP, employment, and more, the business lawyers on UpCounsel can help you with a variety of specialized and general business law related legal matters. Whether you need help starting a business, negotiating a deal, and/or many other day-to-day business legal needs, you can easily hire an experienced business attorney here today.
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