How to Select an Attorney for Your Business
© 2003 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2003
Author: Tom Wadsworth
How to Select an Attorney for Your Business
By Naomi R. Angel, DASMA Legal Counsel
One of the most important advisers a small company can have is an attorney — a person who can steer you away from costly legal mistakes in doing business and dealing with employees.
It's a good idea to have that kind of advice right from the start. But it's never too late to have a “legal audit” to make sure your company has been properly organized and authorized to do business and has protective employment policies in place.
There's no right or wrong way to go about finding an attorney to represent your interests. It's similar to finding a doctor or accountant. You want a person with whom you feel comfortable and work well.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do you prefer personal attention in order to establish a relationship and build trust? Do you simply need a general practice business attorney who can handle your routine legal business issues? Does your business require specialists to address such things as tax matters, retirement planning, and ownership of intellectual property (patents, trademarks, and copyrights)? Are you comfortable with a small firm that will refer non-routine matters outside? Do you want to be a client of a large firm that can serve all your needs under one roof?
Once you're ready to start, here's a set of practical guidelines to help you.
- Seek out recommendations from people you respect.
Find out the experience and reputation of the attorney and the law firm. Review the firm's Web site to study professional credentials and background. Look for an attorney who has clients with businesses that are similar to yours. Request a conflict-of-interest check.
- Set up interviews with two or three prospective attorneys.
Look for someone you can trust; it's the most important element of the relationship between client and attorney. While the practice of law is a business, it is first and foremost a personal relationship. Confirm expertise and experience by checking references from other small business clients.
Communicate objectives and needs up front. Tell the prospective attorney if you're changing from another attorney, and share the reasons why you're making a change.
Find out who will be responsible for your work. Look for someone who will give you good value for the service provided. Also, make sure your attorney has a backup, and know who it is in advance.
- Be absolutely truthful with your attorney.
This may seem like a strange request, but over the years, I have found that clients often conveniently forget to share important information that can make a big difference in the outcome of a particular matter. A good attorney is never judgmental about what you did or did not do. If you want the best advice and representation, tell your attorney all of the facts. If you anticipate a problem with another party, let your attorney handle the adversarial matter and all communications with opponents.
- Always ask about fees.
Be sure you understand how the attorney charges. Is it going to be an hourly charge, a fixed fee, or a monthly retainer? In what increments will you be charged? What about phone calls and travel? How will out-of-pocket expenses be billed? Ask for a realistic estimate as to how much time and money it a job will take.
Sometimes it's more cost effective to retain a more experienced attorney who can answer your question on the phone and only charge you a quarter of an hour. A less experienced attorney may run up a big bill because it takes him or her several hours to find the answer. Sometimes it is more cost efficient to have an associate attorney to work on a special issue.
- Understand the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
There should be no mystery in the handling of your legal matters. You should have a written engagement agreement that states how the fee will be determined, how billings will be submitted to you, the right to terminate services, the nature of the agreement and/or scope of services, etc.
And finally, expect courtesy from your attorney and be prepared to return it. Despite rumors to the contrary, attorneys are “human.”
This article is provided solely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions or concerns about a legal issue, consult your company's legal counsel for guidance.