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How to Hire a Lawyer for your Business

Having a good lawyer to help you is critical to any successful business. A good business lawyer is a person who you trust, who communicates well with you and shares your values and vision. Often called corporate general counsel, this is the attorney who will know enough about a broad range of legal topics, such as contracts, government regulations and compliance, tax, employment law, intellectual property, and litigation to let you know whether they can do the work for you, or whether you will need a specialist. When they are first founded, companies might retain an attorney on a part-time or hourly basis. As companies grow, they often elect to hire a Chief Legal Officer or “In-House Counsel.” This attorney serves as an advisor to the CEO and the board of the company, spots legal issues and determines whether specialty counsel is needed, project manages litigation or other legal matters in progress, and works to keep legal expenses under control. How to do hire a lawyer for your business? These are some considerations when hiring a lawyer for your business.

Due Diligence

How to Hire a Lawyer for your BusinessIf you were looking for a hair stylist, you would probably start by asking your friends. The same idea works with lawyers. To start, ask your friends with similar businesses and personalities who they like and use, but don’t stop there. Be certain to vet the people who your friends suggest by looking at lawyer ratings and reviews. The oldest lawyer rating service is Martindale-Hubbell. They have been surveying attorneys for peer review for more than 130 years. Newer entities that rate attorneys like SuperLawyers, Chambers and Partners, Avvo.com, and even Yelp! Online reviews can be a helpful to give you an idea of what clients like and dislike about a lawyer. You can also ask for an initial consultation or invite lawyers to make a bid for your legal work. Interviewing lawyers and asking for references is commonplace. Every client, large and small, is entitled to choose its representation and terminate the relationship at will.

Selecting a Law Firm

The lawyer you will work with is more important that the law firm when it comes to one-on-one advice and quality work product. Selecting a law firm is more of a question of the size and scale of the legal matter. If you are looking for someone to prepare a vendor agreement or negotiate a lease, a small shop will be able to handle that as well, if not better, than a large firm. Prestige firms may have higher fees, and may allow their less experienced staffers to learn with such small matters. A major litigation matter with hundreds of thousands of documents involved might require a large firm to handle the matter. The most specialized legal work might be handled by a that practices in that niche, or an attorney with a large firm and a reputation for excellence in the specialty.

Conflicts of Interest and Fiduciary Duty

A conflict of interest arises where your personal interests conflict with another person or party’s interests in certain situations. For example, your interest as an employer might be to get the most work for the least amount of money. Your employee’s interest might be to work the least for the most money. Everyone has their own interests, and some of their interests conflict while others align. An attorney’s job is to put your interests before even their own interests because an attorney is a fiduciary. Fiduciary is a technical legal term, meaning someone who owes a duty of the utmost care, loyalty and prudence to another. The attorney may only charge a reasonable fee to the client, and must always act in good faith. Once a lawyer has met with a potential client, been hired, or previously represented a party, they can never in the future work against that party’s interests. When you meet with attorneys, make sure they give you a favorable impression that they take this responsibility seriously. There are rules that enforce minimum standards for lawyers’ professional responsibility, but you want a lawyer who will go above the minimum standards.

When do you hire a lawyer?

The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is true for legal work. Start early. As an analogy, imagine you go to the doctor for an annual physical. Your doctor warns you that your blood pressure has gotten too high; You go on a diet and start taking medicine. As a result, you avoid having a stroke. If you did not go to the doctor for an annual physical, you would not know about the blood pressure problem until you had the stroke. While medical technology for stroke treatment has improved dramatically in the past fifty years, you could die if you risk it, so it would be better to avoid the stroke by treating the blood pressure problem.

Likewise, if you visit an attorney regularly (or they visit you) to discuss your business matters, like relationships with partners, vendors, employees, and customers or clients, you can avoid many legal problems and costs. For example, with a good partnership agreement, there will be provisions that explain what should happen to resolve a dispute. If you don’t have any agreement, then the statute will determine what happens. That means you will have to litigate. If you want to stay out of court and avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on unpredictable outcomes, it’s best to begin with a lawyer to help you prepare your business agreements.

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