Starting your own business is exciting, as there are many opportunities to grow and succeed in the field of your choosing. Having a business plan is, of course, top priority. But the second most important step in building your business is finding the right lawyer to protect both you and your company. Here are some ways to find the best of the best for your business:
1. Seek referrals as early in the process as possible. Even if you’re just in the brainstorming stage, do some research on lawyers in your area to find out what each one offers. Ask friends, business associates, family, etc., if they have any suggestions. Don’t be afraid to ask other small business owners who they selected and what their experiences have been like with that particular professional. While you wouldn’t want to hire the one who represents your biggest competition, you do want someone with experience in representing small businesses.
2. Reach out to your local bar association. They will be more than happy to provide a list of services you can contact/research. To find the bar association closest to you, visit the American Bar Association website and type in your zip code.
3. Try a commercial referral service. Websites, such as FindLaw, can help direct you to law services based on your location and specialty. It’s as simple as visiting Google and typing “lawyer referral” into the search bar. Keep in mind, though, that some websites may ask you to pay a fee for their referrals. If you would like to avoid this, contact your bar association, which does not charge for assistance.
4. Talk to a lawyer. If you know one, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask their professional opinion. Whether it’s a neighbor, family friend, or one you’ve used in the past for a personal matter, they should know of other lawyers in the area who specialize in what you’re looking for and what their reputation in the community has become.
5. Visit trade events. Oftentimes, lawyers will attend trade events and expos to meet those in their communities. This would be a great way to meet them face-to-face and pick up some business cards. Meeting a lawyer in person before using their services is a great way to “get a feel” of whether you two will connect, how they communicate, and it also gives you the chance to ask any questions you may have.
6. Search for them online. Many professionals have their own websites and social media pages in today’s world, and many websites allow customers to rate the professionals based on their experiences (Facebook, Yelp, Google+, etc.). If there are complaints, see if there are patterns (such as they’re slow to respond to emails/calls, billing errors, etc.). On the lawyer’s website, credentials should be listed, including: where they went to school and which law school they graduated from, what cases they’ve handled (including a summary and the results), testimonials from clients, which fields they specialize in, etc.
7. Find out the size of the firm. In most aspects, the larger the firm, the more the lawyer will charge in terms of hourly rate. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as large law firms typically have specialists in a wide variety of fields. And along with the big firm comes a big reputation in most cases; they make themselves known (not always in a bad way, more so to “scare away” the competition).
8. Check their disciplinary history. All states have a disciplinary commission, which will have records of any complaints about lawyers. If the lawyer you have in mind has a violation, it will be listed. If this is so, take into consideration how long ago the violation occurred. There’s always hope they have since changed if it happened many years ago and are still in business.
9. Plan consultations. As mentioned previously, there are benefits to sitting down and meeting lawyers face-to-face. Schedule meetings with several different prospective candidates to see which one seems to be the best for your needs. Be sure to have a list of questions ready so everything is covered, such as:
a. How much experience do you have?
b. How long have you been in practice?
c. Have you represented many small business owners? If so, for how long?
d. How do you communicate with clients and how often?
e. Can I speak to some clients for referrals?
f. What are your fees?
10. Compare and contrast the candidates. Take your time with this, as you want to make sure you choose the best professional to handle your business matters.