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You might not know that your small business should have a lawyer until the need really arises.
And when that time comes, how (and where) can you find the right small business lawyer to work with?
Well, we asked 11 small business legal experts how they think small business owners should go about finding a lawyer who’s a good fit for their business’s needs.
Here are their best tips and tricks for tackling the search.
“When it comes to running a small business, every business owner needs a lawyer for their business.
I recommend that a business owner finds a lawyer that understands your business, is licensed in your state, is versed in contracts and intellectual property, and can handle transactions and litigation matters.
Legal services are an investment. You want someone who is cost-effective, so it’s good to shop around. But at the same time, legal services is an area where you want to invest in quality services. Otherwise, today’s bargain may be tomorrow’s regret.”
—Ruth Carter, Esq., Venjuris, P.C.
“Entrepreneurs looking for the right small business lawyer can begin their search running a quick Google search along the lines of: ‘[name of city] small business lawyer.’ This query should produce relevant results for your area. Next, review the lawyers’ websites to see if they practice in the areas in which the business owner requires advice or legal documents. Then, email or call those lawyers whom you may want to retain.
Whether you contact the small business lawyers by email or phone call, you should feel free to ask how long the lawyer has been practicing law and how long they have been practicing in a particular field of law. As far as certifications, many states, including Illinois, do not offer ‘specializations’ or ‘certifications’ in a particular field of law. Therefore, how long a small business lawyer has been practicing may be a better indicator of the lawyer’s experience. Also, if you want a small business lawyer who is also knowledgeable regarding tax issues, you might want to seek out a professional who is both a CPA and an attorney.
Clients should also feel free to ask how the lawyer charges (hourly rate versus fixed fee) and how much the lawyer charges. However, don’t be that prospective client who launches into ‘How much do you charge for your services?’ without introducing yourself, determining if the business lawyer practices in the relevant area of law, and explaining at least a little about your legal issues.”
—Brian J. Thompson, CPA and Attorney
“One of the most important parts of finding the right small business lawyer for you is making sure that your personalities are a good fit. You will be working with this person over a long period of time in ways that are sometimes deeply personal, and that will be very difficult if you do not feel comfortable or understood.
Check with other small business owners to see if they have any recommendations, and do not hesitate to keep looking if the attorneys you meet do not seem quite right for you. Never be afraid to ask lawyers any questions you may have about their availability, experience, hours, or whatever may be most important to you, and always remember that lawyers work for you. If anyone ever makes you feel uncomfortable or unimportant, leave their office and do not return.”
—Abigail Salisbury, J.D., MPPM, Salisbury Legal, LLC
“One of my main rules to vet a small business lawyer is to get a referral. It may sound old school, but a personal referral from another business owner can speed up finding the right lawyer for your case. Chances are good that the person who referred you was going through similar circumstances in their business, and they probably did a lot of the groundwork for you.
When you find a small business lawyer, research them. Any good business owner examines options, costs, and benefits with everything—choosing a lawyer is no different. When you find someone you think might be good, interview that small business lawyer personally. While it’s incredibly easy to find an attorney who does exactly what you need these days, there’s no replacement for talking with them directly.
The way you run your business should be reflected in the attorney you choose to represent your legal interests and rights. If you can’t coordinate, strategize, and communicate with your lawyer in a manner that works for your personality and the values of your business, you should keep looking until you find one that does.”
—Doug Bradley, Owner of Inland Empire Lawyers
“In regards to where you should look for a small business lawyer, the Small Business Administration and other small business organizations, such as New York City Business Solutions, your local chamber of commerce, and SCORE, often have relationships with attorneys who have experience working with small businesses.
A search for a ‘business attorney’ might not connect you with someone who has worked with a small business, depending on where your business operates. For example, in New York City, where there are a huge number of small businesses, there are also a great deal of business attorneys who deal primarily with financing, mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings, and intellectual property transactions that don’t translate easily to a home-based business with limited assets (and limited expenses). It’s kind of like taking an extra-large shirt and trying to tailor it to a small-sized person. The fit will probably be a little off, even if it functions relatively okay.”
—Nance L. Schick, The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick
“After you search for a small business lawyer and get some names, do some due diligence. The lawyer needs to be licensed by the state bar in your state. You can research by attorney name to find the current license and whether there have been any disciplinary actions.
Beyond the minimum qualifications, you want to make sure they are a good fit. Check out their website and their LinkedIn profile. Their profiles should have the following types of skills: entity formation, contract drafting, business transactions, business counseling. Are there any testimonials? (There may not be—some lawyers are not allowed to have testimonials on their advertising materials.) Are the businesses giving testimonials the same size and stage as yours? Are there articles or resources on the site that discuss your type of matter?
If this all looks good, call the attorney’s office. Ask if the firm handles your type of matter. You may have to give information on the other owners of the company or the other party in a contract. This is so the attorney can make sure they have not represented the other parties and have no conflict of interest. Ask if there is a fee for an initial consultation and how the attorney bills (flat fee or by the hour). Ask for some references before you sign on any dotted lines.”
—Donna Ray Berkelhammer, The Legal Direction
“Attorneys have become more narrowly focused and specialized than ever before, and it is imperative to locate an attorney with a laser-sharp focus and knowledge on the latest changes in the law regarding your legal issue. Many attorneys advertise that they ‘do it all,’ but that is often an indication that that attorney is a jack of all trades and master of none.”
—Terri Robinette, Robinette Law
“Most entrepreneurs would like to believe that being sued, being taken advantage of, and losing funds through careless investments is unlikely to happen to them—but it may. The faster your business grows, the greater the risk that your business will be involved in litigation. A good small business lawyer should provide guidance on intellectual property protection, draft contracts on your behalf, check the specifics and legitimacy of contracts submitted to you, and resolve disputes with customers, partners, and employees. These services encompass many areas of law—including transactional, corporate, contract, employment, intellectual property, and commercial litigation—so make sure the firm is experienced enough to handle the depth and breadth of possible small business issues.
You should also look for proof of experience, knowledge, and positive client testimonials or references. Assuming the candidate is well-qualified, they will gladly provide all of this information for you. When getting your business contracts in place, you don’t just want an attorney who has experience writing contracts—you want one who also has experience prosecuting and defending clients in contract disputes. This gives them more experience to draw from when writing your contracts, and if the situation arises, you know they’ll be able to defend you in court.”
—Charles Vethan, Founder and CEO of Vethan Law Firm
“Small businesses should seek out practitioners who understand the unique needs of small business owners. For example, most small businesses are solos or partnerships, which means that typically there are not many systems in place to account for what happens to the business operations after there is a loss of the main parties.
They should seek out practitioners who can help to make sure that their personal assets are protected from business losses, creditors, etc.
They should also be experienced enough to make sure that business assets are shielded from divorce, personal creditors, etc. The four main areas that are important to address most, if not all, entrepreneurs business needs are insurance, financial, asset protection management, and operations. The representative that they choose should cover all of these areas.”
—LeTonya F. Moore, J.D.
“Most small business owners find attorneys either through a recommendation from other business owners or someone they met through professional networking. However, it is becoming increasingly common to find a small business lawyer through the internet. One of the best ways to evaluate potential attorneys is through online reviews. Online reviews have become essentially a ‘digital referral’ as they provide potential clients with an unfiltered view of working with the attorney from people who have actually worked with that attorney.
There are many sites that contain attorney reviews, but some of the most popular would be Lawyers.com, Avvo.com, Google, and Facebook. Lawyers.com and Avvo.com are both sites that are dedicated entirely to attorneys. Although Google and Facebook are not geared to attorneys, their reviews can be particularly helpful. Clients are familiar with using these websites to rate other businesses and are generally more comfortable with providing honest and candid feedback. Moreover, while attorneys can request reviews on Lawyers.com and Avvo, Google and Facebook reviews tend to more often be initiated by the client.”
—Rick Davis, Attorney, Rick Davis Legal
“There are several attributes I would recommend small business owners look for in their lawyer. First would be accessibility. Can you get a hold of your attorney? Can you bounce ideas off of them?
The second is experience. You want a lawyer who has worked with clients like you, knows the laws related to your field, and even has developed positive relationships with local lawyers and judges in the area.
And third, you want to find a lawyer that you trust. Are you confident they will make the best choices for you? Will they help you grow and protect your business? These are the questions you should be asking a potential small business lawyer.”
—Rick Hecker, Lawyer, Clymer Conrad PC
There you have it—11 legal experts on their best tips and tricks to finding the right small business lawyer.
The next time you need a small business lawyer, run through this checklist to make sure you’re working with the best.
How did you find your small business lawyer? Leave your advice in the comments!