Whether you're just starting out or a seasoned business owner, the odds are, at some point in time, you're going to need a lawyer to help with legal problem. That's why it's important for any business, big or small, to have an ongoing relationship with a good lawyer.
How do you find one? A great place to start your search is Lawyers.com. A few short clicks gets you a list of business law attorneys in your area, complete with telephone numbers, background information and more. And it's free! Look for the Find a Lawyer button on your screen.
There are other places to look, too:
- Contact the local bar association in your area
- The American Bar Association has tools and information to help you find an attorney
- Talk to family, friends and co-workers. Someone you know may have hired an attorney to help with a business problem and he can tell you what he liked or disliked about the attorney
- Check your local telephone book
Once you have a list of lawyers, find out everything you can about them:
- If you used Lawyers.com, you already have a lot information at your fingertips. Read the information given by the attorneys explaining what they do for a living, and visit the attorneys' web sites to learn more
- Look for a list of representative clients. Are they the types of clients that you'd want your lawyer representing? Does the lawyer represent other businesses similar to yours? Does he represent any of your competitors, or someone you may have to sue?
- Run internet searches on the attorneys' names. You may find news articles about them, legal cases they've handled, or legal articles or blogs they've written. This type of information can tell you a lot about the attorneys' experience and reputations
- Make some phone calls if you can't find enough information online. Most attorneys gladly take the time to talk to potential new clients and answer any general questions, like how long he's been a lawyer, how much business-related legal work he does, etc. Ask if the attorneys or law firms have a brochure or literature that can be mailed to you
- Call and ask for references. You want to talk to people who can give an opinion on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness
- Check with your state's bar association and your local bar association to see if the attorneys on your list have ever been disciplined and if they're licensed to practice law in your state. If you discover a problem, scratch the names from your list, or feel free to ask the attorneys themselves about it if and when you meet with them
- In some states, attorneys may be certified by the state bar association as specialists or experts in business law. This usually means they have advanced training and experience. It doesn't necessarily mean they're the best in the field, but it's a good indication a lawyer knows his business
- Look for a lawyer with experience in your type of case
- Consider the costs. Depending on your case, an attorney may charge you an hourly fee where you pay a certain amount for each hour she works on your case. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee - a pre-set price to work on your case from beginning to end. As you research the attorneys on your list, look for information about how they typically charge their clients and consider which fee arrangement best fits your budget
- Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
Keep in Mind
After your initial research is done, start narrowing the list by focusing on your specific problem and needs.
There are basically two types of business lawyers. One type handles lawsuits; they're business litigators. The other handles contracts and corporate matters. They're called transactional lawyers. Some lawyers do both, some don't. So, if you're involved in a lawsuit, look for a business litigator. Otherwise, a lawyer who handles business transactions may be your best bet.
But keep the long-term in mind. Your business is going to be around for a while, so think about hiring a lawyer or a law firm with expertise to cover all of your anticipated business needs. It's not a bad idea, for example, to look at a "full service" firm that does both transactional work and litigation.
Look to see if a lawyer is connected with business- or finance-related organizations, too. For example, most bar associations have sections in business law and other related categories. Having a lawyer who's involved in a state or local chamber of commerce or other local organizations may also be a good sign, depending on your legal needs.
Unless there are special circumstances, you want to hire a lawyer with an office in your area. It's just practical. But, you may need an out-of-town attorney if local attorneys don't specialize in your legal problem, or if you're planning on expanding operations to another city or state.
After you've narrowed your list to three or four attorneys, start making phone calls to set up meetings to talk about your case face-to-face. If you did your homework, you should be well on your way to finding the right attorney to handle your case.