Business Law

Starting a Business - Preparing to Meet a Lawyer

It can be a big waste of time for both you and the lawyer if you're not prepared for your first meeting. And business lawyers usually charge by the hour, so being unprepared will also end up costing you money because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your legal matter.

First of all, the lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted. The lawyer may also ask for a personal and business background. The lawyer will clearly want to understand your role in starting up a business and will want to be comfortable that you have the authority to speak on behalf of the organization to be formed. Therefore, you need to write down all this information in a logical matter and have it available for the lawyer.

Sometimes, a lawyer try to speed the information-gathering process by sending you a questionnaire to fill out filled out before your meeting. If this happens, be sure to fill out the questionnaire and send it in to the lawyer's office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.

Written documentation is especially important in a business setting. So even if a lawyer doesn't ask for documentation beforehand, it is still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting. Spend some time thinking about what you may have on hand. Try to organize the documents in a logical manner before you meet with the lawyer. When starting a new business, for example, relevant documentation would include:

  • Your business plan
  • A "pro forma" balance sheet, including assets and liabilities that are going to be contributed to or assumed by the new entity
  • A proposed list of investors, directors and officers, including their addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail and other contact information
  • A list of vendors, contractors or other parties with whom your are doing or expect to be doing business
  • Tax returns, financial statements or corporate records for existing businesses or business entities that will be merged into or affiliated with your new business
  • A copy of any documentation that has already been prepared or entered into in connection with the business, such as agreements, minutes of meetings and notes outlining how the business is to be organized
  • Letters, memos and other correspondence relating to the business organization.

Diagram out your proposed business. Drawing out a picture before you meet with your lawyer may be the best thing you can do. It will help you to organize your thoughts and it will help your lawyer understand what you want to do. Identify parties and contractual relationships.

Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don't want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. In addition to the questions suggested elsewhere, you might also want to ask:

  • How many transactions of a similar nature has the lawyer handled?
  • How much of his or her work is done in this area?
  • What paperwork is involved and how long will it take to finalize?
  • How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process?
  • How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion?

Unless the lawyer mentions it first, you will also want to ask about legal fees and costs. Questions you might want to ask would include:

  • How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
  • What is the lawyer's hourly rate?
  • What would the estimated fees be for your matter?
  • Would the lawyer consider doing the work for a flat fee?
  • Does the lawyer advance out of pocket costs?
  • Would there be a retainer payable up front? Would any unused portion be refundable?

Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer in the firm? If other lawyer may do some of the work, could you meet them?

Don't be afraid to subtly quiz prospective lawyers to see if they really know what they are talking about. If they're holding themselves out as having expertise in your industry, ask them to explain certain aspects of it to see how deep their understanding is.

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