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8 things that matter when hiring a business lawyer

Published On: Oct 23 2013 10:50:06 AM CDT
law, justice, gavel, law books, courtroom

iStock / zimmytws

By attorney Brian Albert, Special to THELAW.TV

Hiring a lawyer may be one of the most important decisions your business makes. The skill and attentiveness of your lawyer will affect everything from the strength of your company's contracts to how well you'll be able to defend your company from employee claims.

"If you hire the wrong lawyer for your business, there are so many horrible things that can happen," said West Palm Beach, Fla., business lawyer and mediator Jonathan Gilbert. "It's like losing the game before you even start. You should never let that happen."

With that in mind, here are eight things to consider when hiring a business lawyer:

  1. Experience. Experience matters with business law. Like with almost anything, lawyers improve with repetition. A lawyer who has written hundreds of contracts will likely write a more solid contract than a lawyer who is drafting a contract for their first time.
  2. Relevance. Make sure the lawyer actually practices business law and that it's a substantial part of her practice. You probably want to avoid hiring a jack-of-all-trades for your business or using your divorce lawyer to review your contract "just this one time."
  3. Results. Ask the lawyer about their past results. In most states, lawyers can't advertise results. But they can discuss past performance if you ask. With business law, as much as with anything else, a lawyer's past performance is relevant to their future success.
  4. References. Ask the lawyer for references. No matter how much the lawyer toots their own horn, it's even better when someone else toots their horn for them. Try to get references from people you actually know and who work in your line of business.
  5. Communication. There's nothing more important than being able to communicate effectively with your lawyer. You need to be able to speak openly about your business. And you must be able to reach your lawyer -- by phone, email, etc. -- when you need to.
  6. Fees. Make sure you'll be able to pay for all of the legal services you need. Legal fees vary widely, with some business lawyers charging north of $1,000 per hour. If that's too steep for you, find someone more affordable, although too cheap should raise red flags.
  7. Personality. You must feel comfortable talking with your lawyer. Your personalities can't clash. When you meet a business lawyer for the first time, take the conversation beyond the legal topic at hand. See how well you get along. If it's not a good fit, move on.
  8. Research. Do your homework on your business lawyer before signing the engagement letter. Look up the lawyer's Avvo rating, see if they're listed on SuperLawyers, and make sure they don't have any disciplinary history with their state bar association.

"One of the most important things you need in a business lawyer is alignment with your level of risk aversion," said Josh King, general counsel and vice president of business development at lawyer rating website Avvo. "Attorneys are trained issue spotters, but every businessperson knows that all issues aren't created equal. Some legal risks matter, and some don't. A good lawyer for your business will focus their energies on avoiding the risks that matter, and help power you toward the opportunities that lie on the other side of many more minor legal risks."

Once you've considered these tips and are ready to start meeting prospective lawyers for your business, make sure you shop around, ask lots of questions, and, just in case, know how to fire your lawyer if things don't work out the way you expected.

The author, Brian Albert, is the founder of legal information website THELAW.TV.

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