If you are a new small business owner, you may not have worked with an attorney before.
Or perhaps you have only worked with a lawyer for estate planning or a divorce.
If so, you may be asking yourself, how do I find a business attorney?
Before you start your search, get clear about a few questions.
Do you need a business attorney for a dispute already in progress, or to help set up your business?
Some business attorneys specialize in setting up your business, working on forming corporations and LLCs, and drafting contracts. Other business attorneys focus on disputes, such as sending demand or cease & desist letters, conducting negotiations, and representing you before arbitration boards or in court hearings.
Do you need general business advice, or specialty advice such as trademarks or franchising?
While many attorneys handle most general business issues, few (if any) handle everything. Some attorneys specialize in intellectual property issues such as trademarks and patent applications. Other work in particular areas like franchising or international agreements.
A few lawyers handle most if not all of the above types of law and issues; but it is important you are clear about the type of attorney you need. For example, if you have a pending trademark dispute, it is not helpful to speak to attorneys who are not experienced in this type of work. Similarly, if you are starting an ecommerce business, it will be unhelpful to work with an attorney who has never worked with a business that sells products or services online.
What style of legal practice works for you?
Do you want an attorney who will meet with you in person and who does their work on hardcopy?
Or do you want a high-tech attorney who will work with you collaboratively via email and Google docs?
Do you want an aggressive attorney who will fight to get you the highest settlement possible?
Or do you want an attorney who specializes in mediation and working out agreements that are beneficial for everyone involved?
There is no one right answer for who is the best attorney for everyone. Figure out if you have any deal-breaker needs or styles before you start looking, and it will make your search much more efficient.
Where can you find an attorney?
The best place to start is referrals.
Ask other people like you — other small business owners, especially those in your industry with similar attitudes and preferences.
If you cannot find any referrals, do an online search about your legal topic to see what attorneys in your area are providing those services and have written about that topic.
Create a list of at least two or three, if not more attorneys to research.
Check out the attorneys’ websites, social media pages, and/or other profiles to determine if they are a good fit for you and your needs. Look for blog posts or videos, their bio or about page, case studies or testimonials, and their description of services.
Do an online search of each attorney to see if anything problematic comes up. Look up each attorney on the state bar website (in their state) to make sure they are really a licensed attorney, and see if there is a public record of discipline for that attorney.
Pick one or two attorneys and schedule an initial consultation.
Some attorneys charge for an initial consultation and some do not charge; if a litigation attorney is working on “contingency” they commonly do not charge because they get paid a large percentage at the end of the work. Lawyers who work on a flat-fee, hourly, or retainer basis are more likely to charge for the initial consultation. The advantage of being charged is that you are more likely to receive real legal advice on that initial call or meeting.
How do you make your final decision about which attorney is right for you?
Like anything else, it is a meeting of logic and intuition, who matches up with your needs on paper and who is a person you can trust. You must be able to trust this person’s advice, and you either trust them, or you don’t.