Do you dread the idea of finding a lawyer for your small business? I know we lawyers occasionally have a reputation for being expensive, underhanded, full of confusing legalese, and out to exploit whatever (and whomever) we can to make lots of money. But those of us who know we’re not like that find those tropes frustrating.
Hiring a lawyer shouldn’t be a case of avoidance until a last-minute scramble for desperately-needed legal advice forces the issue. I believe that a small business owner needs a lawyer in their corner who knows their business and can help in their journey. But how do you find that lawyer who’s the one for you and your business? In this episode, I give you several tips for researching and hiring a lawyer who’s the right fit for you.
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In this episode:
[03:06] – What is the one thing you must always remember when looking to hire a lawyer?
[03:40] – The first tip can go a long way to help you feel more comfortable in this process.
[04:42] – Carefully consider what you need for your business. Danielle offers guidance if you don’t know what you need.
[05:53] – Do this if you know you need individualized advice that a 15-minute free consultation can’t give you.
[06:31] – Beware of making this common mistake with lawyers. Danielle uses her household as an example to demonstrate why.
[08:26] – Danielle reveals the most important tip you should follow when choosing a lawyer. Movies and TV shows might have you thinking otherwise.
[09:18] – How can you find out what the relationship between you and a lawyer will look like before you hire one?
[10:39] – In addition to experience, you’ll want a lawyer who can do this for you as well. Ask these questions before you choose.
[12:03] – Don’t be afraid to consider your budgets and infer about fees. Danielle offers questions to ask lawyers under your consideration.
[12:57] – Follow these action steps during your search to find the right lawyer for your business.
Links & Resources:
Welcome to the Simplifying Legal podcast, brought to you by Businessese. I’m your host, Danielle Liss.
Many years ago, someone told me I was the least lawyer-y lawyer she’d ever met because I helped make legal easier to understand. To this day, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in my professional life.
If you've ever felt legal was too scary, too overwhelming, too complicated, or just plain incomprehensible, you're not alone. The Simplifying Legal podcast was created to help.
In each episode, we’ll do a deep dive into a legal topic and give you concrete next steps so you can apply it to your business.
My goal is for you to walk away from each episode thinking, oh, that was easier than I thought it would be.
Let’s get started.
Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to episode 42 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today, I’m talking about how to find a lawyer.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
For small business owners, finding a lawyer may be a dreaded item on your to-do list. You might want to ignore it. Then avoid it. Act like it was never there. Then, scramble because you really need legal advice.
I get it. Lawyers have a reputation for being expensive, confusing, and maybe even a little underhanded. Or that we’re all out to exploit whatever we can to make piles of money. You’ve probably heard jokes about the ruthless shark lawyer. My personal favorite is: why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. The trope of the smarmy lawyer is so common and it can be frustrating for those of us who really are not like that. Although, I will say that while “Better Call Saul” is one of my favorite shows, I don’t really relate to his more unorthodox methods. While you do want a lawyer to be aggressive in some situations, it’s not necessarily warranted in every situation.
As you probably can guess, I strongly believe that a business should have a lawyer in its corner. Someone who knows the business, knows your plans, and can help you along your journey.
So how do you find that lawyer who can serve in this role for your business? If you expect me to simply say, well, hire me through Liss Legal because I’m awesome, that’s not necessarily going to be my answer. Although to be clear, I do think I’m awesome and I’d be happy to see if we are a good fit to work together. But while I might be amazing, I might not be the one for your business.
In this episode, I’m going to give you tips for hiring a lawyer. In the same way you hire any other service provider, it’s important to remember that you’re the client. You get to decide if a firm is the right fit before you decide to work with them.
I’ve seen firsthand the nerves and low-level anxiety that many potential clients feel before they hire me. My goal is to help you learn how to do the research when you are looking for a lawyer and hopefully that will make the decision-making process easier when you look for your lawyer.
Ask For Recommendations
My first tip is to ask for recommendations. Word-of-mouth recommendations from people we trust can go a long way to helping us feel comfortable making a big decision. Start out by asking anyone you know with a similar business for their recommendations.
Another great place to look is in the circles where you network. If you are in a mastermind or other business-building program, ask the other members if they have a trusted firm.
Or, if you are looking for help with a particular situation, ask your business friends if they have handled similar situations. Ask questions about which lawyer they used to assist during the process. When someone can vouch for the quality of the legal work, it can save you time and the stress of fretting over who to choose. A recommendation can help you narrow the field a bit and give you a place to start.
Have a General Idea of What You’re Looking For
My next tip is to carefully consider what you need for your business. If you’re working on finding a lawyer you may have a rough idea of what sort of assistance you need. Maybe it’s drafting a contract, working out your website terms, or applying for a trademark.
Although, sometimes, you may not know what you need and you want someone to point you in the right direction. I regularly talk to potential clients who say, I know I need to talk to a lawyer, but I’m completely clueless about what exactly you need. Of course, that’s totally okay.
If you’re uncertain, then consider booking a consultation with a lawyer who practices the type of law you think you need. During the consultation, the lawyer will likely ask questions to help you target your needs and then discuss the next steps.
If you’re looking for some basic guidance on how to get started, be clear on your intent with the lawyer you’re speaking with. Consults are typically an introduction and will not include any legal advice that is specific to your situation. So don’t walk into a free 15-minute consultation and expect to walk out with your problem solved.
If you know you need individualized advice, consider booking a strategy session versus a consultation, as these sessions are designed to help you map out what you need, ask specific questions, and obtain advice or recommendations.
If the lawyer isn’t quite right for your needs, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral from them. Let’s say you started out thinking you needed a contract, but instead, you need a trademark. If the first firm doesn’t handle intellectual property, ask who they would recommend. Usually, our networks are pretty deep and we are always happy to refer to another trusted professional.
Don’t Assume Every Lawyer Knows Every Area of Law
My next tip is to make sure you don’t assume that one lawyer knows all areas of the law. Like so many other professionals, lawyers often practice in a particular area of the law. For example, litigation and business transactions are very different. I’ll use my own household as an example. I generally work with small business owners, typically online businesses or wellness professionals, on transactional matters like contracts and intellectual property. My husband is also a lawyer, but he’s a certified family law specialist and handles only domestic cases, which are typically divorce and custody matters. As you can guess, our work looks completely different.
While many lawyers have some basic knowledge of certain areas of practice, it doesn’t mean they know enough to help you in the best way possible — especially if you’re dealing with something unusual. But, keep in mind, you may think it is unusual, but the right lawyer may say, I deal with this regularly and I can help make this as easy as possible.
When you look for a lawyer, search for someone with the experience you need. The last thing you want to do is assume the lawyer who handles your parents’ real estate law is also an expert in law for online businesses. Choosing someone who isn’t experienced in the area of practice you need can have some unintended consequences and may leave your business vulnerable.
In a consult, you can give an overview of what you need and ask the attorney if they have experience working on this type of matter. You may have someone who says they’ve done it hundreds of times. Or they may say, no, this is new to me, but I believe I can still represent you. And then you can make a decision based on your comfort level with their experience level.
Choose Someone You Feel Comfortable With
My next tip is probably the most important: Choose someone you feel comfortable with.
Contrary to what TV and movies have led us to believe: you shouldn’t actually hate your lawyer.
Over the years, I’ve had way too many people tell me that they worked with someone that they really didn’t like, but they figured it wasn’t a big deal. Except, they wouldn’t call them when they needed help because they didn’t like the person.
Of course, for the attorney-client relationship to be most effective, you should be able to communicate without a ton of stress with your lawyer. As a small business owner, it’s ideal if you find someone you trust to serve you as a partner and advocate for your business. For that to work, you probably need to like them. At least a little bit. Otherwise, you will avoid dealing with them and avoidance is not a good legal strategy for your business.
To figure out what the relationship might look like, take advantage of a consultation with the firm. Ask who you’ll be working with, as sometimes, the consults are handled by someone you won’t be in direct contact with once you’ve signed as a client.
Trust your instincts. If you get a bad feeling about what it would be like to work with the person, look at other options. You are not obligated to hire someone simply because you did a consult with the firm.
Personally, I know that I’m not an ideal fit for everyone. I’m pretty informal. I work virtually with almost no in-person meetings. And there are certain practice areas that I absolutely don’t do, like litigation. So, this is one of the reasons I think consultations with potential clients are critical. It’s the ideal time to see if I have a rapport with a potential client, and they can decide my services fit their business and legal needs.
Your lawyer should make you comfortable, not scared, even if it’s a really difficult or highly adversarial situation. Some areas of law are scarier than others, but regardless of what legal business you’re handling, you should feel like your lawyer is on your side. You want someone working to help you achieve a goal, not someone who is doom and gloom and causing you stress.
Can They Help You Meet Your Goals?
My next tip is to ensure that the lawyer can help you meet your goals. In addition to finding a lawyer with experience, you’ll also want someone who can meet any critical deadline or other necessary requirements you may have.
Ask questions about what working together will look like. Will you be working directly with the lawyer or will you be passed along to staff immediately after the consult? If that is the case, can you meet who you will be working with before you decide to move ahead? Do they have the same experience that you are looking for? Do you have the same potential rapport with that person?
What are the firm’s turnaround times? If you need something in a week, will you have it? Or will it be a month before you see the first draft?
How does the firm communicate with clients? If you hate email, are they going to insist that you are on email or will they use other channels to communicate?
Whoever ends up handling your legal needs, you’ll want to be clear on everyone’s expectations and what you’re working towards so that both you and your lawyer can create a successful outcome.
Find Someone Who Can Work Within Your Budget
My last tip is about money. When finding a lawyer, don’t be afraid to consider your budget and ask about fees. Most lawyers will charge more than $300 hourly and others will offer flat fees depending on the services.
Some questions you should ask your potential lawyer include:
- Can they estimate the time that they will spend?
- Are there minimum charges?
- Are there any other expenses that will be added to the bill?
One important note regarding the financial side. Some legal services seem expensive and you may not have the budget right away. You can also ask for help determining if it is an immediate need or something that can wait for a quarter or two while you save for the purchase.
This wraps up how to find a lawyer. Now let’s talk about today’s action steps.
- Think about your upcoming legal needs. Do you have a lawyer that you can work with? If not, ask your network who they recommend.
- When you think about the upcoming legal needs, what does your timeline look like? This will be important when you talk to lawyers to ensure that they have the capacity for the projects.
- Research the firms and determine if their practice areas look like they would include your business. Ask lots of questions and ask about cost so that you can determine if it is in your budget.
- Request consults with potential firms and get a sense for whether or not a firm is the right fit for your business.
Thanks for joining me for today’s episode. If you are looking for a lawyer for your small business, I do offer complimentary consultations so I can learn more about your business and see if we are a good fit to work together. Visit https://lisslegal.com to book a consult.
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