Most businesses have used an attorney…sometime along the journey of being a business owner this is a necessity. However, one thing I find to be most common is that the business owner used them for a “transaction” or “opinion” on some legal matter, not as an advisor or confidant through the journey of their business. This is a mistake and one that ends up costing most business owners more in the long run.
When a business needs legal advice for something they reach out to an attorney…usually in some specific area focused on some aspect of an issue or a transaction. While this may be necessary for an immediate issue, it isn’t always the best plan for the long run. Having a business attorney who “knows your business” and can provide both “proactive” as well as “reactive” guidance is something that can help the business grow and avoid many issues.
If you haven’t ever thought about having a business attorney as an “advisor” I would like to suggest you consider this as a critical part of your business. Not as a full time consultant but someone who follows your business enough to know when to make suggestions and when to offer some legal advice and insights. In the long run, it can save a business thousands of dollars by avoiding many costly mistakes.
Here are 10 things to consider when hiring a business attorney for your business to help you grow and prosper while avoiding common business pitfalls…
- Finding the “right” business attorney…Start by identifying the type of business you have and the potential issues that you might be incurring over the life of the business. For example, if you have a lot of IP (Intellectual Property) that needs to be protected the attorney should have some background in how to do this. Or if you have a lot of labor issues with employees then someone who is more versed in labor law would be important.
- Discuss Fees upfront…Business owners need to know the overall potential investment they need to make to ensure the proper amount of support so they can set and stick to a reasonable budget. Discuss how fees would work from both your perspective and the attorney’s perspective in advance so there are no surprises throughout the year.
- Forget about the “big” firms…Large firms always say the “specialize” in your industry. While this can be important, the area they don’t specialize in is “personal care” for the business. The larger firms are best used when there is a very specific issue within your industry that needs to have their expertise. Allow your “business attorney” to work with them and you will find better results faster and generally at a lower fee than if you deal direct with them.
- Understand their process…Knowing how they work and will work with you on an ongoing basis is critical. This ensures there is a good fit for the way the attorney works and how it will work best for you. If these are compatible, then you will have a great relationship for a very long time to help the business grow and avoid many of the most common issues.
- The attorney must be proactive…You want a lawyer who doesn’t just wait for you to call when there is an issue. You want an attorney that is thinking about you on a regular basis and sharing their thoughts and ideas with you throughout the life of your business. As they say, one great idea at the right time can completely change a business. Having an attorney that is thinking about you regularly and suggesting ideas is essential.
- Ask “tough” questions…Almost any competent attorney can answer the “easy” questions. When you are seeking a confidant and an advisor, ask some tough questions…this will give you much more information about how they work and how they will approach working with you. If they are open and continue to ask a lot of questions to get more details so they can help find the root issue, this is a great advisor
- They should be multi-dimensional with their services…The key to a great business attorney is one who can take many things into account for you…including legacy issues. They should be asking about more than your business because your business impacts your loved ones as well. If they don’t ask about succession, family issues, and other personal items, they aren’t multi-dimensional in their thinking and this can be a problem for the business as well.
- Do you have a connection with them…It is critically important that you “connect” you’re your business attorney. They will become one of your closest confidants with both your personal life and your business. They can’t effectively advise you unless they understand you and your wishes and desires. There are lots of facts and legal ways to approach all aspects of your business…having a legal advisor who knows you and your needs can design a “custom suit” for both you and your business.
- Do they speak the language of “succession”…With any business it is important to know what will happen next and be thinking a few steps ahead. Every business owner needs a succession plan, even if it seems like it is straightforward and simple. They never are and always involve many issues that should be discussed well ahead of the final exit from the business.
- Are they asking more questions than you…One subtle but very telling component of a quality business attorney is that they ask you more questions than you ask them. If they ask a lot of questions it shows they not only care but they truly want to get to the core issues that are important to you and your business. If it seems a bit overwhelming, that’s a good thing.
I hope this helps guide you as you do your due diligence to find a quality business attorney. If you ever have a question, just ask and I’ll give you some additional insights and thoughts.