Your business needs to incorporate? Need to fire someone? Build a building? Collect a debt? Or, heaven forbid, defend your business in litigation? You need to hire a lawyer. Here's how.
First, don't wait until bad things happen before choosing and establishing a working relationship with a lawyer. It is almost always less expensive and less disruptive to have an attorney prevent a problem than to solve a problem after it arises. One effective preventive measure is a legal audit in which an attorney examines corporate documentation, personnel policies, sales and collection practices, contract forms, and other legal affairs of the business. A competent attorney can save you significant cost and aggravation by identifying potential legal issues before they become problems.
How do you choose an attorney? Start with referrals from friends, associates, or the state bar, followed by investigation of and interviews with prospective attorneys.
Attorney-client relationships are built on more than just reputations, promises, and salesmanship. They are based on trust and the other standards you apply in choosing your business partners, even your friends. It will take time to interview and investigate potential counsel to ensure consistency with your business interests, needs, style and principles, as well as the nature of your potential legal issues.
Before seeking counsel, identify your needs and the particular skills necessary to meet those needs. Seek attorneys who have significant experience in your industry and who can demonstrate that experience by providing industry references.
Identify your priorities. Are you most interested in cost or quality? Do you need specific expertise that can be provided by a single lawyer, or the breadth of legal services that can usually be provided only by a larger law firm? In your selection process, make sure that each of your priorities is identified and addressed by prospective counsel. Remember that a "jack of all trades" is rarely a master of any.
Ask who will actually do the work. The busier the lawyer or the larger the firm, the more likely your work will be performed by an associate or paralegal. That is not necessarily bad. Experienced paralegals, for example, can perform some legal work at a fraction of the rates charged by an attorney. But when a matter requires the direct attention of a particular lawyer, make sure that the lawyer commits to personally providing the service on your matter.
What should be the terms of your attorney-client relationship? Most law firms have standard engagement or retainer agreements. Don't be afraid to identify your own expectations and insist that they be included in those agreements. A lawyer who will provide the best service should be willing, even eager, to tailor the agreement to your needs and expectations.
And finally, insist on a budget or at least an estimate of probable cost of any legal service. A lawyer who will not estimate the likely cost of a project has probably not handled such projects in the past.
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