Written by Arleen Atienza
A good foundation is crucial in starting any business and one of the pillars that keep a business stout and upright is a great business lawyer. As a business owner, you want to allot your focus and energy in running and growing the business while someone else is on top of understanding the legalities that surround the business. Just how crucial is it to have an attorney right at the very beginning of your business journey?
Almost every aspect of your business would call for an effective business attorney – from choosing the business type upon putting up the company, to writing contracts, resolving business claims and issues, and navigating mergers and acquisitions, to name a few. A common mistake businesses make is holding off hiring a business lawyer until they need one. Here are some of the aspects of a business in which a business lawyer plays an integral role.
- Preparing contracts with clients and suppliers. Business lawyers know how to make contracts iron-clad in order for all parties to be well-protected. When signing a contract for any reason, your attorney will be in charge of spotting issues and negotiate revisions to contracts with loopholes that can potentially put you in unnecessary liabilities in the future.
- Securing intellectual properties through trademark and copyright protection. While patents and copyrights are handled by intellectual property specialists, your business attorney can help you with these as they are part of legal networks. It would be an advantage if your business lawyer can also help you acquire patents and copyrights.
- Transacting with landlords and real estate sellers. In terms of dealing with properties, and this includes leasing and warehousing, a business lawyer can thoroughly review contracts and agreements to make sure that you are getting into a fair and legitimate deal with a seller. Your lawyer must have a standard “tenant’s addendum” that contains provisions in your favor, which can be included in the printed lease document.
- Knowing the tax consequences of your business transactions. You want to make sure that you do not encounter unnecessary tax liabilities while on business. While your accountant takes care of preparing and filing of taxes, having a business lawyer means you have somebody who knows how to register your business for both federal and state tax IDs, and understands the tax consequences of your business transactions.
Venues for Finding an Attorney
In your search for a great business lawyer, make use of various resources. This will garner more options and give you the ability to make a valid judgement. There are many channels that you can utilize and here are some of them:
- Referrals. It is important to understand that every lawyer has their own strengths, and one way to gauge whether a lawyer is best fit for your particular problem is to seek the advice of people who have experienced the same. Find out who they hired at the time, and gather leads from there. However, relying solely on referrals might not give you reliable leads as the relationship between the business owner and lawyer will depend on how they respond to each other’s style and personality.
- Local Bar Association. A bar association is a professional organization of lawyers serving different purposes. Most bar associations make referrals based on specific areas of law, which can help you find a lawyer with the right expertise and area concentration. However, there are services that make referrals without concern for the lawyer’s level of experience. Seek out referral services that work under programs certified by the American Bar Association.
- Online Services. Sites such as Upcounsel can aid in finding and connecting with top-rated business attorneys who can provide a wide array of business law services for startups and large businesses alike.
Hiring a business lawyer is a major investment for any business, which is why optimal sourcing techniques are very crucial in this process. Not finding the right lawyer for your business will cost you money, and can potentially lead to long-term consequences for your company. Watch out for these red flags when making a decision:
- The lawyer is not well-versed in the language of your business. In order to properly represent you, your business lawyer must speak your language and understand the field in which you are operating.
- The lawyer is learning on the job. Your business should not be your lawyer’s on-the-job training. If you see that the lawyer is doing something completely new to him, he may not be the best candidate to represent your business.
- The lawyer comes up with extra costs. Hiring a business lawyer should be a well-calculated move, and needless to say, it should be cost-effective. Surprise and extra costs must always be kept to a minimum.
Choosing an Attorney
After exhausting your resources to find the right business lawyer and coming up with a short list of candidates, it is time set up interviews. In your initial meeting, be ready and upfront in describing your business and your legal needs. Make sure to express that you are interested in building a long-term relationship. Take careful notes of what the lawyer says and does during the interview, and pay attention to these aspects:
- Experience. Begin by asking how long they have been practicing law and their areas of expertise. Assess whether their expertise is aligned with the needs of your business.
- Ability to communicate. It is crucial that you and your business lawyer have rapport, and you can gauge this as early as your initial interview. Your lawyer must be able to express himself clearly, without the use of too much jargon or legalese.
- Availability. Ask the best way to reach him and how quickly he responds to phone calls or emails. Will he be available after business hours? This is crucial in your working relationship.
- References. Ask the history of business and cases he had handled in the past, and see if they are similar with yours. You can also ask for a list of clients you can contact to ask about his competence, service, and fees.
- Fees. Ask about his rate and the payment terms – flat, hourly, capped, etc. It is important to get this information as you can use it when you compare your candidates. However, do not decide based on the rate alone. The lowest rate may not be indicative of quality work.