Seeking out a lawyer for your small business can be a confusing and anxiety-inducing process. Most likely, this is one of your first gos at hiring a lawyer, so you’re not 100% clear on what you should be looking for in the first place. And at the same time, using an inept lawyer can be detrimental to your business, especially if you’re hiring a lawyer for a more serious legal matter (and not something basic like a trademark).
We’re here to help. You will have to do the actual legwork to find the right lawyer at the right price, but we will give you the exact process that you, as a small business owner, should follow. If you’re a small business owner who needs desperate help navigating the complex world of law, read on.
Step 1: Get your needs, wants, concerns, and questions in one place
Before you reach out to a single lawyer, start by writing down everything you need and expect from the lawyer you’re going to be hiring. (Along with anything else you feel is pertinent to your situation.)
Why? Lawyers will almost always offer initial consultation fees free of charge, but anything past that will have you paying the hourly rate, which is usually quite high. More importantly, though, if expectations are not laid out in the first meeting, the lawyer may not understand the full scope of your project. As such, he or she will give you an inaccurate estimate, and that will lead to increased, unexpected financial burden down the line. Companies have gone under for less.
Instead of leaving your legal matters to chance, be very clear with what you need in the first meeting. We highly recommend getting all of your concerns, thoughts, and ideas onto one piece of paper and printing out two copies for the meeting so there’s no chance of anything being left out.
Step 2: Ask around for the best recommendations
If you’re networking (as you should be), you know at least a few other small business owners. Chances are, at least one of those owners has used a lawyer before, and that lawyer might be able to help you with what you need.
Send out some emails and post on your social media accounts with your request. A recommendation from a friend or connection you trust is always to find the best option for your business, particularly in the case of lawyers. Not only do you know the lawyer is good, but you’ll sometimes get preferential treatment if you come from a referral, even if the lawyer or law office claims you don’t.
Step 3: Look at review sites… but not just any review sites
Some of us don’t have the luxury of expansive social networks. Or, your network might just not be able to help you with what you need. Don’t fret – although a personal recommendation is best, third-party review sites are pretty decent, too.
Don’t just go straight to Yelp for something like hiring a lawyer, though – especially as a small business. Not only is Yelp geared more towards consumer-facing business, but the reviews on there really aren’t usually detailed enough to give you a scope on the real skill of a lawyer.
Instead, head to a site like Avvo and search through reviews for lawyers in your state or city. You will always be able to find some top-rated lawyers who are specialized in what you need, and because you’re looking at Avvo, those ratings and reviews can help you narrow down your choice in a meaningful way to ultimately make a smart decision.
Step 5: Meet in person and judge him or her
Again, hiring a lawyer for a small business is much more complex than hiring someone as a consumer is. Although online ratings are helpful, you should always contact a few different lawyers for free consultations.
Once you’re there…
- Judge the space. Legal offices should be pristine. If they look messy, or unorganized, or “cheap”, you know to look elsewhere.
- Judge the personality. You’re going to be working with this person extensively. Don’t work with someone who you don’t vibe with. Although lawyers are always professional (and carry themselves in a serious way), they shouldn’t be rude, cold, or condescending.
- Judge how involved he or she is in your industry. Make sure your lawyer works with other small businesses, and if he or she works with other small businesses in your industry, that’s even better.
Step 6: Ideally, find the best quote possible
Treat hiring your lawyer like any other business decision. Where can you get the best service at the cheapest price?
Lawyers will usually bill by the hour, so that’s the number you should focus on. As far as the service, you should never sacrifice legal service for a better price (bad lawyers aren’t helpful), but two lawyers of different skill levels (and pay rates) will sometimes be able to accomplish the exact same thing.
If you have a cut-and-dry matter or there are a multitude of lawyers who can help you out, feel free to “shop around”and save some money. Hiring a lawyer as a small business is expensive enough as it is, especially if you weren’t planning to have to hire one.
Step 7: Continue to use the same lawyer
The good news is that once you find a lawyer who you trust (and who can service the needs of your business), he or she will sometimes be able to help you on further legal matters. If he or she can’t, you will always be able to get a solid recommendation – so really, once you find your first reliable lawyer as a small business, your work in finding future lawyers is pretty much done.
All in all, it boils down to determining what you need as a small business, finding a few top-rated lawyers who work with businesses like yours, sitting down with each one of them and making sure that he or she is perfect for your business in particular, then doing your due diligence to try and get a good deal.
The specifics past that will depend on your particular situation – follow our process, get in touch with a few lawyers today, and they will be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck!