Finding a small business lawyer is way more difficult than dating! Not only do you have to get along with your small business attorney, but they have to be really good at what they do too!
So what is a small business owner to do when there are countless small business lawyers to choose from?
California Small Business Lawyer: 800-484-4610
Step 1: Find Small Business Attorney in Your Area
Find small business attorneys in your area who specialize in either small businesses or your particular industry. You can find lawyers using one of two methods:
Search Online Legal Directories
There are a number of legal directories that break attorneys down into areas or specializations. Compare listings for your city or region against business attorneys who specialize in your industry or working with small businesses. If you’re in California, a good place to start is the California Office of Small Business and DVBE Services. Also, you may search at Findlaw Small Business Lawyer Directory.
Ask Industry Contacts for Referrals
If you have friends or family that have businesses, ask them if they have a business attorney that they like. Even better if this friend or family works in your industry!
Step 2: Research The Small Business Attorneys and Make a Shortlist
Once you have found a list of attorneys that could suit your needs, research them and make a shortlist of no more than ten small business lawyers.
When researching to create a shortlist, you should do the following things:
- Check out the attorneys’ customer reviews from business clients
- Look at what types of cases they have worked on in the past
- See if they have made industry news for winning high profile cases
Step 3: Identify What Legal Help You Need from the Small Business Attorney
Before meeting each of your shortlisted attorneys to interview them, work out what specific legal matters you will need help with. This will allow you to ask them about their expertise and find out their fees for the specific services. A business lawyer can help small businesses with more legal matters than most people realize.
Small Business lawyers can help small businesses with:
- Incorporation – They can help you to choose the best business entity for your business and file incorporation documents.
- Founder agreements – A business attorney can negotiate and draft founders agreements that will state each partners’ responsibilities and resources contributed. These agreements also detail the split of assets and profits.
- Raising venture capital – Securities laws tightly regulate the raising of capital. Your business attorney can help you through the process and ensure your fundraising is legally sound.
- Protecting intellectual property –Your small business lawyer will assist you with applying for copyrights, patents, and any other intellectual property protections your business may need.
- Employment disputes – An attorney can not only assist you with litigation, they can mediate, mitigate, and even prevent EDD employment disputes.
- ADA Lawsuit Defense – If your business is sued for ADA violations, you will need a ADA lawsuit lawyer to defend you.
- Drafting and reviewing contracts –Your breach of contractlawyer will ensure your contracts protect you and your business. Your company will require contracts with employees, suppliers, landlords, lenders, and employees. Ensuring your contracts are clear and enforceable is essential for protecting your business.
Step 4: Book a Free Consultation With Each of Your Shortlisted Small Business Lawyers
Once you have your shortlist of ten business attorneys, you are going to meet each one to interview them. Most attorneys will offer free consultations to meet with potential clients, so use these to ask them as many questions as you need to make a decision. While you are interviewing them, you should also pay attention to their personality. You don’t need to be best friends with them, but you need to have a good professional relationship with your attorney. You will be working closely during the initial months of your startup.
Prepare a list of questions you will ask each of the lawyers, so you have common ground to compare. While you are talking with them, you can ask follow up questions, but ensure you at least ask the questions on the list.
Have you worked with small businesses before?
A small business attorney will need to work on many aspects of your business. They will need to help you with everything from incorporation to day to day operations. Small business attorneys need to do everything and do it well. They will be an invaluable asset for problem-solving and advice.
While it can be tempting to work with a business attorney who regularly works with Fortune 500 companies, these attorneys are used to working with clients with deep pockets. A small business attorney will consult the business owner and explain the available solutions and the cost of each solution.
If I need specialist attorneys, will you refer a colleague?
Sometimes a complex legal issue may arise that is outside of your business lawyer’s expertise. When that happens, you want them to refer you to another attorney who specializes in the issue instead of searching for an attorney all over again. Your small business lawyer’s network is extremely valuable to your company.
Tell me about your experience with this specific issue
The attorney will not be able to give specifics or client names, but they can tell you about how they handled certain issues. Refer back to your list of areas you need legal assistance and find out if the attorney has experience in all of those areas.
Will your team work on my cases?
It is great news if the lawyer’s team will work on your business. It means that you get insight from all of the attorneys and partners at their firm. Plus, behind the scenes work and research will be carried out by clerks and paralegals, whose time is considerably cheaper. This will save your company money and ensure your issues receive the attention they need.
Do you have any conflicts of interest?
You should discuss your competitors and suppliers, and vendors with your attorney so they can tell you if there are any conflicts of interest. If you are involved in a dispute with one of their clients, they cannot represent both of you. It is best to identify any conflicts of interest before you start working together.
How do you communicate with clients?
Everybody has a preferred method of communication. You want an attorney who will communicate in a way that is convenient for you. That may be face to face, by phone, an email, or any combination of the three. Find out how your attorney communicates with clients and see if it works for you and your needs.
You may appreciate phone calls or face to face meetings if your attorney is explaining issues to you. This allows you to ask follow up questions and get their full focus.
Alternatively, you may prefer things in email so you have a list of actionable points that you can review and mull over. Whatever your preference, you need to ensure your small business lawyer is happy to work with you.
What are your fees?
You need to have a comparison of costs and fee structures from every attorney. Refer back to your list of services you require and find out how much these services are and what fee structure your lawyer will use.
Step 5: Negotiate Fees
You can negotiate fees a little with your business attorney. First, you need to understand the different fee structures they may offer. These are the most common fee structures for small business lawyers:
A flat fee is a fixed cost rate for a particular service. There are no additional costs for hours worked or services included in the rate. This is a great fee structure as you know exactly how much the service will cost and can budget ahead of time. Some business attorneys may even provide packages of common services startups need. These are cost-effective and mean that your company gets off the ground quicker.
A retainer means that you purchase a portion of the lawyer’s time, whether you use it or not. This allows you to ring and ask questions at any time and will mean you get quicker responses. Retainer fee structures are great for business owners who foresee themselves needing a lot of assistance.
If you go over your purchased allocation of time, then you will be charged a flat rate for the additional services. Your attorney will often provide these in the retainer agreement.
Contingent fees are often used when you are litigating another party and will receive monetary compensation if you win the case. Your attorney will receive their fee as a percentage of the recovered compensation only if they win.
It is very rare that a business attorney will offer this option to a startup, but if you are an established small business, your lawyer may offer you services in exchange for business equity.