There is a Venn diagram on the back of my door. One circle has “what lawyers put in their biographies.” The other has “what clients look for in lawyer biographies.” In the intersecting area are only two things: email address and phone number.
Below are some considerations for hiring an attorney for your business, based on my experience as an entrepreneur and attorney.
1. Just the Facts. There are a lot of “slam dunk” situations. Most of them appear as such in the initial interview. Meaning sometimes solutions are positioned as a “slam dunk” and sometimes the facts indicate the matter is a “slam dunk.” Accurately portray your situation and carefully consider solutions that are unqualified. Simple transactions can become complicated; hard cases can resolve easily.
2. Specializations & Scope. Sometimes hiring an attorney with a specialization in a particular area is preferred or necessary. On the other hand, a generalist (in my practice I call it “outsourced general counsel”) that understands your business and whom you trust can help you with everyday matters and to spot issues that require specialized engagement. With more complex matters, however, that generalist should help you select specialized counsel, direct their services and manage the engagement to an efficient end.
Some owners need attorneys that help them do legally what they want to do. Others want advice and help setting that course. Your attorney can help in non-legal areas too, applying business experience, helping source capital, and making introductions to CPA’s and other advisors a successful enterprise needs, among other things.
3. Rates, Retainers and Second Opinions. No attorneys I know are afraid to discuss their rates, but some are apprehensive being the first one to raise the topic. You should not be afraid to ask what they charge, whether (and if so) what payment terms are available, or if your matter is suitable for an alternative fee arrangement. Some engagements do not require a retainer, in others, some payment up front is necessary. Ask about the basis for the retainer, how it is paid in, and how it will be paid out.
Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. If you’re going to get one be sure to include all the facts. When I provide them in my practice, we often simply provide peace of mind to the client. Sometimes a second opinion can offer an additional tactic, deal structure, or strategy. Regardless, retainers should be in line with the complexity or time involved with the work. And we recommend that all fee agreements be in writing.
4. Don’t Hire A Jerk. Unless you Want to. Ebert & Friss point out that “professional chemistry” is important. Think about how you make decisions. Do you build consensus? Do you want a counterpoint? Are you searching for better solutions? Are you outgoing, or reserved? Who are you negotiating with, or up against? Your attorney should compliment or match your style.
5. When to Hire. Sometimes that issue we try to handle on our own gets out of control and we need to call someone that spends a lot of time in that area. Other times we can handle it just as well on our own. There is little risk in seeking counsel early as its usually more expensive to engage counsel later in the game, when facts have matured, evidence lost, or positions galvanized. In some situations, you can obtain legal advice behind the scenes, and manage the situation and interaction on your own. In others, like litigated matters, direct involvement is necessary from the outset. Early consultation, even if you keep them inactive, is preferred.
6. Don’t Count BigLaw Out. Experienced, well trained lawyers at big firms with (generally) more expensive rates can solve problems efficiently given firm resources and can be appropriate depending on the complexity of the transaction, parties involved, what is at stake, etc. They can also become expensive quickly where multiple resources are deployed to address singular issues. Defining the scope of work, setting economic parameters, and managing the process are important.
Guest Author: Chris McGrath, Attorney & Mediator for Paganelli Law Group
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