by Mitesh J. Patel, Principal, MJ Patel Law Group
How much time and effort do you put into hiring a new employee? Between writing the job description, reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates and discussing your options internally, it adds up to quite a bit of time, right? So how much time and energy did you put into choosing your company’s business attorney? I’ll argue that if it wasn’t a similar process, you may not have gotten the right fit.
Having a company attorney on “standby” as an advisor for those quirky legal and business issues has always been, and is especially now, a prudent decision for private business owners. New potential clients interview us on a weekly basis, and I always tell them that finding the right “fit” is extremely important. How you personally define “fit” may be different than how others define it, but it is vital to find the right match in terms of experience and personality. You may find an attorney who is perfect on paper, but simply rubs you the wrong way every time the two of you interact. My advice – don’t hire her! You don’t want to dread picking up the phone any more than you have to, so you should find someone with whom you enjoy talking and to whom you can trust your most important business matters.
To help with this attorney selection process, below I’ve listed a few things to consider during your due diligence:
- Communication. Your lawyer should be able — and willing — to explain even the most complex legal situation in terms you can understand. And you should feel comfortable enough asking him or her to explain something further if you simply don’t get it the first time. If your conversations are full of jargon and legalese, you’ll quickly grow frustrated with your choice.
- Fees. Before you hire an attorney, make sure you understand his or her fee structure. Ask for the cost for specific items, like drawing up legal documents. Some attorneys bill strictly by the hour, while others are now providing project pricing for some tasks. Ask as many questions as you need to thoroughly understand how a particular firm works. Now, are these fees within your budget? Can you afford what you’ll pay for this attorney? It’s an important question to ask, and one that may eliminate a few options from your list.
- Personality. Simply put, like anyone else you choose to work with, you should enjoy working with your lawyer. After all, he or she is your advocate! Ask yourself if you’d feel comfortable calling this person for advice. Would you trust this person with the intimate details of your business? Would you sit down and have a drink together? Your attorney need not be your best friend, but should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and like.
- Teaching. When considering your options, I recommend looking for someone who will be willing to teach you about the legal issues you are facing, or could face, so you are fully aware and can make informed decisions. In the end, it’s your business, so your attorney should be willing to spend the time necessary to not only deal with your legal issues, but also explain what he or she is doing and how it will affect your company.
- References. Always ask for references from similar small business owners. Don’t just put the list in a folder, but call each of them and ask them any questions you have. At the end of the call, ask them to convince you that their lawyer will do a good job for your company. If you are not convinced, keep looking.
- Attention. If your candidate seems rushed or preoccupied during your meeting, move on. While we all have bad days, if you can’t get the attention you need as a prospect you probably won’t get it as a client either.
- Experience. Make sure your candidate has experience with businesses similar in size and structure to yours. Every business is different. A home-based Web designer won’t encounter the same legal issues as a restaurant owner. The same goes for an engineering firm and an international construction company. You need a lawyer who understands your industry and business thoroughly enough to come to the table with knowledge and suggestions right away, and as you grow and change over the years.
- Foresight. You deserve an attorney who is always looking out for your best interests and can anticipate and avoid issues before they arise. A company attorney should provide proactive advice just as much as, if not more than, reactive problem solving. To find out if the one you are considering is comfortable with this, ask these two key questions:
- What problems am I likely to have?
- How can you help me avoid them?
With this information on each candidate, you should be able to make an informed decision and choose an attorney who will be a valued partner for your business for many years to come.
Do you have any additions or stories to share? Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below.