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How to Pick a Small Business Attorney

An attorney in her office

6 Steps When Picking a Small Business Lawyer

Business owners must be aware of legal pitfalls to keep them on the right side of the law. Sobering statistics show that one in five small businesses have been in some sort of legal dispute over the last five years, and far too often, these businesses don’t have an attorney on retainer to provide legal advice. However, choosing an attorney is not a simple task and must be approached in a systematic manner. To help companies find competent counsel, here are the steps to take when picking a small business lawyer: 

1) Understand your business and the type of lawyer you need. Because laws and regulations are continually evolving, it is crucial to pick an attorney that has experience in your type of business. For example, a film production company would need an attorney with a different area of expertise than a business that sells insurance. 

2) Decide when you need a lawyer. While it is never a bad idea to consult an attorney before you even file the paperwork, a small business using simple structures like an LLC, or limited liability company, may not need an attorney for forming the company. However, for more complex business structures like C corporations or nonprofit entities, you will want an attorney to be sure everything is properly set up. Smart business owners know the best time to hire an attorney is before you really need one. 

3) Decide how much you can legitimately afford to pay an attorney. Bear in mind that attorneys fees can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars an hour! As the saying goes, good legal advice isn’t cheap, but bad advice can be very expensive. In other words, getting bad legal advice can end up costing you much more in the long run if you run afoul of the law. 

4) Perform research. There is no substitute for doing your homework before hiring an attorney. You will want to seek referrals, read online reviews, and confirm the attorney’s standing with the state bar. Begin by asking friends, family, colleagues, and other business owners if they know a competent business attorney. Once you have a shortlist, call the legal bar association in your state to confirm potential prospects are in good standing with them. 

5) Perform interviews. Begin interviewing after you have a few well-vetted names. Here is a list of interview questions you should ask:

  • When you call to set up the appointment, ask if the attorney offers a free initial consultation. If the answer is no, then you may want to skip on down your list. Remember, this is a job interview where you are the employer, and the attorney is a prospective employee, and you should not be expected to pay for it.
  • How many years of experience do you have as an attorney? 
  • What specific areas of law do you practice
  • How many years of experience do you have in these areas?
  • Are you a junior- or senior-level partner?
  • Will I be dealing directly with you?
  • How accessible are you?
  • What methods do you use to communicate with your clients? 
  • What is your typical response time?
  • How many long-term clients do you personally have?
  • What is your position on maintaining relationships with your clients?
  • In what hourly increments do you bill in? 

To find a qualified attorney, you must be willing to dig for details and be at least a little skeptical of the answers. While you want someone who has the confidence to believe they can get the job done, you need to be wary of an attorney who promises too much. 

Letters spelling out L-A-W

Some Notable Small-Business Attorneys

There are many highly-qualified business attorneys across the country. Here are three notable names:

Carl A. Fornaris, a Miami attorney, has been practicing law for over 20 years and is Co-Chair of his firm’s Financial Regulatory and Compliance Practice. Carl works in all types of financing transactions and represents lenders and credit entities in dealings with state and federal regulatory entities, such as the Federal Reserve. 

Cory Briggs, a San Diego attorney, founded Briggs Law Corporation in 2002 and works to defend San Diego taxpayers against the city. Cory has been practicing law since 1995 and spent time in the Nation’s Capital working in the areas of environmental law and regulatory compliance. Briggs is currently seeking election to be the City Attorney of San Diego.

Ashley Nicole Kirkwood, an Illinois Attorney, graduated at the top of her class at Northwestern Law. Ms. Kirkwood is a trial lawyer for Fortune 100 companies across the U.S. In addition to her legal practice, Kirkwood speaks at conferences and colleges around the globe. Her firm, Mobile General Counsel, helps business owners with crucial business aspects, including contracts and trademark protection. 



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