Your attorney, like your business advisor and accountant, should be one of the first members that you choose for your advisory team. Your attorney can guide you in setting up your company legally, protecting your personal assets from business debts, drafting important contracts and business documents, and assisting you when disputes arise. It is key that you do not wait until a problem occurs, such as when you are sued. If such an event should happen, you will want a lawyer who is already familiar with you and your business. Of course, by having an attorney from the beginning, you might be able to prevent such events from occurring.
When choosing an attorney…
When you begin to look for an attorney, do not start in the yellow pages. Although you can find competent legal counsel in that manner, since most lawyers have a listing, it is preferable that you ask colleagues, friends, and others in your industry for recommendations. By doing this you will find honest suggestions and criticisms of legal professionals from those who have experience. To help you with your search, Enterprise has selected a list of attorneys in the Pittsburgh area who work with small businesses in a variety of industries. To find out more information on each one, click on the links below for company profiles and bios.
When conducting your search, keep several things in mind. First of all, consider whether you want to retain a big firm or a small firm. Typically, a big firm charges higher hourly rates, but it also has many lawyers with specializations in the various areas of expertise that your growing business will need. Larger firms usually have the benefit of more relationships with third party specialists, should you need them. Smaller firms generally have lower rates but often provide more generalized services. They may have to refer you to a “specialist” if you have a complicated situation.
Secondly, consider the work that you will need your attorney to conduct. Several areas of specialization that you may need are business organization law, contract preparation, real estate lease review, license and tax registration, intellectual property, labor and employment law.
Finally, consider where their offices are located. You will probably need to speak with them frequently during your start-up years and not want to waste a lot of time traveling to visit your attorney when you could be running your business. Likewise, you will probably not want accumulate fees for them traveling to you. Remember that a phone call usually costs much less than a personal visit.
When conducting interviews with attorneys…
After you have selected several good candidates for your legal team, you will want to thoroughly interview each one. Remember that although you may be looking at one firm or another, you are hiring a particular lawyer. You will be looking for several personal and professional qualities during your interview, including:
In addition, be cautious of several characteristics:
It is critical that you trust your attorney and find him or her to be knowledgeable and experienced in your industry. In addition, you should understand that they don’t know everything about every kind of law. A good attorney knows when to call on a member of their legal network to ask for assistance or for a second opinion. Ask for credentials and references. Call their references. Was the work well done? On time? Efficient? The extra steps taken now can save you a mile in the long run, especially during a critical time in your business’ development. Remember, don't be intimidated during your interview. Your attorney should be working for you, and you should be able to talk candidly with each other. Several questions that you may want to ask them are:
Understand their billing practices:
Create a list of legal tasks that you need and ask for a written estimate of fees, before committing to a lawyer. Monthly retainers may be more cost efficient initially, if you plan on having routine legal needs.
For more information, visit the American Bar Association at www.abanet.org