Finding a great lawyer to advise your small business is not easy. If you have found a great one, be nice to them and hang onto them at all costs…
But if you don’t have a great lawyer, how do you go about finding one? Read on to find out how.
As your relationship with your business lawyer is a very personal one, most people still prefer to go with personal recommendations. Indeed nearly all of my work comes from word of mouth recommendations. So as a first port of call, ask your business acquaintances if they have any recommendations. If they don’t know anyone or you don’t have any business mates, then post a request to a Facebook group, Twitter, Linked In or a relevant forum. Before long you will have a list of suggestions of lawyers who are all tried and tested.
2. Websites that list lawyers
There are a plethora of websites that list lawyers but as, typically, they don’t vet lawyers in any way and are charging a referral fee from the lawyer, I would advise treating these sites with caution.
3. Legal directories
There are also legal directories that rank law firms and comment on individual lawyers within those firms but unless you are in a position to afford top law firm prices (which typically as a small business you are not), these are of limited use.
4. Google search
Yes, our best friend Google can help you out with this one. If location is important to you, then you can google “small business lawyer” followed by the name of your town and that should provide search results for all your local lawyers. However with technology as it is these days, geography does not need to be an issue at all – my clients are from all over the country and the fact that I have not met them even once has not at all hindered the relationship or the quality of the work/service. If you have a particular specialism you need help with, you can google that and the search should provide you with a shortlist.
So once you have your shortlist, here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether anyone on your shortlist is a “great” lawyer. Try to get a feel for the answer to these questions from the lawyer’s website (check out their testimonials and what these focus on) and then arrange a free initial consultation (either in person or over the phone) with the lawyer where you can sound him or her out on the following (note, obviously you don’t ask these as your actual questions…!)
- Do they really understand your business?
- Do they actually really give a monkeys whether your business succeeds or not?
- Do they explain things in language you can understand without using legal jargon?
- Do they treat you as an equal rather than talking down to you in a condescending manner?
- Will they be happy to talk to you to give you quick advice without starting the clock and charging you for every minute-long call?
- Will you be an important client to them or will they forget about you when the next client comes calling?
- Will they proactively help you with your business and send you articles of interest or legal bulletins that they know are relevant to you (without charge…)?
- Are they going to be your main contact and do the work themselves or are they just “fronting” – getting you on-board as a client before they delegate to a less experienced junior lawyer?
- Will they advise you on the law in the context of your business rather than a one size fits all – this is VERY important or you could end up spending a lot more money that you need to.
- Will they give you a sensible risk analysis to guide you through difficult decisions rather than telling you that you can’t do it?
- Do they abhor the idea of “over-lawyering” (ie creating issues where there doesn’t need to be issues) just to rack up the fees? Yes, believe it or not, some lawyers do this…
- Will they deliver sensible, practical, business-focused advice in the simplest and most efficient way?
- Do they have the knowledge and experience to advise you on all aspects of your business (think intellectual property, employment, property lease, litigation etc) and to support you as your business grows (think investment, joint ventures, exits etc) or at the least are they in a network where such services can be provided at a similar quality.
- Will they make getting from A to Z as stress free as possible and even pleasurable… Yes this is possible! Do you actually like this person??
- Are they modern, vibrant and fast paced or a bit of a plodder – remember you are likely to be paying for those long-winded meetings and telephone conversations and you don’t want to lose the will to live every time you talk to your lawyer.
- Do they really listen to what you want or do they hear what they think you want.
- Do they use the latest technology to communicate or are they stuck in the dark ages of dictating a letter to their secretary and sending it out by post?
- And perhaps most importantly, are they fair and transparent with their fees. Note, I did not say “cheap” – generally if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys… Ask for a fixed fee if possible although note that lawyers will be reluctant to fix fees where there are other lawyers involved, as they do not know how the negotiations will go. But for something that they are in control of, such as drafting your standard terms of business, they should be able to provide a fixed fee quote. For hourly rates, check what basis your lawyer charges on – most lawyers will charge in at least 6 minute units and some 10 minutes – what this means is that if they call you and get your voicemail they could in theory (and many do) charge you for 10 minutes’ work which on an hourly rate of say £300 per hour is £50 for that missed call…!
Be sure to look out for the next edition where we deal with Part 2 – how to get the most out of your “great” lawyer once you have found them.
Copyright Suzanne Dibble 2013
* Although the concepts in this article have global application, the information contained in the article is based on English law only and is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to amount to advice on which reliance should be placed. Suzanne disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on such information. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the above contents.