The Power of (The Right) Attorney

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on February 4, 2014 in Planning & Advisors

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Here’s how to avoid the ‘frogs’ and find the legal ace who’s a proper match for you.

Working with a lawyer is similar to having a lover: The right one can enhance your life immeasurably; the wrong one can prove disastrous. Like lovers, as well, we like to think we can do without them . . . until we can’t.

The right attorney empowers your business life by providing the right mix of sound advice and sounding board. The wrong one breaks your budget, doesn’t listen to your needs and doesn’t return your phone calls. So how do you avoid the “frogs” and find the right business attorney for your needs?

Know Your Needs
As with all other relationships, first you must know what you need. Attorneys aren’t mind readers (although it helps if they are somewhat proactive). You have to understand your business and communicate that, ideally through some form of written business plan.

Here are some of the things you need to know about your company–or be prepared to explore–to use an attorney effectively:

  • Your industry
  • Your target market
  • Your time frame for particular projects or for resolving issues
  • Your budget for legal fees, both in the startup phase and ongoing
  • Your products or services
  • Your location–and that of your customers
  • Your work force development plans
  • Your ideas for business growth
  • Your strategy for exiting the business

Attorneys can help by spotting legal issues and anticipating possible snags you’ll want to address so your business runs smoothly.

Find the Attorney Who’s Right for You

Like lovers, lawyers come in all shapes, sizes and strengths. Some work with big firms and staffs large enough to rival a small American town. Some have solo practices. Some charge $800 an hour. Some work on a project-fee basis. Some know one specific area–such as animal law–very, very well. Some are familiar with a number of business-related issues. And then there’s that elusive quality of . . . chemistry. A lawyer will become one of the most valuable members of your trusted advisor team. This has to be a good fit.

Here’s how to find one who’s right for you:

Shop around. Ask entrepreneurial friends and colleagues for their recommendations. Check out referral services through your local bar association. Look for attorneys involved with your trade association.

Here’s what you don’t do:

Don’t pick someone randomly from the Yellow Pages. Don’t use your brother-in-law, whom your sister arm-twisted into giving free legal services. Don’t use your college roommate whose practice focuses on maritime law (especially if your business has nothing to do with the sea). And don’t hire someone without at least meeting or speaking to him or her first. Why? Chemistry.

I’m reminded of the old joke about the picky man who couldn’t find a wife. Any woman he married had to meet the 99 qualities on his list.

His mother was beginning to despair of ever having grandchildren until he burst through the door one day and said, “Ma! I’ve found her! A woman who meets all 99 qualities on my list!”

Overjoyed, the mother exclaimed, “That’s so wonderful! When’s the wedding?” “Wedding?” replied the son. “I can’t stand the witch!”

Similarly, you could find an attorney with the right qualifications “on paper,” but being in his or her presence makes you want to scream. Or run away. Or do something–anything–other than have a working relationship with him or her.

Interview Intelligently
You don’t always meet “the one” the first time out. So it’s worth interviewing several candidates before making your choice. Ask any questions that will help you pre-screen whether the lawyer is right for you and your business. Some questions include:

  • What is your experience with the issues I’m facing? How many of your clients are “like me”?
  • How have you handled matters like mine? What are the possible outcomes?
  • Which staff members will actually be assigned to my work? What is their level of expertise?
  • How do you charge? Is there a charge for any consultations?
  • What’s a ballpark figure for my total bill?

Then consider the impression the attorney made on you. You want to feel impressed, not intimidated or indifferent. Your business deserves the best, so make sure your attorney has “the right stuff.”

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