Top 10 Rules for Finding the Right Small Business Lawyer for You

small business lawyerIf you are a small business owner, you probably need a small business lawyer on your speed dial. Or better yet in your iPhone.There are so many legal requirements of running a business these days that it’s not easy to keep track of them all. Although the internet has created new ways to save money off legal fees, we still live in a litigious society where legal fees are sometimes the cost of doing business.To assist you in deciding how to choose a small business lawyer, here are our Top 10 Rules for finding the right small business lawyer for you:

10.  Ask Trusted Friends and Colleagues for a Recommendation.

If you have friends who have a small business in the same industry, you should see who they use or have used. Even if this initial search doesn’t result in any good small business lawyer recommendations, you can call attorneys who are recommended to you but who practice in other areas and see if they have anyone to recommend.

9.  Ask About Legal Fees and Costs.

If you are a small business owner, then chances are cost is going to make a difference. Ask the lawyer what their hourly rate is and what billing increment they use – most hourly lawyers will use 1/10th of an hour increments.  If a lawyer works in a downtown high rise with a fancy lobby and 100 lawyers on their floor, you are going to pay more. If a lawyer has a small law office away from high-rent downtown properties, their rates will be lower but they may not have as much experience.

8.  Find Out About Alternative Billing Arrangement.

One popular trend is for small business lawyers to offer alternative billing arrangements, such as flat fees for discrete projects, or a monthly retainer fee for unlimited phone or email consultations. It can’t hurt to task any attorney you are interviewing if they do offer such alternative arrangements.

7. Check on Industry Groups and Affiliations.

You may want to contact relevant industry groups or associations and see if they have recommendations.  You may also want to find out if any attorneys you are interviewing belong to such industry groups, or if they regularly read journals, newsletters or blogs covering your industry.

6.  Contact Local Bar Associations.

Another option is to contact the local bar association, which may have an attorney referral service. Often you can call up the local bar and describe what kind of attorney you are looking for and they will give you a number of attorneys to call.  However, the local bar association may give you a number of attorneys to check out so you will definitely have to do further due diligence.

5.  Check the web.

There are numerous resources available online for attorney recommendations. You may try to see if there are any attorneys in your network or friends and colleagues’ networks. You may also check out attorney ratings at  If you have any prospects at this point, you should also poke around on their firm’s website to learn more about them and how they can help you.

4.  Check out Attorney Blogs.

I included this “rule” in a separate category from the previous rule to emphasize how important, and potentially helpful, attorney blogs can be. Many attorneys have embraced blogging as a way to share their knowledge and find prospective clients.  If you need help with a very narrow issue, you may try a search using Google’s Blog search function and see if you uncover any blog postings from an attorney on that particular topic. At a minimum, if the attorney has a blog, you can read over a few posts to see what areas of law the attorney writes about and learn a little bit about how they think and analyze issues.

3.  During the Initial Interview, Ask a Lot of Questions.

Once you have finally gotten to the point of interviewing attorneys, you should come prepared with a list of questions to ask the attorney. You may want to ask how many similar matters they have handled, what was the result in those matters, which lawyer in the firm will be working on your case, and how they plan to keep you informed.Also, be aware that some attorneys charge for the initial consultation. You shouldn’t be offended by this, as it may mean the attorney’s time is in demand. Also, you will likely get valuable advice or recommendations even during the initial meeting so you will probably get your money’s worth. Many attorneys charge for an initial meeting as a way of avoiding prospective clients who try to get free advice during the initial meeting, with no intention of hiring the lawyer.Nevertheless, you may want to ask if the attorney will credit the initial meeting towards your bill if you become a client.

2. Negotiate Over the Legal Services Agreement.

You may also want to see if any of the aspects of the legal services agreement can be changed, such as lowering the retainer or reducing the hourly rate. If you have confidence in the attorney you met with but don’t want any other attorneys working on your case, you may also want to indicate in the agreement which attorneys will work on your case.

1.  Be Willing to Fire Your Old Attorney and Hire a New Attorney.

If at any point you are not happy with your attorney’s performance or their communication style (or lack thereof), you should be willing to walk away. You are in charge in the attorney-client relationship and you should not remain with a lawyer if you have lost confidence in him or her. However, be aware that if you need to hire a new lawyer it is going to cost more for that lawyer to come up to speed.


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Photo credit: Flickr/ Deputado Bruno Covas