Hiring outside legal counsel for your business requires an assessment of a lawyer’s tangible and intangible qualities. Things like the ability to complete the job, honesty, and his/her understanding of your industry can all play a key role in your relationship with your outside counsel. These aspects, as well as knowledge and experience, should all be considered when selecting outside counsel for your business. To help you make the right decision, we’ve put together this list of the top 8 traits to look for when considering outside counsel:
1. Effective Communication
Before you even have your first meeting with a prospective lawyer, you should be able to get a sense of their communication style. Look for someone who gives a timely response to your meeting requests, asks questions about your business to prepare for each meeting, and doesn’t waste time with unnecessary or unrelated information (after all, you’ll probably be paying by the hour). An attorney who is unclear, does not keep you updated, or does not value your time, will likely be difficult to work with.
2. Understanding of Your Business
During your initial meetings and conversations with potential outside counsel, pay close attention to the type of experience and understanding the lawyer has about your specific industry. They should also have a decent working knowledge of challenges and opportunities in your specific field. This is also a great time to have frank discussions of where you see your business falling short, what risks or legal issues you’ve faced in the past, and where you feel you need the most support. Based on your business needs, a good lawyer will be able to provide ideas on the best resources and strategies to utilize for your business.
Your prospective counsel should respect your budget. During your interview, be sure to ask for examples of how your budget will be managed, what the approval process is for services that may go over budget, and whether there are alternative fee arrangements. Many lawyers, especially those that regularly work with small businesses, can offer flat-rate, monthly, or package billing options.
4. A Clear Plan
Small business clients are most likely to feel secure with an attorney that offers personalized, relevant, and easily digestible business goals. For example, you may feel that your lease agreements need to be updated. Your attorney should be able to outline a plan for what should be changed in the agreements, the timeline to implement those changes, and/or redraft the agreement with plans for re-execution or negotiation with existing landlords. The attorney you choose should be able to understand and act on the “big picture” as well as long and short-term goals for your business.
5. Experience Matters
It is important to choose an experienced lawyer with demonstrated industry expertise and a reliable reputation in their field. Although experience doesn’t necessarily correlate with the number of years an attorney has been practicing, it at least offers some insight into the amount of knowledge they may have. Some attorneys have seen numerous trials in a 5-year period, while others may have never tried a case in 30+ years of practice. The best way to gauge an attorney’s experience is by talking to them about your specific issues or goals. If they can provide in-depth answers, you should feel more confident that they have successfully worked with businesses like yours in the past.
6. State Law May Play a Role
Be aware of any particular state statutes or regulations that require specialized expertise. For instance, Florida has some unique real estate laws that only an experienced Florida real estate attorney would be able to anticipate. This may not be so important if you need outside counsel that will handle a wide variety of legal issues for your business but its at least worth considering for your main priorities.
In most situations, both legal or otherwise, proactive measures are usually better than reactive ones. For instance, when starting your business, a proactive lawyer would ensure that operating agreements, contracts, articles of incorporation and other necessary files are prepared early in the formation process. A reactive lawyer may wait until just before registration to get started. This can cause added stress for a business owner, especially if they have a specific grand opening or presentation deadline in mind. The inability to be proactive can also cause loss of profits and put your business at undue risk. You will also want to find someone who is good at collaborating with others and can come to you equipped with suggestions for strategy or ideas for improving your business.
A final, and perhaps most important, factor that is not always discussed is an attorney’s demeanor and rapport. You should be careful to choose outside counsel that not only fits your business needs, but who also gives you peace of mind. You want someone you are comfortable talking to so that you won’t feel apprehensive about calling with questions or confiding in them with your business goals and obstacles. The goal when hiring any outside counsel is to develop a long-term relationship and, as with any relationship, comfort and communication are pivotal. Remember that you are investing your time and money in this person, so having at least a pleasant experience talking with them (even during difficult times) is crucial.
If you’re looking for outside counsel for your business, you’ve come to the right place. Capital Partners Law is a full-service business law firm with experience across a broad range of industries and practice areas. We also offer alternative fee arrangements for our outside counsel clients, like flat-fee monthly billing. Contact us today to see how we can serve your business and help you accomplish your goals.