Utilizing an Attorney In Business
All businesses should have a working relationship with an attorney. The first step toward developing this relationship is to choose an attorney who can best service the needs of the business.
Choosing an attorney is not like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey (although some lawyers have been called worse). It is not, and should not be a blind process; your choice of an attorney should be based upon the attorney’s experience in the field, your personal compatibility with the attorney and the attorney’s ability to provide good service at a reasonable fee. A reasonable fee does not necessarily mean cheap. Remember, you want a good legal product and thoughtful advice. Recommendations from other clients of the firm, your banker and accountant, and other businesses in your industry are very helpful in determining an attorney’s reputation in a particular area of practice.
You should feel comfortable with your attorney. He or she should be able to explain issues to you in a clear manner, anticipate your needs and discuss options that are tailored to your business objective. You may want to meet all attorneys within the firm who will be doing work for you. This will help in the event your attorney is unavailable in an urgent situation.
Most business law is provided by attorneys on an hourly fee basis. Different attorneys and/or paralegals within the same firm may charge a different hourly rate. Other fee arrangements also can be agreed upon. Retainer fees, monthly payments made whether you use the services or not, flat fees, specific one-time fees for the performance of a specific service, and contingency fees where the attorney receives a percentage of the claim that you are awarded, are examples of other types of fee arrangements. These fee arrangements are generally not used in commercial context, but exceptions may be made in certain unique situations. Confirm your fee arrangement before your attorney begins to provide legal service.
After you select an attorney, use him or her frequently. Do not forego or delay a consultation because you think you can do something yourself. This is how problems arise. Many problems can be avoided by using your attorney up front to structure deals, form corporations and draft documents designed to protect you against future problems.
Attorneys are able to provide the best legal advice when they are fully informed of the nature of the business enterprise and of all circumstances surrounding any disputes, negotiations or transactions. Keep your attorney updated on all changes in your business and on all “deals” that you may be contemplating. An annual business wellness checkup will ensure that all necessary corporate meetings are held and documents prepared.
An attorney is an ideal person to use as a counselor. The relationship between a client and an attorney is confidential. Take advantage of the confidential nature of this relationship by discussing sensitive personal or business matters with your attorney. Together you may be able to find unique solutions to thorny problems.
Keep your attorney happy by paying him or her on a timely basis. Remember the reason sharks don’t attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. Keep your attorney working for you by remembering that the practice of law also is a business.
It is helpful to review your choice of an attorney and your relationship with that attorney every two or three years to ensure that your company’s needs are being met as it expands and changes. The selection and retention of your attorney should be based upon the quality of the legal service you are obtaining and your overall comfort level with your attorney’s professionalism and integrity. Take off your blindfold. Choose carefully and develop a good working relationship with your attorney, and you’ll see that the recent rash of attorney jokes, like the dumb blonde jokes before them, are society’s highest form of flattery.