Legal Effects

Entrepreneurs oftentimes make two crucial mistakes when they set up shop. They don’t find an accountant or a lawyer for their business, much less research whether the accountant or lawyer they do wind up with in a pinch is best suited to their entrepreneurial needs or their industry needs.

This week, we’ll talk about lawyers; next week, we’ll talk about accountants.

Legalese Can Be Tricky

If someone is threatening legal action against you, you’re in more trouble than you think you are. And if you’ve been handed a contract to sign, you’re in more trouble than you think you are. In both cases, you need to know who your legal representative is, and he or she needs to understand what your vision is for your business activities coupled with an understanding of the industry in which you do business.

Far too many entrepreneurs mistakenly think of lawyers as a necessary evil they will need at some point in the future, and they mistakenly believe that involving a lawyer at the early stages of any deal is an instant deal killer. A lawyer’s job is to mitigate any potential losses and for that reason, a good lawyer will point out any potential legal problems in a contract. If you get the right lawyer for your business, he or she will also be able to offer solutions that will mitigate liability.

There are seven things you’ll want to know about any legal beagles you’re considering as your legal representative in business matters.

Experience is King

Small businesses generally don’t have a lot of money set aside to pay for a lawyer so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix your electrical, so don’t hire a lawyer specializing in an area of law that doesn’t address your business. It won’t matter how acclaimed the lawyer is if he’s not the right lawyer for you or your business. Choose wisely. Find someone with experience that relates directly to what you’re doing in your industry.

Now I Get It!

If you and your business are just another file folder in a filing cabinet, it’s time to find someone else to represent you. You want a lawyer who not only understands your business, but who understands your vision for the future of your business. If you’re just another number, you’ll also find other things missing from this equation including the ability to successfully spot problem before they happen and the ability to successfully troubleshoot those problems.

Do You Talk The Same Language?

The terminology the legal profession uses is oftentimes confusing for those who aren’t in the business. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer what he or she means when phrases are used that don’t make sense to you. If the lawyer doesn’t explain the terms used or answers with derision or treats you as inferior for daring to ask, it’s time to find a new lawyer. A lawyer like that obviously doesn’t need your money since he can afford to alienate clients.

Penciling Clients In

For some, having a lawyer at their fingertips is imperative, but for most of us, having a lawyer return phone calls or emails within 24 hours Monday through Friday is fine. Keep your eyes open for the lawyer who gets increasingly busy to the point where you either don’t hear back from him for days, or he routinely has one of his paralegals or administrative assistants get back to you instead. If the lawyer is too busy to get back to you within a reasonable time frame, he’s too busy for you and your business and it’s time to move on.

Repartee and Rapport Rule

Just good chemistry matters in personal relationships, good chemistry matters in professional relationships. The better you mesh with your lawyer, the better your lawyer will understand your views. It’s important for you to get along with your lawyer otherwise he or she won’t have a vested interest in doing more than what the fee they receive demands of them. Find a lawyer with a similar socialization style to your own, and enjoy the business relationship to the hilt.

Anyone You Should Be Talking To After You Meet A Lawyer

Yes: References. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for references. You aren’t asking for the lawyer’s personal history. You’re asking for references to help you decide if this lawyer is the right lawyer for you. Of course, you’ll only get the names and contact information who will deliver glowing accounts of the lawyer’s incredible deeds of derring-do, but if you pull back the curtain, you’ll get a pretty good sense of what kind of person he or she is, and his or her level of professionalism.

Keep An Eye On That Invoice!

How much a good lawyer costs depends on a number of factors from where the law office is located to who is affiliated with the law office, the reputation of senior and junior partners and how prestigious the law firm.

A mid-range lawyer who charges $500 per hour who is on your side, engaged, resourceful and reputable is worth every penny as is the upper echelon lawyer who charges $1,000 per hour and has an entire office at his disposal to get things done. And the bargain basement lawyer who charges $200 per hour to undercut the other two but who really has his heart in your industry, has his place as well.

If you take nothing else from this article today, take this: You have to approach picking a lawyer much the same way you would consider a life partner. Don’t try to make your lawyer into something he or she isn’t or can never be. Find someone who is already all the things you need that person to be, and you can rest easy knowing that the relationship will last well past the honeymoon phase.

Elyse Bruce

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