How to Choose the Right Lawyer for Your Business

Open up the yellow pages to the “lawyers” section.  Pretty thick, huh?  We used to joke here in Las Vegas that the lawyers section was even thicker than the adult escort section, which topped 150 pages at one point.  In this sea of names and faces, how do you choose the right lawyer for your business?

Let’s start with firm size.  I’ve heard many business owners complain that they can never get their lawyer on the phone.  Nine times out of ten, these business owners have hired big firms.  It may be that the lawyer is overwhelmed with work, or that the business owner isn’t one of the “big fish” clients, but whatever the reason, the client is unhappy.  It’s time to decide what’s important to you – branding or client service.

If it’s important to you to say, “my lawyer is with [insert giant intimidating firm name here],” by all means, hire the big firm.  But if you want to be able to get your lawyer on the phone and not be passed off to an associate or paralegal, a smaller firm may be the way to go.

It seems to me that smaller companies in many industries are enjoying a resurgence of customer support.  As I said, many clients are unhappy with big law firms.  We’ve all seen the mass exodus from big banks in favor of community banks.  Client service is climbing higher and higher on the list of priorities and the larger companies who never cared much about client service are now feeling the pinch.

Let’s move on to credentials.  If you’ve decided to go with a big law firm, you can stop reading.  Big law firms have enough lawyers running around that there’s bound to be someone with the necessary credentials to handle your issue.  If you’ve decided a small firm is the way to go, the lawyer’s credentials should be your next consideration.

Lawyers and doctors are historically horrible business people.  Their professions are so specialized that finding a lawyer or a doctor who also has a mind for business is like finding a needle in a haystack.   It’s important to choose a lawyer who understands how to run a business.  These days, many business lawyers have set themselves apart from the pack by earning an MBA or by operating businesses aside from their law firms.  Finding a lawyer who has experience with your specific business is ideal, but a lawyer with at least some business knowledge is crucial.

Once you’ve found a business lawyer with actual real-world business experience, the next consideration is accessibility.  Running a business involves daily decision making and you want to be able to consult with your lawyer on decisions that could impact the business legally.  Will your lawyer be available when these decisions have to be made?  Will they be able to work quickly enough so that you can make an informed decision and move on?

Now let’s talk personality.  Business lawyers do the most good when they’re in regular contact with their clients.  As a client, you’re not likely to keep in contact with your lawyer if he or she is a jerk, and this lack of contact can be detrimental to your business.  The attorney/client relationship is just that, a relationship.  Make sure your lawyer is someone you like.

Finally, price.  You had price at the top of your list, didn’t you?  Well, price is definitely a consideration, but it should be at the bottom.  You certainly need to find a lawyer you can afford, but a lawyer can save you money in the long run.  It’s true.  We’re like insurance policies.  You may not want to shell out the premium now, but it can get very expensive very quickly if there’s trouble down the road.

Ideally, you should look for a lawyer willing to get creative with their billing.  This is not to say find a lawyer who will work for peanuts, but many of us business lawyers have abandoned the traditional retainer/hourly rate model in favor of more business-friendly billing structures.  Flat fees and membership programs may enable you to have a qualified, accessible, personable business lawyer at a price you can afford.