As you build a business, you will also need to build a team that helps you face the inevitable challenges of growth and, hopefully, success. Much of this team will be internal – your employees and contractors. However, some of the most important members of your team will be external – depending on your business, these may include your accountant, your insurance broker, your banker and – you guessed it – your lawyer.
Many business people are, at least initially, concerned about engaging a lawyer. Some lawyers deservedly have a poor reputation – a good lawyer, properly chosen and appropriately instructed, can protect you, educate you, help you through problems you don’t have the ability to navigate yourself and deliver value far in excess of the fees you pay. The trick is finding that lawyer and with that in mind, here’s a guide to finding the right lawyer for your business in four easy steps:
1. Get a specialist
First, you need to understand that there are many different kinds of lawyers, with very different skill sets. You need to choose a lawyer with the experience to properly and effectively represent you, in your industry. The lawyer who is best to set up your business structure is very unlikely to be the lawyer who is best to handle your divorce or help you take over BHP. So, first and foremost, find a lawyer who can do the job you need done. Ask around – ask colleagues, mentors and other lawyers. Don’t get a non-specialist because they’re your uncle or because they are cheap. If you ask a lawyer without specialist expertise to undertake your work, you will pay for them to learn, both literally and figuratively.
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2. Get someone you want to work with
Second, you need to find a lawyer with whom you can forge a strong working relationship. It helps if you like them. It’s even better if they share your values. It’s vital that they speak to you in a manner that you understand and that they deliver work to you that is useful, in a format that you can readily employ. Again, ask around. What are they like to work with? Are they an honest and honourable person? Ask the lawyer you’re interested in if you can talk to other clients they work with. Spend some time getting to know them, and ask them about how they work – how long should you expect to wait to have your calls returned, or work delivered? A good lawyer will happily provide all this information.
3. Get someone you can afford
Third, find out what they charge and when they will send you bills. Do they offer fixed fees? If so, what does the fixed fee actually include? If they charge by the hour, how much is the hourly rate? How long do they expect a particular job to take? A good lawyer will be very upfront about costs. The less surprising your bill is, the more likely you are to pay it quickly. If you have an issue with the fees quoted, raise that issue and discuss options, before you start work. A good lawyer will often give clients time to pay, or allow a payment plan, as long as that need is flagged up front. If you can’t afford the quote, deal with that responsibly – don’t just proceed and hope everything will work out. It probably won’t.
4. Use your lawyer sensibly
Finally, you will get a lot more value out of your lawyer if you use them sensibly. Think about what you hope to achieve by engaging them. If you are involved in a dispute, try to decide which issues are most important to you, and which are less so. If you go to a meeting with your lawyer, go prepared, knowing what you want to discuss. You will find the relationship far more satisfying if you are organised, prepared and clear. If you don’t prepare, you are wasting your time and the lawyers, and probably paying for the lawyer’s time also.
By Brett Oaten, courtesy of Generate. A version of this article was originally posted on their Better Business blog.
Generate are not your typical accountants. We provide operational and strategic support to creative and innovative businesses of all stripes and colours.