Great Business Ideas: Hire a Great Lawyer

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Hire a Great Lawyer

when you’re starting a business, it’s natural to try to save money at every turn. But it doesn’t pay to scrimp when it comes to getting solid legal advice.

Most business owners’ first encounter with legal forms comes with a DBA, which means “doing business as” and is legally known as a fictitious name statement. After this first step, you’ll need good legal advice to buy or sell real estate, form a partnership, create job applications, and write employee handbooks.

A good small business attorney will protect you and your business from legal troubles involving staff, vendors, and customers. He or she can also help when you are looking for investors or dealing with bankers.

Finding a good attorney is not as challenging as you may think. According to Brad Carr, spokesman for the New York State Bar Association, there are about 729,000 practicing attorneys in this country, with three out of four working for themselves or for a small firm. The best way to find a good lawyer is to ask other small business owners if they would recommend their own attorney. Your banker and your accountant may have some recommendations; ministers and rabbis are also good sources of referrals because they know so many people in the community.

Another way to find one is through legal directories. The reference section of most larger public libraries should have the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. This directory pro- vides brief biographical information about lawyers in your area. Some listings also include the names of their clients, so you can call for references.

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Most state bar associations offer free referral services. Call the bar association in your state for information. Most lawyers listed through the referral service charge a modest fee for an initial consultation.

Remember, hiring an attorney is a very personal thing. Be sure to choose someone you can confide in, who makes a good impression, and who has experience in your industry.

Some good news: A glut of attorneys, especially in big cities, has forced many to reduce their fees to beat the com- petition. Most are happy to work by the project and do not expect to be put on a monthly retainer. Some attorneys who specialize in working with entrepreneurs will take you on as a client in exchange for stock in your company or profit-sharing down the line. If an attorney is willing to work on this basis, consider making him or her a part of your strategic team.

The hourly fees you’ll pay depend on where you live. For instance, business owners in New York City and Los Angeles generally pay higher legal fees than those living and working in Omaha, Nebraska.

When you are interviewing prospective attorneys, here are the questions to ask to get you started:

  • Are you a member of the state bar and licensed to practice law in this state? (If your company does a lot of interstate commerce, you might want to hire an attorney who can practice in the federal courts as well.)
  • What kinds of small businesses do you represent?
  • How long have you been practicing law?
  • Could you give me some references?
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