Finding a Lawyer
When you search for a business lawyer online, you’re likely to find a lot of similar-looking websites. They feature pictures of city skylines and smiling lawyers in suits. They brag about their experience and urge you to call today.
But how do you find the lawyer that’s right for you?
Where to Look
While a simple internet search can work, that’s not the only way to locate a lawyer. Here are some other approaches.
- If you live in a city, it probably has a bar association. Most bar associations have online directories of their members, and many also have lawyer referral services that can help you locate a lawyer for your particular needs.
- Ask other local business owners if they can recommend a lawyer that they’ve worked with. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find an attorney.
- If you’ve hired a lawyer for some other type of transaction such as a will, a divorce or a real estate closing, find out if that lawyer or someone in the lawyer’s office handles small business transactions. If not, your former lawyer may be able to refer you to someone who does.
- Check out websites that offer reviews or ratings from clients and other lawyers. These include online legal directories such as Martindale.com and Avvo.com and general review sites like Yelp.
- Use social media. LinkedIn may help you research lawyers’ experience. Both LinkedIn and Twitter may lead you to lawyers who are actively posting about small business legal issues.
What to Look For
A general business lawyer can handle most small business legal needs, but your business may also need more specialized advice. For example, if you are in an industry with complex regulatory requirements, if you do a lot of business overseas, or if you are facing immigration or environmental issues, you may need a lawyer with more in-depth knowledge and experience in a particular area.
You can also look for a lawyer who has experience in your industry. For example, if you own a restaurant, you might want a lawyer who understands liquor licenses, restaurant health code regulations and the rules pertaining to employees who receive tips.
You may end up hiring one lawyer to handle your general business needs and another with specialized expertise if the need arises. Or you may choose to hire a larger firm whose lawyers can handle all of your anticipated needs.
- A general business lawyer may be able to help you with such things as starting your business, negotiating contracts, dealing with employees, filing trademarks and copyrights, planning for retirement and closing down your business.
- An employment lawyer can advise you on employment law compliance, employee issues and labor relations issues. An employment lawyer may also represent you in lawsuits filed by employees.
- You may need an immigration lawyer if you plan to hire people who are not U.S. citizens. An immigration lawyer can handle visa applications and communicate with immigration authorities.
- If your business plans to apply for patents, you will need a patent lawyer. Patent lawyers have a technical background and are admitted to practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A business lawyer or intellectual property lawyer can help you with trademark and copyright registrations.
- A real estate lawyer has expertise in real estate transactions, including complicated lease and purchase transactions.
- A merger and acquisition lawyer can advise you if your business is in the process of acquiring or being acquired by another business.
- A tax lawyer can help you with complicated tax issues that go beyond the expertise of a general business lawyer or tax accountant.
- You may need an environmental lawyer if you are faced with any environmental issues, including cleanup or regulatory issues.
Once you’ve found a lawyer that seems like a good fit, set up a consultation. Many lawyers offer initial consultations for free or at a reduced hourly rate.
At your meeting, ask the lawyer about his or her experience handling matters like yours and representing businesses your size and in your industry. Talk about your plans for the future as well as your current legal needs. You should come away from the meeting feeling that the lawyer is knowledgeable and someone you’d feel comfortable working with. If you’re not sure, schedule a consultation with someone else before you make a decision.