Like it or not, most business owners will require legal counsel from time to time. In most circumstances, using legal counsel will be in the context of a transaction, like raising capital, buying a competitor, or bringing in a key employee. In less pleasant circumstances, it may be in the context of litigation. In either case, you can make a difference in how effectively you work with legal counsel and in keeping the costs down. Here are five tips to consider:
Tip 1 – Engage the Right Attorney – When engaging an attorney, be sure to get someone who has experience with your particular need. Too many business owners engage “an attorney” without understanding that there are vast differences in skill sets and experiences of different lawyers. Don’t use your brother-in-law, the criminal defense attorney, to help with your LLC or corporate work, for example. You’ll save time and money and get better representation in the long run if you choose someone experienced in what you need.
To find the right attorney, ask for recommendations from other business owners or friends (with business experience) and then check websites for relevant experience. When you meet with a potential attorney, ask lots of questions on the front end and make sure he or she has handled work similar to yours before you engage him or her.
Tip 2 – Communicate Clearly – Before talking to your attorney, get organized and make sure you can convey succinctly and clearly what it is you need help with and when you need it. Too many clients dive into preliminary conversations or send cryptic e-mails leaving their attorney confused about what they need. Remember, most attorneys bill by the hour; the better you can describe your problem, the faster your attorney can get to a solution and the less it will cost you. And try to give reasonable turn-around times. Many clients wait until the last minute and then need immediate attention to their matter, which isn’t always possible.
Tip 3 – Consider Asking for a Flat Fee – Many attorneys will consider flat fees for well-defined projects. If a client needs a document from me and production of that document is within my control, then I think a flat fee is reasonable to ask for. If, on the other hand, I’m going to be involved in negotiations with some third party that I’ve never met, it’s harder to quote a flat fee. But it never hurts to explore this option.
Tip 4 – Be Responsive – I find that I am most efficient when I can sit down and knock out a project in a short amount of time. However, I often start a project and then get stalled waiting on my client to get back to me with information or to answer questions. That means when I pick back up, the project is not as fresh in my mind and it takes more time to finish it off. We all know business owners work long hours, but the more responsive you can be the better in terms of getting a good service at an efficient price.
Tip 5 – Give Feedback – The best relationships between attorney and client are those where the parties frequently talk to each other. From an attorney’s perspective, we can give better service when we know you and your business better and your feedback is important in this process. If you like (or dislike) how your attorney has handled something, let him know. The dialog will create a better relationship and service for you.