Businesses are governed by laws and regulations that affect nearly every aspect of their operation. From formation, hiring, and firing, to drafting contracts, resolving disputes, and dissolving or selling the company, numerous legal matters arise during the lifetime of a business.
As a small business owner, you are adept at handling challenges. But for parsing the fine print of the law, you may feel overwhelmed. You cannot do everything on your own. Every business relies on other businesses to help accomplish its goals. There is arguably no partnership more important for long-term success than the one you have with your business attorney.
Finding the right attorney for your business can seem intimidating if you have never done it before. When preparing to meet with candidates, develop a plan that will allow you to identify an attorney who is a good fit to assist you with your company’s industry, goals, concerns, and culture.
Reasons to Hire a Business Attorney
Even the most well-oiled business machine needs the counsel of a knowledgeable attorney. While not every company requires in-house counsel, having a dedicated business attorney on standby, ready to assist you whenever needed, can help you avoid costly legal missteps that threaten the success—and even the survival—of your business.
A business attorney can generally provide these business law services:
- Choosing—and maintaining—a business structure that helps to protect your personal assets
- Drafting and negotiating contracts with clients, customers, employees, and suppliers
- Obtaining licenses and permits
- Securing intellectual property
- Working with your accountant on tax or other issues
- Establishing policies for employees and independent contractors
- Reviewing commercial leases and other real estate matters
- Planning for succession – transferring ownership to family or to a third party
- Resolving disputes, including lawsuits
- Assisting with mergers and acquisitions
- Aiding in creating internal governing documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws, shareholders’ agreements, operating agreements, etc.)
- Advising on securities-related matters
- General business counseling
- Identifying business risks and mitigation strategies
Considerations for Hiring a Business Attorney
To be clear, not every business attorney can be knowledgeable in all of these matters. Business attorneys develop specializations in different fields. In addition, some attorneys are more qualified than others to provide business strategy advice to owners, boards, and executives.
Identify the areas of the law you anticipate needing help with so you can find an attorney with the right experience. Consider an attorney in a specialized role, such as intellectual property, employment, or contract law, as opposed to a general practitioner.
You may also need to work with more than one type of business law attorney as your company evolves. The startup phase of a business requires a different legal skill set than what is needed during the growth, maturity, or renewal phases.
Searching for a Business Lawyer
When looking for a business lawyer, you do not necessarily need to find someone local, but there are reasons for doing so. At the very least, the lawyer you choose should be in the state where your business operates because laws applicable to businesses vary from state to state. If you are in a smaller town with limited options, it may be worth looking for lawyers in nearby cities, where there will be more to choose from.
Although we have gotten accustomed to video or phone meetings, you may value the ability to meet in person with your attorney—especially if you are involved in litigation or other high-stakes matters. However, business owners from Generations Y and Z may be more comfortable with a relationship done almost exclusively over Zoom, email, and chat.
Online searches will provide you with leads for attorney candidates. However, if you belong to any professional associations or networking groups, ask for recommendations. Sourcing attorneys from industry connections makes it more likely that candidates will have experience working with businesses like yours. You can also search for attorneys on The Florida Bar website, www.floridabar.org. They may even have a lawyer referral service directory.
Questions to Ask Attorneys
If you own a business, you have conducted interviews before. While this may be your first time interviewing a lawyer, you can take the same general approach to discover if the person is a good match. Ask questions with purpose and discover as much information as you can. Before meeting with an attorney, you can search for them on The Florida Bar’s web site.
Include other key stakeholders in the interview process, such as co-owners, decision makers within the company (such as executives and managers), and advisors. Although they do not all need to be present at the interview, they should at least be consulted because they may offer perspectives you have not considered.
The following are examples of the topics to discuss with the business lawyer during the interview:
- How long has the attorney been practicing law?
- What is the attorney’s areas of legal knowledge?
- What is their experience in your business or industry?
- What are examples of past clients the attorney has advised?
- What is their track record of handling past cases (especially cases that overlap with your needs)?
- What is their fee structure (i.e., flat fee, hourly fee, monthly fees, or retainer fees) and costs of typical transactions
- What is their willingness to go to trial and their trial record if you may need a litigation attorney?
- Will the attorney personally work on your case or pass the work to other lawyers in the firm? If so, who are the other lawyers and what are their credentials?
- Discuss whether there may be any potential conflicts of interest (such as representing competitors or former partners)
- Ask the attorney about their processes and timelines, including how communications are handled
- What is the attorney’s involvement with the local chambers of commerce or a small business advisory board?
- What is their experience running a business or with entrepreneurship in general?