Q: How should I go about finding legal services for my business?
A: To find the best legal help, consider your company's needs. Do you need a lawyer to establish your company? If you are already established, are you seeking legal advice to avoid problems? Such advance planning could include trademark registration, contract negotiation or employment agreements, as a few examples. Or do you have an immediate legal problem, such as a lawsuit or regulatory action?
Having a trusted "go-to" lawyer helps businesses advance with confidence. Many small businesses find an attorney to handle basic issues and ongoing planning on an as-needed basis. If a special need arises, the same attorney might also handle that issue, or refer the company to a specialized firm. Your business counsel would refer you to a patent attorney to register or defend your company's inventions, for instance, or might bring in a litigator to deal with a lawsuit.
To find the right fit for your business, ask around. Who does the local business community trust? If you have friends who sought representation for a business issue, who do they recommend? Was the work worth the cost? Also check peer and client ratings. Martindale.com, Avvo.com and Lawyers.com are sites that include peer or client reviews. Be aware that most sites allow firms to pay for prominent placement, so focus on reviews rather than on profile position.
Once you have a short list, ask for a free consultation. This conversation should help you determine which attorney fits your business and needs, whether long term or immediate. Do not hesitate to ask about billing. You may find that infrequent hourly or per-project billing works well for you, or you might pay a regular fee (a retainer) to cover anything that comes up in a given month or year. Determine what is affordable and appropriate given your needs.
Prepaid legal services provide another way to manage costs. Clients make regular payments in exchange for legal help when needed. When considering a prepaid plan, weigh the ongoing cost against the service's obligations. Do the services fit with your likely needs, and are there any limits? Consider whether you will be able to select who represents you if a legal problem arises.
Stacey Supina is on faculty in the ethics and business law department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.