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Whether you are at the early stages of launching a small business, are facing a legal dilemma, or have decided to throw in the towel and close shop, there usually comes a time in every entrepreneur's tenure when he or she commits to hiring an attorney. If that day is today for you, we congratulate you on taking steps to seek quality legal guidance and offer these tips on how to find the perfect small business attorney.
1. Consider your small business legal needs. Why contact an attorney now? What are specific things you want the attorney to work on? What time frame do you need them by?
Here are some common issues that small businesses engage an attorney for. Some are items that you can file for yourself, and others require legal representation.
- incorporation questions, shareholder and directorate queries, ongoing legal requirements, creating a separate corporate identity to avoid personal liability.
- registering a trademark, patent, or copyright for creative, technical, or unique ideas, logos, brands, and products.
- enforcing protected intellectual property, collecting delinquent payment for goods or services delivered, defending against cases against the business.
- drafting employment contracts, independent contractor agreements, service agreements, liability waivers.
- tax considerations, closing a business, relevant federal, state, municipal codes.
2. Use multiple search routes. Once you know what you want to speak to a small business attorney about, cast a broad net. Ask fellow entrepreneurs, friends and family, and professional contacts about recommendations on local attorneys. Check online directories, such as FindLaw's Lawyer Directory, to find attorneys in your area that specialize in business issues and visit their websites.
3. Choose your top picks. Whether your list is short or long, begin calling or meeting potential small business attorneys through initial phone or in-person consults. Give them an idea of your business and what legal assistance you seek. Shorten your list to include a handful of attorney candidates who have worked on cases like yours, who have experience in working with small businesses, and who have a good track record.
4. Check those references. Don't shy from requesting references. Attorneys are often happy to oblige. And since legal fees can add up, you want to invest in legal representation wisely.
5. Do the "like" test. Since you will likely communicating back and forth with your attorney multiple times, possibly meeting for follow-ups, and possibly contacting them for future legal matters, make sure you like your potential new attorney. Is he or she easy to talk to? Are they accessible and do they return your communications promptly? Before you make your final pick, do a simple "like" test to ensure a smooth working relationship.
While the process will require a little time and follow-up, finding an attorney you trust and who meets your small business needs will make your search and selection efforts well worth it. And then you can turn your focus on growing your business, full steam ahead.