[:en]A Good Attorney is Good Business

As a small business owner, you know that it’s wise to protect your business when it comes to legal matters. But, there’s more to hiring an attorney than simply picking one out of the Yellow Pages. Where should you look for an attorney? What rules are they supposed to follow? How much will one cost? There are so many variables, and the legal world can seem overwhelming or intimidating to anyone.

What This Guide Covers

Sometimes the hardest part of making a decision is taking the first step. Not to worry; this guide includes everything you need to know to confidently take that first step towards hiring an attorney for your small business. You will learn how to find and vet an attorney, plan for your legal needs, develop a working relationship, figure out a budget, and know what to expect with regards to rules and ethics. In each section are answers to common concerns as well as valuable information, which will open more doors and strengthen the foundation of your business!

Table of Contents

  1. Why Do I need an Attorney for my Small Business?
  2. Legal Planning
  3. Where Should I Find an Attorney?
  4. What is the Vetting Process Like?
  5. What about Costs?
  6. Developing a Relationship
  7. Using Online Legal Information Resources
  8. Ethics
  9. Wrapping Up
  1. Why Do I Need an Attorney for my Small Business?


Figuring out legal problems practically requires the learning of a new language. And each type of law has its own unique dialect—that is why you need a trusted translator to help you know what you are dealing with.

For instance, could you define the term “consideration,” in relation to small businesses? What about “Force Majeure?” Most people can’t; yet both of these things are important to business owners.

“Consideration” is an essential part of business contracts; it is something of value, given by each party that induces them to enter into the contract.

It could be a promise to perform a desired act, or the promise to refrain from a certain act. And, “Force Majeure” is a common clause in contracts which frees parties from liability in the case of extraordinary events such as war, strike, riot, crime, hurricane, flood, earthquake, etc.

Plus, there are many customs which are unique to lawyers practicing in certain niches. For example, in a commercial lease, location can affect the expenses which are paid by the tenant. So without an attorney, you will likely miss out on or misunderstand important information for your business and location.

Save Time and Money

Prevention is important when it comes to the law. It will always save you time, money and aggravation to work with an attorney and prevent legal problems instead of calling one when they arise. Likewise, it’s much better to have a partnership or operating agreement in place which provides guidelines for handling disputes, as opposed to paying attorneys to litigate a matter.

The bottom line is, legal matters will always come up; signing leases and contracts, hiring employees—you either divert your time away from running your business and put energy and money into research, asking around and figuring out legal issues…

  1. Legal Planning

Look Ahead to Spot Potential Issues

From creation to maintenance, running a successful business requires planning. It is vital to have a solid understanding of your operations and processes from beginning to end, so you can spot potential issues down the line.

Take a food shop, for example. At the very minimum, legal checkpoints will include obtaining permits to operate as a business, purchase and serve food, process payments and own vehicles, as well as hiring employees.

Legal needs arise when you face problems like firing employees, disputes with partners, or landlord issues. But legal needs also arise out of good fortune and business growth like in the cases of seeking investors, taking on new partners or expanding your sales online. Even setting up a website or creating forms can bring up legal needs and issues.

At What Stage Could Your Business Benefit from an Attorney?

The answer is at every stage. Here are some examples of times when you would be wise to consult with an attorney:

Starting a Business

  • Picking an entity

Onshore or offshore? What type of company should I form? It all depends on your short and long term goals.

  • Formation Documents/Partnership Agreements: 

Does your agreement work and make sense for the number of partners you have? If your agreement is heavy on provisions which refer to a majority, but you have 50/50 ownership, are provisions in place to handle potential deadlock?

  • Investors: 

What types of agreements and contracts do you need for different types of investors?

  • Your Standard Forms: 

Do they protect you while still avoiding infringement on customers’ rights?

Monitoring Laws

  • Maintaining a Business
  • Leasing commercial office space
  • Employees and Independent Contractors
  • Current regulations and statutes: Laws and customs change frequently—especially technology laws; you need someone to monitor them for you
  • Reporting requirements and annual reports
  • Resolving Disputes/ Litigation: In most court cases, an entity must be represented by an attorney
  • Selling a Business or Changing Partners/Owners
  • New Partnership Documents
  • Agreements
  • Negotiating agreements
  1. Where Should I Find an Attorney?


You guessed it—Google is a great place to start! LEXYOM and LinkedIn are also good resources on the web. Online searches are easy and quick, however, you should beware of sites which rely heavily on ratings and feature individual attorneys; these sites allow attorneys to pay for advantages in search engines.


It’s old-fashioned for a reason: people want to share what’s good! 

Other lawyers, small business owners, bar associations or friends will likely be happy to help. The drawback here is that we don’t all have a large network with legal experience or connections, so you may be somewhat limited in your search.


Printed media are still a great source to find local attorneys. Think business guides, mailers, local list serves, newsletters, and newspapers.

  1. What is the Vetting Process Like?

So you’ve found a few candidates, now what? It’s very important to determine if an attorney is right for your business, and you should screen no less than three.


  • Many attorneys will want to meet briefly in person over the phone, free of charge. Some may charge a consultation fee, but don’t let that turn you away: attorneys have to vet you as well! If you do hire them, they will often credit the fee back to you. And if you don’t hire them, you will still probably gain some valuable information at the consultation itself—like whether you have a case or not. Make sure you are comfortable during the meeting. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential attorney to explain something you don’t understand. That’s their job.
  • Consider differences in office hours and working styles. Maybe you like to communicate throughout the weekend, but a candidate only answers questions during business hours. Or maybe you prefer meeting in person but an attorney only takes virtual meetings.

Questions You Should Ask

  • How long have they been practicing?
  • In which areas do they focus? Business, family, criminal?
  • What are their fees and how do they bill?
  • Do they have experience working with your type of business or issue?
  • Can they provide references for the experiences mentioned above?
  • Do their core values align with yours and those of your company? You can usually figure this one out on your own.
  1. What about Costs?

Budgeting for Legal Costs

Whether hiring an attorney for business or personal reasons, people are bound to feel the most anxiety when thinking about the associated costs. It’s only natural. Many people think that attorneys MAKE a ton of money—and some do—therefore, it will COST them a ton.

However, attorneys’ rates vary widely. They depend largely on location, an attorney’s experience and years in practice, and the complexity of work. These variables are all rooted in the ethics of the legal world. Interestingly, many jurisdictions have a rule similar to this one:


A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

  • the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
  • the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment of the lawyer;
  • the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
  • the amount involved and the results obtained;
  • the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
  • the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
  • the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
  • whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

Billing Methods

While hourly billing is the traditional way to go in most jurisdictions, many attorneys are getting creative. They may charge based on:

  • Per-project flat fee
  • Monthly/ Yearly retainer up to a set number of hours
  • Trade for company equity or ownership
  • Installment plans: in some cases, an attorney will permit you to pay half upfront and the rest upon completion of agreed-upon work. Or, you may be able to make a monthly payment until the invoice is paid

Tips to Keep Fees Low

  1. Call an attorney BEFORE you sign a contract, hire employees for the first time, or make a major business transaction. Like mentioned above, call BEFORE a problem arises, compounds, and becomes expensive.
  2. Conduct yearly or bi-annual legal audits so you have a clear understanding of what you’re paying for—it’s like a preventative visit to the doctor’s office.
  3. Unbundle your services. This practice has recently been approved in many jurisdictions. You can:
  • Draft your own documents but have an attorney review them.
  • Seek guidance on what legal work you can do on your own, and what you shouldn’t attempt on your own.
  • Help with some of the work. You may be able to take on some of the paralegal tasks, like collecting documents.
  1. State your budget upfront and ask what the attorney can offer within it.
  1. Just ask! Let the attorney know what you can afford and he or she can help you come up with a plan regarding which issues are pressing, and which ones can wait.
  1. Developing a Relationship

The relationship between client and attorney is a unique one, and can become a trusted, even lifelong, connection. So how can you get the most out of the relationship? You can start by making sure you keep a strong line of communication so that he or she picks up on your business culture and working style—how you manage projects and workflow, for instance.

It’s important to understand that the relationship will grow and strengthen over time while trust develops on both ends. And, by keeping your attorney apprised of what’s happening in your business, you can prevent problems from arising. If something does happen, you should alert them as soon as possible. Tell them immediately about any:

  • Trouble with employees
  • Disputes with customers; whether private or government
  • Long-unpaid bills
  • Disagreements between business partners

You can even invite them to business meetings periodically so they can hear what’s coming down the “pipeline.” And be sure to always touch base monthly or quarterly, either in person or over the phone.

  1. Ethics

As with any investment or venture, knowledge is power. Knowing what you should expect is half the battle! Here are a few tips about attorney ethics to help you have a better handle on how the legal world is supposed to work:

  • Client communication: attorneys are ethically obligated to communicate with their client about the matter or case at hand. This is actually the cause of most bar complaints.
  • You are in control: you hired the attorney, and you can fire them at any time. They are never allowed to make decisions for you or business without your permission. 
  • Most countries have a version of the following rule regarding ethical attorney-client communication:

A lawyer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent;

(2) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(3) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

  1. Wrapping Up

Hiring an attorney for your small business is a big step, but it doesn’t have to be scary! Only you know what you envision for your business, so make sure that you go into a relationship with an attorney with strong communication and mutual understanding. Good luck on your journey as a business owner—and be sure to keep this guide close by![:]