Published on 28 Jun 2022 Time 12 min read Last update by 26 Jan 2024

How to Hire the Right Business Attorney / Lawyer (2024)

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If you run a business on any scale, sooner or later you are going to need help with legal issues. While theoretically, you can do it all yourself (in some states, at least), you should probably hire a business attorney. They have trained in the law and can take work off your hands. In some states, a business or a business owner cannot represent themselves and an attorney or lawyer is necessary to litigate for someone by law.

As such, it is best for you to find a business attorney now and hedge your bets against legal problems in the future. A good lawyer is going to be an amazing resource for any legal questions you have or legal services you might require. Whether it is drafting agreements, raising money, or handling employment issues, including lawsuits.

There are almost 20 million civil lawsuits filed in the USA every year. More than half of those cases are contract disputes or employment disputes with businesses. Defending a lawsuit, especially on a razor-thin timeline, can cost several thousands of dollars, enough to cripple a small business.

A good business attorney should not break your budget, but help you with anything you need down the road.

What does a Business Attorney do?

A Business Attorney can help you with things like deciding what type of legal entity is best suited to your business – there are multiple types of business entities and it might be difficult to decide what to do. A lawyer can look at the needs, services, and potential clientele of your business and help you through the pros and cons of the different options.

Founders’ agreements are a huge thing to decide upon if you are going into business with partners. A Business Attorney can help you draft partnership agreements and corporate bylaws that outline each partner’s rights and responsibilities from the start and prevent disagreements down the line.

If you end up wanting to raise money for your business, your lawyer can help you navigate all the necessary paperwork and help you draft securities paperwork. You do not want to be in a muddle with the government down the road if something was not filed or incorrectly filed.

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Intellectual Property Protection is going to be of utmost importance to your business. Especially in the tech, health, or research sectors, obtaining patents and copyright is important to future proof your work from being used by someone else.

A Business Attorney can also help with issues regarding employment and wrongful termination suits if you end up having to deal with them down the line. If you expect your business to expand, and it does, at some point you will hire employees and you want to future-proof yourself against potential legal trouble in the future.

What do I NOT need a Business Attorney for?

There are some things where hiring a Business Attorney is going to be overkill. In most cases, you’re probably right to hire a lawyer, but the following are some things you might not need a lawyer for:

  • Writing a business plan
  • Picking a name or domain name for your business
  • Obtaining business licenses
  • Filing business formation papers
  • Applying for business loans
  • Balancing your books
  • Filing tax returns
  • Applying for an employer identification number
  • Hiring employees or independent contractors and setting up payroll

With the exception of balancing books—which you should probably hire an account for, not a lawyer — you can do most of these things by yourself. Of course, if you find that you are having trouble with something or need more direction or guidance, a lawyer can help, but you do not necessarily need one in most cases.

That said, complicated situations might require a business attorney’s help. For example, if the city that your business is in has complicated zoning laws or has just been rezoned, then it might be beneficial to retain an attorney when you apply for a business license.

At the end of the day, choosing the right attorney for your business is more of a feeling than hard facts things – you want someone who you can work with.

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How much does a Lawyer Cost?

When you’re an entrepreneur and are starting a new business, you want to have costs as low as possible, and hiring a lawyer if you think you don’t need one will seem unnecessary. However, you don’t have to break the bank by hiring an attorney. Depending on where you live and what your needs are, the cost can be as less as $150 per hour for a junior attorney practicing in a small town to over $1,000 per hour for an experienced attorney at a top-tier law firm in a big city.

There are different kinds of arrangements that businesses have with lawyers:

  • Flat Fee: Depending on what type of legal issues you need help with, an attorney might charge you a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. This can save you a lot of money, especially on matters that attorneys handle on a regular basis. Plus, if you’re engaging the same attorney for multiple services, they might offer you a “discount deal” or a “package deal.”

Flat fees allow you to know exactly how much to set aside for lawyer fees. They can range anywhere from $500 to $20,000, depending on the task and location.

  • Contingent Fees: When talking about deliverables like a win in a litigious lawsuit, attorneys may charge fees depending on their conditions, such as they will only charge you if they win the case for you. That said, attorneys might want to avoid such arrangements for cases like if they get fired mid-lawsuit. It is good for businesses, however, as then the business and the attorney have the same interest. The attorney won’t get paid if they do not win and the business will have to compensate or pay fines, etc. on losing—so both want to win.
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  • Business equity: Some lawyers might also accept a part of the business as payment. Not all lawyers will do this because if the business fails, they end up with nothing. But some lawyers will take equity as payment in some businesses that are fast-growing.
  • Retainers: If you have ever watched a legal show, the work retainer gets thrown around a lot. What it means is basically that a lawyer is on call for you. You pay a monthly or weekly fee and, in return, the lawyer will respond to whatever legal needs come up for your business. A retainer agreement will cover only specific hours and specific amounts of work. Anything over that will usually be on an hourly fee or flat rate basis.

How to Find a Business Attorney

Hiring a Business Attorney can be compared to looking for a business lender or accountant. It’s wise to have multiple options to compare. We suggest meeting with a few different attorneys and then choosing the individual that’s the right fit for your business.

One of the best ways to source potential business attorneys is through your own personal or professional network. A recommendation from a trusted friend or family member, or from a business owner in the same industry, can be very valuable, especially if they’re facing the same legal concerns as you are. You might also consider asking for a recommendation from someone you already work with—like your bookkeeper or accountant.

You might use online legal directories to find business attorneys for your organization. In many states, lawyer bar associations maintain a list of licensed attorneys in the area, sometimes sortable by the lawyer’s area of focus. Moreover, U.S. News and Best Lawyers also have curated attorney listings, though these attorneys typically work at large, expensive corporate law firms and might not be what you are looking for.

Local organizations helping small businesses or organizations like the SBA (Small Business Association) can also help you find a lawyer. Check if any such support structures exist in your area and reach out to them. They might also have lists you can use or can recommend someone to you.

There are also legal help sites like Avvo, Rocket Lawyer, and LegalZoom that are particularly useful resources for finding a business attorney. These sites have a broader set of attorney listings, coupled with attorney reviews for current or previous clients. That said, it is important to perform your due diligence to vet any lawyer you find.

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Questions to ask when hiring a Lawyer

  • What is your experience with small businesses?

You need a lawyer that has experience working with small businesses. This is because someone might be the best lawyer for a Fortune 500 company, but that does not mean they are the best lawyer for you. The lawyer you are going to hire should have experience working with small businesses. Lawyers that work with bigger businesses usually are going to take a more litigious route. Which is going to be less cost-effective.

Your client might not be able to discuss specific details of previous clients with you. However, remind me able to tell you statistics like “70% of my current clients have less than 20 employees.”

  • Can you refer me to other lawyers if needed?

A good lawyer will boast a strong network of other lawyers that they can refer you to in case they do not have the expertise in the field that you need help with. An attorney that is not so good will want you to keep your business with them in order to not lose money.

  • Do you have any conflicts of interest?

This is an important question, especially if a lawyer works with a lot of businesses in one area or in one industry. It is very much possible in that case that they have conflicts of interest with existing clients. You do not want to hire a new lawyer after multiple years into your business journey for something like this that can be avoided.

  • What is your experience with my industry/my legal issues?

In most cases, you want to have a lawyer that truly understands the legal issue you’re facing or challenges you expect to encounter in your entrepreneur journey. For example, a franchise lawyer can help you understand what you might be getting into when you franchise with a particular company and exactly what the contract will bind you to. However, if you’re looking for a lawyer who deals with litigious issues, you will want to hire someone with experience in litigation (preferably in your field of business).

Depending on your needs, a generalist lawyer might be better sometimes.

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  • How will we communicate?

Different lawyers have different communication preferences. Some old-school counsels prefer in-person meetings and phone calls for quick questions. On the other hand, some prefer email and use e-signature software to store and sign documents. When you’re a business owner with a busy schedule, you want to make sure the lawyer understands your needs and schedule. You want them to have a way to communicate and work with you on all legal issues – urgent and not-so-urgent.

  • How much do you charge?

It is important to understand your attorney’s fee structure and how much they will charge for what they do. Less experience does not always mean cheaper. And more experience does not always mean expensive. You need to work within the budget of your company and budget for any unforeseen legal costs as well.

  • Who will work on my issues?

A lawyer usually has more people supporting them. There are associates, paralegals, and sometimes even law students working with real-world clients. Lawyers might not always have the time to do all the work themselves. However, do you really want a lawyer that boasts a big clientele, but does all of your work themselves?

At the end of the day, choosing the right attorney for your business is more of a feeling than hard facts things—you want someone who you can work with. If you have any apprehension about a particular candidate, then continue your search. That is why it is optimal to consider multiple recommendations from your trusted sources and then choose the legal counsel who you think is the best fit for you and your business.

Conclusion

You want to hire a lawyer now so you can save yourself trouble down the line. You should be proactive about protecting and promoting your business interests.

As we saw throughout the article discussed, you should be able to find good small business attorneys through multiple channels, and most of them will be happy to work out a fee arrangement that fits within your budget. That being said, whether you find a lawyer through a referral, legal directory, or legal help site, you should have an open conversation with them and make sure they’re the right fit for your business and the plans you have for it, both now and in the future.

Plus, don’t forget that when it comes to working with a small business lawyer, you’re the client. You can talk to as many attorneys as you need to before choosing the right one for your business—and if at any time you’re unsatisfied with the business lawyer you choose, you always have the option to discontinue your relationship and start your search anew.

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