How to Choose a Business Attorney

How to Select an Attorney for your Small Business

Attorneys are not all created equal.  Some attorneys are exceptional professionals that can provide tremendous benefits to a small business owner for many years.  Other attorneys are less competent, and their advice and representation can lead to continual frustration and even harm for small business owners.

How can you decide the right business attorney for your small business needs?  There are two steps you can take to increase the likelihood the attorney you select will positively affect your business.

Find a Referral

First step, get a referral from a family member, friend, business partner, or reputable organization.  You should never select an attorney, for any legal matter, based on advertisement alone.  You would not select a heart surgeon by flipping through the phonebook, and you should not select an attorney this way either.

The best referral source for a business attorney is another business.  If you have friends or family that own a business, ask them the name of their attorney.  If neither your friends nor family operate a business, ask the owner of a local small business that you frequent.  These are the two highest quality referral sources for a good business attorney, and are significantly more worthwhile than a referral from any other available source.

However, if you are unable to get a referral from friends, family, or a local small business, you can get a referral from a reputable organization.  Start with the state bar association in the state where your business is located.  State bar associations have referral services for the public.  Most contact numbers can be found by visiting the state bar association website and searching for attorney referral service.

In addition to the state bar association, most metropolitan areas have local bar association chapters.  These local chapters would likely be a better referral source than the state bar, as these organizations are more likely to put you into contact with someone locally that handles business matters specifically.

Search Online Directories

A final source of attorney referrals is web-based directories like Martindale Hubbell and Avvo.com.  These sites enable you to search locally for an attorney that handles business-law related casework.  Also, these directories will provide you extensive information regarding the attorney, most notably, a peer-review performance rating where attorneys are objectively rated by their peers and assigned a grade.

A referral from these directories and organizations should be given less consideration than a referral from friend, family member or business owner.  Attorney profiles on Martindale and Avvo are created by the attorneys themselves, and the ratings are provided primarily by other attorneys.  There is no better source than from someone with actual experience as a client of the candidate attorney.  Regardless of where you acquire your referral, there still remains an important second step before an attorney is selected for your business.

Follow Up with Your Own Research

Step two, conduct your own independent research.  Now that you have a name, or preferably a few names of potential candidates, it is time to research the candidates to determine if the attorney would be a good fit for your business.  Social media sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace and Twitter make this research really simple.

It’s a good idea to lookup each candidate on all of these social media sites to see if they have a profile.  If they do have a social media presence, review their profiles to get a sense of the candidate’s experience and personality.  Linkedin is a site used primarily for professional networking, and is an excellent source of information about a candidate’s education, experience and achievements.  Use sites like Facebook and Myspace to make sure the candidate’s personality will be a good fit for your business.  A business owner ideally will have an ongoing relationship with the selected attorney, and it’s certainly more pleasant working with someone with a personable character.

Check with the State Bar Association

Next, search for the candidate on the state bar association’s “member search.” Data likely to be found on the candidate’s bar association website profile include:

  1. the date the candidate was admitted to the state bar association
  2. a list of certifications and achievements
  3. whether the candidate has any disciplinary history
  4. courts where candidate is admitted to practice
  5. the candidate’s academic institutions attended

Interview Each Candidate

Finally, schedule and attend initial consultations with each of the candidates still remaining after you conduct your online research.  Many attorneys offer free initial consultations, and others will charge a minimal fee.  Regardless of the fee, it is well worth your time to actually meet with each candidate.  Visit with each candidate and determine whether they are a good fit.  The chosen attorney will have an important role in the life of the business, and the hiring decision should be given appropriate consideration.

In closing, there is no reason to make a quick decision.  Factors such as the law school the candidate attended and years of experience are less important than you may believe.  Look for an attorney that specializes in business law, who is a personality match, and who is attentive to detail.  Get a referral, research the referral, visit the candidates, and make your informed decision based on these criteria.

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