Do you have an attorney for your small business? As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you may think you’ll get an attorney if you ever get sued. However, hiring a lawyer is a vital step in helping your small business to grow. Your business attorney can help with incorporation, give you great advice regarding your intellectual property, and provide timely warnings about legal compliance, including with zoning laws. If you don’t have an attorney, it’s time to hire one – here are some considerations to factor in to your decision-making process.
Look for an Attorney With the Right Expertise
Different fields require different types of expertise. Your best friend from college may be a criminal defense attorney now, but she won’t do you much good if what you need is a patent attorney. Ask others in your industry, especially people who know you and your business well, for recommendations.
Discuss the Types of Contracts You Deal With
Every small business owner has to review and sign contracts of some type. Whether you deal with licensing and franchise agreements or you’re hiring subcontractors, your attorney should review every contract to make sure you’re protected in every way. You also need an attorney who’s familiar with the way your business is structured, whether you’re a corporation or a partnership. Having your attorney go over employment contracts, especially when you’re hiring key players, is also vital. And don’t forget your lease – that’s a contract that can greatly affect your business, especially if something goes wrong with the property. Draw up a list of all the types of contracts you deal with on an annual basis, and make sure your attorney is prepared to provide wise counsel on them all.
Look for an Attorney Who’s Well-Connected
For most small businesses, a general business attorney is the right choice. You want someone who can handle those leases and employment contracts, and you probably don’t need a high-powered specialist. But what happens as you start to grow and expand? What do you do when you need legal advice about equity financing or trademarks? That’s when your attorney’s connections start to matter. You want an attorney who’s well-connected (and well-liked) around town so you can get the specialized referrals you need. Those connections will also pay off if you hope to go public or have your company acquired, at which point you’ll want connections to investors, bankers, and venture capitalists.
Weigh the Advantages of a Large Law Firm vs. a Small One
It’s likely to cost you more to affiliate yourself with a large law firm that does business regionally or even nationally. However, if you do have big plans for your business, you may want the clout of such a firm. If you need to warn off an interloper who’s trying to steal your intellectual property, for instance, a strongly worded letter from a well-known firm may provide just the intimidation required. A large firm is also to have available all the specialists you might need as you expand.
Think hard about what expertise you need in your attorney and what networks you want to be able to tap into. Every small business should have an attorney available to advise on everything from simple leases to complex IPOs.