Choosing the Right Attorney

Alan Melton

Most business owners will need an attorney for short- or long-term needs – whether it’s related to incorporation, leases, trademarks, or legal documents (like wills, non‑compete or confidentiality agreements). You might need assistance with more involved legal issues like criminal or civil cases, taxes, getting the right business licenses or workers compensation claims.

Ways to Get Legal Help

Start by asking yourself if you or your staff can find and complete the forms or documents – there are many online and local resources (ex. SCORE, state/local government offices) that offer templates and assistance to help.

Determining the Legal Help You Will Need

If you go forward in your search, consider the following questions.

  • What exact services do you want an attorney to perform? Determine what type of attorney you want – depending on the situation, it’s usually best to use a lawyer specializing in the service you need.
  • What process will you use to select a potential attorney: by personal or business referral, networking connection, published ads, google search?

Finding an Attorney By Referral

Finding an Attorney in Your Network

    • Network connections are next best – usually involves some form of personal contact, and carries the strength of hiring within a connected group of professionals.

Finding an Attorney Through Advertising

    • Through ads, you can often benefit by getting an advertised complimentary or discounted service.
    • If you use a hit-or-miss online search, be thorough in vetting the attorney … request more references, ask your business associates if they know this person, check their online presence (website, review platforms, social media), conduct a more thorough interview.
  • Is their office location important? Do you expect to communicate virtually or by phone/text?
  • What is your budget? Ask for particular costs and fees (ex. contingency fees, private investigators, travel, witnesses, filing fees, research, etc.).
  • Free first consultation to interview and assess. Meet at their business place in order to observe their environment > pay attention to qualities and conditions that are important to you. A few possible considerations:
    • Setting > Is it a good/safe location? Is there security in the building? What’s the level of cleanliness and appearance?
    • Staff > Are the staff in business or casual dress? Do they greet or address you? Do they offer you something to drink? Is their behavior too formal/informal?
    • Environment > What does the attorney’s personal office look like? Is it orderly and organized? Do you see any diplomas or certifications displayed? Are the furnishings appropriate for the office?
    • Professionalism > Does anyone speak over you, use bad language, or not look you in the eye? Is everyone dressed appropriately for work? Does everyone treat you with respect and consideration? What was your overall image of the attorney, staff, setting, and environment?
  • Check references. Call at least two former clients. You can even check with your state bar association for disputes or complaints. Tell them anything they say will be kept confident.

Be prepared with a not-too-long list of questions:

    • Start by thinking what you really need to know about the attorney, such as legal successes and failures, prices/affordability, truthfulness, availability, responsiveness, timeliness, years in business, or reputation.
    • Write out specific questions – don’t be afraid to ask what may be seen as rigorous or difficult questions. Examples are:
      1. did reference get the desired result from them?
      2. was it easy to reach them? were they prompt in responding to you?
      3. would you use this attorney again? would you recommend them to another person?
      4. what services (filing, petition, defense, etc.) did you get from them?
      5. is there anything you would want to do differently next time?
      6. what was the best/favorite characteristic of the attorney? what was the worst one?
      7. looking back, were their costs competitive? were you surprised or even upset at their fees or unexpected costs?
      8. did they offer simpler dispute resolution approaches like a mediation?
      9. were they familiar with local laws and court systems/processes?
    • Give them an opportunity to explain why they/their firm are the best choice for your needs.

If needed, ask for further explanation if they only give a Yes/No answer.

  • Brainstorm 10 questions, and whittle it down to no more than 5.

Choose an attorney not just by cost, but also by factors that matter most to you – like reputation, experience, knowledge, location, and professionalism. A lawyer is a key partner and asset to any business owner, and can make a huge difference in your company’s success.