Businesses new and established know that there are several types of professionals they will need to stay competitive and protect their operations. Finding the right professionals, from accountants to marketing consultants to lawyers can get challenging. Like employees, you need a good cultural fit in an outside service provider and consultant. Of these essential service providers, a reliable and experienced business attorney should be at the top of your speed dial.
Corporate lawyers are an invaluable resource for organizations because they touch on nearly every aspect of how a business is run, working with various people and departments. Having legal counsel available to help your business navigate complicated intellectual property matters or fight a frivolous liability lawsuit levied against your brand can save you millions of dollars in lost revenue. This fact makes it critically important that you find a trusted business law counselor who has a team of attorneys to provide you legal assistance for years to come.
Top 2 Reasons Why You Should Not Put Off Hiring a Lawyer for Your Business
1. Prevents Litigation
Waiting until the moment your business receives a court summons regarding a lawsuit is often too late for hiring an attorney. When you have a knowledgeable business lawyer already on hand, you tend to stay ahead of such issues and can receive much-needed guidance immediately when incidents occur. that could lead to a business lawsuit. To bring in a litigation attorney after the fact is simply a damage control tactic that only works to minimize damages, court costs, and harm to your brand’s reputation. Business law firms with business litigation departments are not only for defending cases; they are perfect for preventing them in the first place.
2. Business Lawyers Help Grow Your Company Valuation
Business lawyers can help leverage your tangible and intangible assets to help you understand and grow the valuation of your company. This includes building an intellectual property portfolio with the trademark lawyers and patent lawyers at the firm you use, as well as making sure your contracts, such as master services agreements, vendor and subcontractor agreements, independent contractor agreements, and leases have favorable terms. This makes your business more competitive and much more attractive in acquisitions deals if you ever want to buy, merger, or sell a company, bring on partners, do joint ventures, or get investment capital.
Determining the Right Size Firm for Your Business Law Needs
When deciding on a business law firm, size plays a key role in both the ability to handle your needs as well as meet your budget. This is a fine balance, even for Fortune 100 companies that hire general outside counsel in addition to their in-house legal counsel.
Your organization will often have multiple legal matters occurring simultaneously. Whether it be service contract negotiations, employment law issues, mergers and acquisitions, trademark registration, or litigation, ensuring that you have a full-service firm with an ample amount of available attorneys with various expertise to handle these matters is critical. With that said, you should have one point of contact, ideally a senior partner, who knows your business in and out and can delegate the matters to trusted counsel at the firm.
If you can find a boutique style mid-size law firm, between 10 to 25 attorneys, that would be an ideal choice for most companies, no matter if you are a growing startup or a global company. The right boutique business law firm offers a diverse team of attorneys at lower rates than large corporate firms, from corporate and intellectual property lawyers to commercial litigation attorneys. Highly reputable boutique law firms of this type need to be set up with the technology, legal team, and administrative staff like a big law firm to offer you the cost efficiency, with the same amenities as a large firm. If you find this type of business law firm, you will get a better value than solo attorneys and very large law firms.
Some of the added values these boutique law firms and mid-size law firms bring to the table for their corporate clients include:
Diverse Skill Sets in Business Law, One Point of Contact
All too often, solo attorneys cannot have the broad diversification in skill sets needed to accommodate all aspects of business law, while large firms may have these talents but cost a starting rate of $700 per hour for the least experienced attorneys, and go up from there. Mid-size firms not only have the broad various legal experience you need, but their teams can also maintain a collaborative approach between their different attorneys. This helps you have a single point of contact for all of your legal needs that you can call directly whenever you need to.
Another aspect to remember when going with a boutique firm is that you want one with an excellent reputation. Google them for reviews. Make sure the attorneys are senior-level, responsive, and generally liked by clients. Don’t necessarily look for the lowest in cost, go with competitive pricing, and remember to hire a business law firm with influence and brand recognition. The reputation they bring with their services, earns notoriety and respect for your business. Having such a team of legal professionals on your side in a dispute may encourage your opponent to negotiate sooner than later. You won’t get this same effect with attorneys running a solo practice with one or two lawyers.
Networking connections for the future
Building a business relationship with a smaller corporate law firm that has a well-established network can be a significant boost later on in your company’s life cycle. This is because a boutique business law firm is small enough to make it a point of making the connections for you with vendors, other professionals, or financial institutions or investors. This association can go a long way in helping negotiate more favorable business dealings.
Understanding the Types of Business Attorneys You May Need
Small to mid-sized law firms often have a team of lawyers (generally between 12 and 25), all of whom have a specialty practice. When trying to decide on who to hire as corporate legal counsel for your company, it is vital to ensure that there are attorneys available for every aspect of your business so that you are not exposed to situations where an attorney may not have the authority or experience to handle something (but handle it regardless).
For this reason, it is critical to choose a law firm that has attorneys for each of the business law practices below:
Business Structure and Start-up Law
When deciding what type of business structure you need whether it’s for your startup, or creating a holding company structure with various subsidiaries, a team of corporate lawyers and startup lawyers for LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships will advise on the best structure and the ideal state to form it in.
From compensation packages, and employment contracts, to stock options and separation agreements when letting an employee go, an experienced employment attorney is a must-have part of your outside general corporate counsel.
Having a contract lawyer who has the flexibility to quickly understand how your business operates, swiftly generate standard contract forms and possibly litigate disputes over the terms, is an important asset to have in your legal arsenal. These lawyers often bring significant cost savings to their clients because of time saved and the level of skill brought to the table.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Right from the initial due diligence during a business sale, merger or purchase, a skilled business attorney will help you determine if it is a good deal for you. That’s why this is an area of corporate law in which you should always have legal counsel available. Mergers and Acquisitions attorneys ensure compliance with state and federal agencies that regulate these types of transactions. Organizations like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) require strict adherence to United States antitrust laws. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) guards the transference of assets and stocks against manipulation, insider trading, and other related crimes.
In this day and age of advanced technology, protecting your designs and media from piracy, theft, and general IP infringement is critical. Whether it is patenting an invention, software or app, or trademarking your brands, you will require an intellectual property attorney to know your business inside and out in order to properly build a robust intellectual property portfolio. That is why it helps when other business lawyers at the firm work together with the IP attorney to inform on various deals and plans that could require IP protection.
Internet Law & Technology Law
The cost of preventative legal representation is often a fraction of what court fees, fines, or punitive settlements amount to from liability cases brought against your business. This scenario is why the expense of having a highly-trained business litigation attorney is worth it. Make sure there is at least one seasoned litigator at the firm that focuses on commercial litigation.
Questions You Should Ask When Hiring an Attorney
You should never feel intimidated about asking questions, and reputable counsel will encourage you to do so during your initial consultation. Some of the below topics are ideal starting points when conducting this phase of your attorney search.
Do your research before you speak to the attorney that you are considering hiring, A law degree hanging on the wall in their office is not a testament to a lawyer’s practice experience but only their education. Never hesitate to ask directly about their familiarity with your legal issue. Inexperience means mistakes can happen, and errors cost your company money. Often if you look at their online reviews for the law firm you will get answers, these days even large corporations post reviews
Large Professional Network
A business lawyer who has a network of professionals can help make connections for you. They often link their clients with potential new employees, accountants, marketing professionals, investors and anyone else you might benefit from knowing.
Confidence and Personality
Listen to the tone of your attorney and make sure you trust them from the get-go. You are going to speak to them often, so someone that you can trust from the initial call who also makes you feel comfortable and that you will be taken care of is very important. Even if they cost a little more, you will see it’s well worth it.
Legal fees are an expense that every company will need to accept as part of their regular budget. Some business law firms may offer a discount to small companies on their hourly rate or flat fees for things like forming companies, trademarks, patents, and initial contract reviews.
It should come as no surprise that attorneys often expect payment upfront. It is unlikely you will get a flat rate quote for legal issues that require litigation or third-party negotiating. This is due mainly in part to the other party’s counsel and the risk that every little detail may be haggled while trying to reach an agreement.
Find out if they would notify you if they expect to exceed a certain threshold in an agreed-upon timeline. Some firms will just put the difference on the final bill and send their clients an unexpected increase without warning or choice. You want a legal team that respects your needs and the company’s budget. And if the fee seems too high but you really want to work with the attorney, don’t be afraid to negotiate it.
Personality, Style, and Substance
Good communication skills are critical for a lawyer to be successful, whether it’s negotiations on your behalf or general communications with you and your team members. This is also true about having a willingness to educate you about why a certain approach to legal issues may not work in your situation. You need more than a “no,” you need a “why,” as well. Also, throughout your introductory call with the business lawyer, make sure you ask questions that provide an opportunity for your prospective attorney to show off their personality.
Best Places to Locate Reputable Business Law Firms
A great way to pre-screen a law firm before speaking with them is by researching the firm and attorneys online, reading reviews in various places, and seeing if they have written any articles and established themselves as a leader. When you see what others say about working with them you will save yourself valuable time and narrow down the search.
Don’t Price Your Primary Decision Maker
Although keeping expenses down is very important, price should not be your main deciding factor for the business attorney you choose. If you hire a reputable attorney, she or he will not only represent your business in legal matters, they will be a trusted resource of advice on all things related to corporate law issues. Deciding on an attorney that has cheap rates can often result in equally low results, which will cost you more in the long run.
The firm’s engagement letter should clearly outline the billing methods used so that you won’t have any surprises when you receive a statement on your account. This is especially useful if working for a mid-size firm where you rely on several different attorneys for different aspects of business law for your company.
Strategies to Keep Your Legal Costs Under Control
You can control your legal costs with some of these two cost-saving tips:
- Get an estimated cost for projects, like new contract drafts, an acquisition, trademarks, patents, and the like, to help you decide the value of pursuing each.
- Legal Business Counsel, On Demand. Let’s talk about retainers. Some law firms charge you monthly on retainer. Others will take an initial retainer that stays with the firm until it is exhausted, which is often ideal so you have a business lawyer on demand.
- If the hourly rate seems high, it may not actually be high if the law firm’s one hour stretches a longer way than an hour from an attorney with a cheaper hourly rate.
Firms want long-term clients and offer several different pricing strategies that benefit these relationships. A good attorney also cares about keeping you within budget and will advise you on how to make better use of their billable hours. This is especially true if you work with a top partner in the firm as your main point of contact.
To Sum Up
1) Don’t put off hiring a business attorney
2) Research the firm in various places online and choose one with a reputation for excellence
3) Consider a medium-size boutique firm for experience in all aspects of business law and consistent customer attention
4) Try to speak with the head partner of the firm to determine if it is a good fit culturally
5) Remember that an attorney with a great reputation may not take all clients, so in the initial call they may be interviewing you as well
6) Don’t make your decision based on price alone
The above can go a long way in saving your company precious dollars on legal costs. It makes it possible to avoid inexpensive attorneys that may not have the experience or quality you need, but will charge you for double the time at a lower hourly rate.