Although we all cringe when we think of appointing a lawyer, the first question that you need answered is when is it the right time to appoint one? The answer is simple, it all depends on your business and your particular circumstances, but it is generally worthwhile to consult one before making any decisions that could have legal ramifications for you or for your business.
Many individuals wait until something goes wrong to consult with an attorney, but in today's litigious society, that isn't the smartest idea, because almost every business, whatever its size, requires a lawyer's advice at some time.
But building a relationship and developing trust with an attorney takes time, it does not just happen overnight.
You can start by asking for recommendations from other business owners in your industry or from professionals such as bankers and accountants that you trust. But don't just get names, ask for the specific strengths and weaknesses of the attorney that they recommend.
The next thing you should do (and this is something I’ve taken from the engineering tendering process) is to identify at least five attorneys and invite them to an interview with you. Tell each one of them that you are interested in building a long-term relationship and you are going through a selection process. Another point to consider is that you want this meeting to be free-of-charge.
Prepare yourself for the meeting, look at what you are prepared to disclose about your business and what kind of legal services you are evaluating.
However, beware of comparing one attorney with another on the basis of fees alone. The lowest hourly fees may not indicate the best value in legal work because an inexperienced attorney may take twice as long to complete a project as an experienced one will.
While there's no denying that lawyers are expensive, the good news is, there are many ways to keep track of costs. Start by learning about the various ways lawyers bill their time. Most attorneys bill by the hour. Some attorneys suggest a flat fee for certain routine matters, such as reviewing a contract or other legal document, or just giving a written legal opinion.
If you think one method will work better for you than another, don't hesitate to bring it up with the attorney; many will offer flexible arrangements to meet your needs.
Have the attorney estimate the cost of each matter in writing, so you can decide whether it's worth pursuing. Learn what increments of time the firm uses to calculate a bill. Request monthly, itemized bills. See if you can negotiate prompt-payment discounts. Another cost saver, is to have the necessary documents with you and know exactly what you want to discuss, before you meet with or call your lawyer.
The quickest measure is how many legal difficulties you're having or had in the past and what were the successful resolutions taken by you based on their advice. Lawyers should be assisting you in fending off legal problems timeously, and a real good legal advisor will identify potential problems well in advance and warn you promptly.