So, you're thinking about hiring a small business lawyer to help with your company. The last thing you want is for your company to be in legal trouble. But how can you know who the best lawyer for your business is?
The best way to find a lawyer that fits your needs is to interview them like you would any other new hire or contractor. From lawyer to business owner, here are a few questions I think are useful to find out more about the person you need to trust to protect and grow your business.
1. What is your experience with my type of business law issue (e.g., trademark, copyright, unfair competition)?
If you needed a knee operation, you wouldn't go to your gyno. You're smart enough to know that your knee has little to do with your reproductive system. While the gyno won't harm you, they probably can't help too much with your knee.
So why would you get a lawyer that can't help with what you need help with?
Those things your need help with typically include business formation, contracts, intellectual property, trademarks, copyrights, tax, estate planning, mergers and acquisitions, international concerns, unfair business competition, and employment law. Lawyers typically refer to these as practice areas, so keep an eye out for that on their websites.
Maybe your friend who is a DUI attorney is the best lawyer if you got a DUI. But they likely won't have the experience needed to guide your business the way a dedicated business attorney would.
2. What experience do you have in my industry?
Finding a lawyer who knows your industry or is at least willing to learn it without costing you more money will give you a HUGE advantage. It takes time and effort to research your business, its structure, industry norms, and potential future issues. Make sure you aren't paying for that time and effort in the bills you get from them or in lower quality legal advice.
Some industries need VERY specific knowledge that you wouldn't want to do without. Cannabis laws are changing rapidly; healthcare regulations are crazy complex; other professions are heavily regulated by state or federal law.
For other businesses, you just need someone who understands your particular industry. Photographers have different norms than designers. Particularly for creatives, there are specific concerns. Most businesses need contracts for freelancers or employees. But those in the start-up or creative world need specific sections in the contract to be able to protect intellectual property in the business. You don't want to be the start-up that has to do a $20,000 rebrand 2 years in because their graphic designer didn't promise exclusivity of the logo!
Find a lawyer who knows the differences matter.
3. Does your firm specialize in the type of legal work I need done?
There's a lot of law firms out there, but some specialize in areas like criminal defense and family law. They're amazing at that one thing but can't help with something unrelated, like drafting a will. Sometimes that's exactly what you want, especially when the legal service you need help with is more complicated.
Other times, you want an advisor, a team member that can help you navigate the legal world of business because they know enough about each kind of business law issue.
Only you can decide what you want and what fits your business at that moment.
4. Where are you licensed?
Someone once said, “your attorney should be licensed where your business operates”.
If your business operates exclusively in Virginia, selling only to folks in Virginia, chances are you NEED a Virginia business lawyer. Lawyers ethical rules and state bar regulations vary from one state to another and can prevent a lawyer from working with you if you aren't in the same state.
That being said, if your company does business in other states or you are an online business owner, things can get a little more flexible. Regardless, you want to be confident that your lawyer is familiar with the rules and regulations of business law in your state.
5. Will I have the same lawyer for all my work with this law firm, or will other attorneys be involved as well? Who will I be interacting with?
When you're working with a lawyer for general business law matters, trying to prevent problems or nip them in the bud, it's helpful to have an single point of contact. Ideally you have one attorney that you work closely with. They get to know the details of your business and legal matters. And they'll also be acquainted with all your information.
No one will ever know your business as well as you, but at least you won't be explaining situations from scratch every time like you have to on those customer service calls with warranty departments.
6. How does billing work?
Like any business, each lawyer or law firm sets its own pricing policies. Some lawyers charge by the hour while others bill a flat fee. Billing by the hour leads to unpredictable invoices, but flat fees generally come with limitations on how far a lawyer will take an issue for you or how long they will work on your matter.
Some law firms bill for every business-related phone calls, emails, text, and letter. Some wrap that up into the cost of doing business. If you like to chat with your lawyer, maybe being billed for each message you send to them isn't in your financial interest.
Most will still pass along some out-of-pocket costs that are completely dependent on you as a client, like filing fees for each LLC you want to start or the fees for each class of marks you want to claim on your trademark application.
Each lawyer has a different fee structure based on their individual business practices. So it's best to ask that question when you call.
You don't want any surprises on a invoice!
7. What are your values as a law firm?
If the past few years have impressed upon you the importance of 'voting with your dollars, make sure the folks working with you share your values. Ask about what you care about. Get a vibe check.
If diversity is important to you, ask how diverse their vendors and clients are.
If social justice is important to you, ask how the firm is actively participating in that discussion and working to correct past wrongs.
You get the point.
Questions that don't really matter when it comes to hiring your Virginia business lawyer
1. Where did you go to law school?
The University of Virginia School of Law in gorgeous Charlottesville may have been founded by a US president or 2, but it doesn't teach folks how to practice. On the same note, Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia has the exact same first year classes as UVA. The American Bar Association actually requires it. Pick your lawyer, not their law school.
2. How long have you been practicing law?
Being a lawyer for 30+ years doesn't guarantee they have been doing the kind of law YOU need. Look for what kind of law they have been practicing rather than how much. Being a lawyer for 1 year doesn't mean they don't have a wealth of knowledge from a previous career or internship that could be invaluable to your company.
3. What is your favorite food (this should be a no-brainer, but it's not)?
If you must know, mine is probably cheese.
I would love for you to ask my firm all of these questions in a discovery call that you can book here, but the short of it is this:
I assist creative small business owners, like photographers, designers, creators, influencers, podcasters, influencers, and more. I'm licensed in Virginia, but I've worked internationally in corporate law, intellectual property, and tax as a foreign counsel. I think contracts and agreements are the best ways to prevent and resolve disputes.
I don't do business litigation because I want to keep your company out of court as much as possible. My services are designed to give you a team member, a partner in form and function.
There is no physical office because who wants to search for directions these days. We can connect online from anywhere in the world. And there are so many colleagues of mine named John that it's actually an SEO term that should be in this article. Talk about systematic social problems. Speaking of systemic problems, InLine makes an active effort to support efforts to put more money in the hands of historically disenfranchised groups, like women and minorities. There's plenty of money in the world and I want to direct where it goes a bit more. You can check out some WMB that are great for small businesses that Samantha Bradshaw also gets an affiliate kickback for here.
If you think I understand your world, I would love to check out InLine's Chief Legal Officer program.
**Disclaimer: This is only general information, not legal advice specific to your situation, and does not create a client-attorney relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer in your area.