At some point, every entrepreneur requires the services of a lawyer. This is something that one cannot avoid in the entrepreneurship landscape.
Unfortunately, some people think of lawyers at the last minute – usually when they find themselves in a fix. They will then either hit the yellow pages – if they are archaic – or Google, and in some cases ask a friend or family member.
Take a step back and ask yourself what you would need from a lawyer – stereotypes and dull lawyer jokes aside. Three key words should be applicable, as cliché as they are: value for money. Value for money should mean the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
– Your lawyer should know what they are doing – you do not want to pay someone to learn a new area of law in which they have little or no expertise;
– Your lawyer should communicate their rate up front, and even conclude a fee agreement with you. In this fee agreement, you must agree on a cap, i.e should they reach a certain amount in fees, they must first consult you before doing additional work. Being upfront with fees means they must tell you right at the beginning how much they will charge you (hourly rate);
– Is honest enough to tell you that something cannot (and provide the reasons) be done instead of doing it nonetheless just for the sake of writing fees. However, the test of a good lawyer lies in this: telling you something cannot be done is easy. It is finding a solution, within the legal framework, to that which can apparently not be done, that matters. This may not be so in all matters, but as an entrepreneur being stuck is not ideal;
– Gives you an outline of how your instructions will be carried out – although this will never be accurate, but a high level outline, in writing, will do;
– Is solution minded: some lawyers will charge you for telling you why something you want to do cannot be done. They will throw case law, regulations, and legislation justifying why it cannot be done instead of helping you find a solution. This is why you go to a lawyer in the first case;
– Does more than what you have requested. It is easy to do what you are asked, but real value is added when you go beyond what you have been asked to do;
– Understanding of the industry in which you operate. This includes your stress points, completion, etc;
– Provision regular, and necessary, feedback.
Most of us hit up Google for just about everything. So many would search through Google when searching for a lawyer, unless they already know someone or someone who knows someone. As you may know by now, www stands for ‘wild wild west’. The Internet is exactly that. A good place to start when looking for a lawyer is the old fashioned way of asking friends, family or colleagues for a referral. Don’t stop there, but ask how their services were, etc. However, if you do not know a lot of people, then Google is your best friend. As a student, what worked for me was going to any court and approaching a random lawyer with any list of questions I had at that point. Most people are more than willing to help, and will go beyond when talking about something they love.
Once you have found Nemo, and have some face time (hopefully at no cost) you should ask for referrals that you can contact to verify the quality of services they received. This will depend on privacy policies in place though as some client would not agree to receiving unsolicited calls. But you should still ask anyway. Do not take anything for granted. Ask how they bill, what their rates are, and what their payment terms are.
Don’t be impressed by the office set up, the dress code, etc, but get down to business and ask your potential lawyer some tough questions.
Know your rights
Every lawyer belongs to a law society depending on the area in which they practice. Make it a point that you know which law society your lawyer falls under. These function as ombudsman for the legal profession. Should it happen that you wish to lodge a complaint that will be the place to go. Law societies also intervene where there are disputes relating to the reasonableness of fees charged. Hence you should have that fee agreement in place, but make sure that you are not paying for someone’s education. Get an expert on your side.
Do your research
There is a lot of information out there on people. Do your best to find out cases that your prospective lawyer handled or clients that he assisted. Does he have some exposure through writing law journals or conducting lectures, for instance? Never settle for the first lawyer you come across.
Never let fees be the determining fact
Unless you don’t have a choice, never let fees be the determining factor when choosing a lawyer. So don’t just go for someone because they were the cheapest. You do get what you pay for.
While it is true that your address adds to the brand, it does not mean that you have the best on your side just because they have the right address. This goes back to doing your research.
It will not do you any harm to proactively search for attorneys even before there is a need – when there is also a sense of urgency and desperation. If you can, attend free law seminars on subjects of interest, which can be found on various law firms’websites.
Disclaimer: This article is meant to be informative, and should not be considered as legal or general advice