A business attorney can be a critical part of your advisory team, no matter what stage your business is in. When do you need a lawyer? Although the answer depends on your business and your particular circumstances, it’s generally worthwhile to consult one before making any decision that could have legal ramifications. These include setting up a partnership or corporation, checking for compliance with regulations, negotiating loans, obtaining trademarks or patents, preparing buy-sell agreements, assisting with tax planning, drawing up pension plans, reviewing business forms, negotiating and drawing up documents to buy or sell real estate, reviewing employee contracts, exporting or selling products in other states, and collecting bad debts. If something goes wrong, you may need an attorney to stand up for your trademark rights, go to court on an employee dispute or defend you in a product liability lawsuit. Some entrepreneurs wait until something goes wrong to consult an attorney, but in today’s litigious society, that isn’t the smartest idea.
In a crisis situation–such as a lawsuit or trademark wrangle–you may not have time to thoroughly research different legal options. More likely, you’ll end up flipping through the Yellow Pages in haste…and getting stuck with a second-rate lawyer. Better to start off on the right foot from the beginning by doing the proper research and choosing a good lawyer now. Many entrepreneurs say their relationship with a lawyer is like a marriage–it takes time to develop. That’s why it’s important to lay the groundwork for a good partnership early.
How do you find the right attorney? Ask for recommendations from business owners in your industry or from professionals you trust, such as bankers or accountants. Don’t just get names; ask them for the specific strengths and weaknesses of the attorneys they recommend. Then take the process one