Priori’s clients call us all the time and ask: “How do I know which lawyer is right for me?” While we obviously can’t make that decision for anyone, we do think there are some general guidelines that can help businesses and consumers make informed choices about legal advisors.
Historically, almost everyone found lawyers by asking friends, family and colleagues for recommendations—and a forthcoming survey of small business owners Priori undertook found that while most people still take that approach, an increasing number are turning to the internet to access a larger pool of potential candidates.
Either way—there are a number of ways you can prepare yourself to make sure the lawyer your buddy recommended or one you found through an internet search or service is going to make sense for your business.
Compare and Ask LOTS of Questions
Talk to multiple lawyers. By performing a bit of due diligence yourself, you can find a lawyer (or lawyers!) who can help you structure your business to avoid problems and mitigate the impact of problems when they inevitably arise.
Recommendations—personal or online reviews—are valuable data points, but your own opinion matters, a lot. Remember, you’re not only looking for expertise, but a personal rapport as well. Are you comfortable with this person? Can you envision yourself having confidential, critical conversations? The entrepreneurs we’ve encountered who are the happiest with their legal representation are the ones who have developed a relationship with their lawyers.
And, talking to multiple lawyers can give you a better sense of how much the project will cost and what type of approach to client relationships works for you.
Before you talk to anyone, prepare a list of questions and compare the responses you get from your short list of candidates. For example:
- What is involved in the project at hand?
- How will the lawyer bill for the representation? Is it fixed, hourly, contingent or something else? Is a retainer required? What is the lawyer’s billing cycle? Is there any flexibility in their rate?
- Does the lawyer have malpractice insurance? (Interestingly, many lawyers we’ve met with have told us that they have never had a prospective client ask that question. Since lawyers are not (state-dependent) mandated to carry insurance, it seems prudent to inquire!)
- How does the lawyer typically communicate with clients (email, phone, text, client-preference)? What type of response time can you expect when you want to get in contact?
- Will the attorney you’ve chosen do the work, or will an associate? If so, how will that impact your bill? Will your lawyer charge you for paralegal or administrative work, or will it be factored into the hourly or project-based rate?
- Does the lawyer use any online tools for document sharing?
- What types of work does the lawyer usually do? For instance, at Priori, we make sure that lawyers actually have experience in every practice area they offer on the site. The best trademark lawyer in the world might not be able to tell their ass from their elbow in securities litigation. This is an issue we often see in personal referrals—someone uses their college roommate’s cousin’s wife as a lawyer who does it as a favor but does not have quite the right background for the issue.
- It may sound corny, but ask why the lawyer chose their particular area of practice and what they love about it. One of the nicest surprises we’ve had since we’ve launched is that our clients aren’t always choosing the least expensive option, but oftentimes, the one who expresses the most earnest passion about the issue. (PSA for lawyers, too).
These sorts of questions will help you get a better sense of the marketplace generally and also what sort of “value” you’re getting. By going through a process like this with multiple lawyers, you can (hopefully!) find someone you trust—and even like—to hire.
Present Yourself as a Valued Client
Once you have settled on a preferred lawyer, set the relationship up for success. Forging a business relationship is a two-way street. You want to be confident of your attorney’s expertise and business ethic, but he/she prefers to work with clients who are active and engaged, who are responsive and clear about what they are looking for, and who pay their bills in a timely manner. While you may not be in the market for a long-term relationship – maybe you have a one-off concern – let your attorney know that you will be pleased to make referrals to your network, or serve as a reference on his/her website.
Finding the best representation—online or elsewhere—doesn’t have to be painful. Arming yourself with the right questions to ask and making your decision based on how an attorney responds will make you a well-informed consumer of legal services.