Q: How do I find a capable attorney for my small business?
A: Finding the right attorney for your small business can be difficult. Many lawyers are not skilled in representing a struggling new business. Lawyers who primarily deal with consumer matters such as divorce, personal injury or consumer bankruptcy may be less skillful in business matters. So, how do you search for and select a capable attorney?
A good place to start your search is the website of the Houston Lawyer Referral Service, www.hlrs.org. HLRS is a non-profit community service and provides free referrals. Their attorneys provide an initial 30-minute office consultation for a reduced fee of $20.
The membership directory of your local Chamber of Commerce will have information on attorneys who are members of that chamber.
Accountants work with many attorneys and are often a good source for referrals as are business insurance brokers.
SCORE has counselors with legal background used in providing business counseling, but, they cannot represent your company on legal matters.
How do you select among the candidates? An established attorney should have a website that provides some history of the attorney, her experience, the nature of her practice, and a list of some typical clients. If a group practice is identified, but no specific individual, call and ask which attorneys in the firm specialize in small business practice.
Once you have identified the two or three that seem to fit, call and schedule a 15 minute interview. Explain your purpose is to select an attorney for your new business, and that you do not expect legal advice at the meeting. Many attorneys will not charge for an introductory session.
At the meeting, briefly describe your business. Find out what types of businesses the attorney typically represents. Discuss services you need immediately and evaluate their response. Ask what services you may need that you have not considered. Find out if they charge by the hour, by the project, or on retainer, and what their fees are. Ask if they can work within your budget?
Try to assess if you will be able to rely on the attorney when your business success or failure is at stake. Is she generally a “problem solver”? You want someone who works hard to find solutions to business problems. At the same time you want an attorney who explains risks and is ready to give you advice you need, even if it is not what you want to hear.