Most small business owners may only need to consult a lawyer a couple of times in their business life. However, when these times arrive, it is important to go to the lawyer who is best suited to your needs.
Choosing the right lawyer can be a difficult exercise if you have never had dealings with lawyers before.
Individual lawyers and legal practices specialise in different areas. A lawyer who specialises in high level corporate takeovers, for example, becomes familiar with the laws relating to takeovers, and will have contacts to assist with related problems. This lawyer is unlikely to know the specific legalities concerning, say, a compensation claim brought against you by a staff member.
He or she would have to spend time researching the relevant Acts, findings, etc., before giving you appropriate advice. And don’t forget lawyers charge by the hour!
If you need a lawyer for business-related purposes, therefore, it is best to consult someone familiar with all aspects of the law relating to small business and perhaps taxation.
There are various ways of finding a lawyer:
Ask friends and business associates. This is the first approach for many people, but not necessarily the right one. The recommended lawyer needs to specialise in the appropriate area for your particular problem.
Ask your accountant/financial adviser. This is probably your best approach, as accountants have to help their clients sort out a range of legal matters and will know which lawyer is best suited to your circumstances.
Contact the Law Institute. The Law Institute has a register of all lawyers and their particular fields of specialisation. They will be able to give you a list of local lawyers you can approach.
Another factor is to consider the size of legal firm. Essentially you could choose between:
A big name firm. This has its pros and cons. Big firms will naturally have a huge range and depth of experience to offer. Additionally if you are not comfortable with the first lawyer you consult, it will be easy to transfer your notes and details to another lawyer in the same practice. However, some people find dealing with lawyers from big firms intimidating or too impersonal.
Sole trader. This is often an attractive choice for small business people. They feel comfortable consulting an individual who they feel will have their interests at heart. In this case, it is important to ensure the lawyer has sufficient experience in the particular field you need.
Small to medium partnerships. Often a good option as the different lawyers in the practice can share their expertise while still being able to offer personal interaction with their clients.
You must also make certain you understand your lawyer’s fee schedule since this is the area of greatest misunderstanding between clients and lawyers. Lawyers usually charge on a time basis and charge for all phone calls, meetings and other work done. It is best to have an agreement in writing.
Additionally, make sure you understand what you are being told. Some people are able to explain things simply and clearly. Unfortunately not all lawyers have this ability. If you are unclear about something they are telling you, ask for a further explanation. Additionally, if you are dealing with a complex problem, ask for the details to be written down.