As an anonymous wit once observed, "99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name".
Despite their reputation, lawyers are an essential part of running a business and every start-up should have a continuing relationship with a good, reputable legal representative.
The trick is to find yourself a lawyer who comes from that 1% bracket - someone who is going to help you and your business navigate the complex legal minefield unscathed.
If you're new to business then legal red tape can be an absolute headache. However, with a lawyer on board, you have an expert guide through the complicated processes of business law.
But choosing a business lawyer is not straightforward and will involve a lot of research and planning. After all, not all lawyers are the same. They differ in experience, ability and expertise as well as in personality.
A good place to begin is the internet. There are countless websites which hold a database of legal firms across the country. Reputable ones include the Law Society and Simple Free Law Adviser. You can trawl a database of law companies and match the legal firm to your needs.
Once you have drawn up a list of possible candidates then it's wise to find out everything you can about them. Log on to the website of each firm, read their biography and find out what their area of expertise is. There may be a list of representative clients on the site too, so you can see whether the lawyer has a history of working with similar businesses to your own.
The Law Society is a valuable source of information because here you can see whether the firm has any pending complaints against them, any disciplinary proceedings and how long the firm has been operating. You can verify all of the lawyer's details with the Law Society as well as attain proof of qualifications, academic achievements and association memberships.
And, of course, word of mouth is always a good indicator. Speak to other business owners and acquaintances and see if they have had dealings with a particular lawyer and how they found them.
Finally, organise an interview with the lawyer so you can sound them out. It may seem obvious but you should sit down and work out everything that you are going to ask. What do they know about you, your business and the industry? How long have they been in business? What will they charge and will they agree to a fixed fee? Is there a chance of there being any conflicts of interest? Do they specialise solely in business law?
Once you've exhausted your questions, it's advisable to ask for references so you can talk to past clients and discuss the lawyer's skills. Also, request the company's brochure and promotional materials.
Upon reflection, you need to ask yourself if you feel confident about employing this lawyer. Although it may seem like a long and complicated process, ultimately a lawyer can identify potential risks to your new business and duly protect you from them.
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