The life of a business owner or business executive is typically filled with big decisions. And no decisions loom larger than whom to work with. Working with the right people will propel your business forward, while making the wrong hire will negatively affect your company’s culture, efficiency and ultimately, your bottom line.
Hiring the right lawyer is just as important as hiring the right employees, and when you’re hiring a lawyer to represent your business interests, there’s a lot to consider.
As a General Counsel to multiple companies, I’ve hired a lot of lawyers. I’ve made some great decisions, and some that I’d rather not think about too much… But here are four questions that I found helpful when I was hiring outside legal counsel for the companies I worked for.
1. How well does the lawyer communicate?
A lawyer’s communication skills, more than anything else, will positively or negatively impact your relationship. If you and your lawyer can’t communicate well – for whatever reason, be it style or substance, your relationship will be a failure. Whomever you select needs to have superior communication skills and understand the importance in building a solid client-attorney relationship. And, they need to be able to communicate however you like to communicate – be it over the phone, in person, email or text – you’re the client. And, they need to be able to adapt to your style or the relationship will be a failure. Before you hire a lawyer, you’ll want to make sure your communication styles are a good fit.
2. What is the lawyer’s style?
Are they aggressive? Deliberate? Inquisitive? What is their risk tolerance? In order to make informed decisions, you need to hear and embrace opposing viewpoints. But, you won’t have a good relationship with a lawyer whose style differs greatly from your own – that will only lead to frustration and confusion. In particular, finding a lawyer who understands your risk tolerance is a key to being on the same page, but don’t underestimate other “personality” driven factors as well.
3. What is their experience level?
Assuming you’ve found a lawyer you “click” with, now it’s time to get into substance. Ask yourself if you need a generalist or a specialist? Are you looking for a long-term partner that can understand and work with your business on a variety of issues, or a specialist that can help fix a significant, pressing issue that you’d already identified? Both can be business-savvy partners. But, you’ll want to make sure the lawyer you hire has significant experience in the role you’re looking to fill.
4. What is the best type of service agreement and fee schedule for my company?
There’s a lot of options for procuring legal counsel, and there are no right or wrong answers here. Here are four common solutions.
- Hourly rate – probably the most common attorney fee arrangement on the list. The lawyer will track his or her time in fractions of an hour (usually six minute increments) and bill accordingly. These kinds of arrangements may result in a mis-match of incentives, since your lawyer gets paid more the longer they take, which is why other fee arrangements are gaining popularity.
- Flat retainer agreement – This payment structure is ideal for businesses that have on-going legal needs, and the retainer can cover almost all your legal needs, or only specific subjects, like employment law. Having a dedicated attorney on-call will help you reduce risk and stop legal disputes before they even begin. It is often the most cost-effective way to procure convenient, expert legal assistance.
- Flat fees – this is more common with attorneys who handle large volumes of a specific kind of case. Flat fees may be offered for will preparations, tenant evictions, mortgage foreclosures and more – each individual matter is a fixed fee, no matter how long it takes. Flat legal fees can be an attractive solution, but keep in mind litigation will almost never fall into this category.
- Risk Sharing– most people have heard of contingency fees in litigation, where a lawyer might get 30 percent of 40 percent of the recovery if the client wins, but nothing if the client loses. However, they are gaining in popularity for other kinds of matters as well. For instance, many firms will handle a merger or an acquisition on a similar arrangement, taking a smaller fee if the deal fails to close, and a larger fee if the deal is successful. These types of fees help to align the lawyer’s incentive with your own.
Once you decide on the best fit for your company, it’s critical to make sure to clarify expectations. Ultimately, the client is in charge and the client-attorney relationship works best when there is a clear understanding about services rendered and the associated costs.
To learn more about how to hire a lawyer, contact us here.
How to Hire a Lawyer – About the Author
Rob is a business attorney with Epiphany Law. He has over 20 years of experience offering businesses top-notch legal service and practical, actionable advice. Rob has served as General Counsel to several successful companies, ranging from $5 million to $1 billion in global revenue. In addition, Rob took time from his legal career to serve with the US Navy as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, running intelligence operations for SEAL Team 8. As a trained lawyer, small business owner and Department of Defense certified interrogator, Rob’s diverse skill set can help you navigate any challenge your business may face.