Boise State on Business

Susan Park: Lawyers come in handy. Here's how to choose one.

SUSAN PARK, assistant professor of business law at Boise State's College of Business and EconomicsOctober 1, 2013 

Part of operating a successful business involves paying attention to legal matters. This means choosing and developing a good relationship with an attorney.

I know, you probably groaned at the mention of hiring a lawyer. Lawyers often get a bad rap. The reasons vary, but certainly lawsuits are not a lot of fun. However, some of the finest, most ethical people I know are lawyers.

So how do you find one of them?

If you are unfamiliar with an attorney who can handle your issue, ask for a referral from a friend or colleague whose opinion is valuable to you. Also, law firms often are willing to respond to a request for proposal (RFP), which could be an excellent way to compare firms and find the one that's right for your business.

Another option for smaller matters is to ask for a referral from the Idaho State Bar. The Bar will only refer attorneys who are in good standing, have no pending disciplinary complaints and are insured. These attorneys agree to charge only $35 for a half-hour consultation.

Although many reputable attorneys advertise in the Yellow Pages, this is not the best place to find a good lawyer. Ads cannot be false or misleading, but they don't necessarily give you enough important information.

Questions you might consider as you choose a lawyer:

• Does the attorney understand your industry and your company's particular needs?

• What fee structure will the attorney consider? Will this firm consider a flat rate for your business or will you be charged by the hour?

• Is the attorney a person you like? Are you comfortable and confident about sharing your confidential information with her?

What happens if you decide you need a new attorney? Let's face it - sometimes relationships go south, business and otherwise. What then?

Be clear with your attorney and state your concerns. He cannot fix a problem he is unaware of. But if your good communication does not help, take steps to end the relationship. Tell the attorney in writing that you want to end the relationship. If your bill is paid, you are entitled to the work product your attorney has created for your case. If your case is in court, a motion to the court asking that counsel withdraw may be necessary (and may be denied if the case is too far along).

Finally, because legal fees can add up quickly, here are a few tips for getting solid legal service without breaking the bank.

• Try to negotiate a flat rate for your business needs, so you feel free to contact your lawyer as needed without being charged for every meeting or phone call.

• If you are paying an hourly fee, use the time you are paying for wisely. Gather your questions and ask them at one time, rather than through repeated phone calls or emails.

• A pre-paid legal plan is an interesting option for smaller matters. Many services provide a set number of monthly phone consultations, contract reviews and attorney-drafted letters, as needed. The type of work can be both business and personal.

Finally, remember that defending a lawsuit is almost always more expensive than avoiding one. When in doubt, call your lawyer. If you don't have one, hire one.


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