One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro — and be certain we’re choosing the right one — we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.
In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions for an....Attorney with contributions from attorneys Annette Stepanian, Patrice Perkins, and Tamsen Horton. Here’s what they suggest you ask:
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and should not be used as such.
Q: What kind of experience do you have working with businesses like mine?
Annette’s why: Just like you wouldn't go to a cardiologist if you were suffering from a broken foot, you shouldn’t seek out and hire attorneys who don’t have the experience or expertise in the legal issue you’d like resolved. Remember to interview and research the attorney prior to retaining them. They are an extension of your business team and you should hire someone who you not only feel comfortable with, but who has the experience to understand your business and your legal needs.
Patrice’s why: There are a lot of good (and capable) attorneys out there, but not all of them are going to be a fit for you and the work you do. You want to feel out the attorney's experience working with entrepreneurs like you because as with most relationships, there's often more than meets the eye. For instance, because I've worked consistently with creative entrepreneurs, I think to ask questions that a business attorney who works with more traditional small business clients might not think to ask. Another example: I've seen my fair share of brand-blogger agreements so I know a good agreement from a mediocre one and when my client should be asking for more money.
Q: When should I consult a lawyer for my business?
Annette’s why: Here’s my philosophy: As is true with other things in life, it’s much cheaper to pay for preventative maintenance than to pay for expensive repairs that would not have been needed if the initial maintenance had been done in the first place. It's the same with the law and your business. Early on in your business, make that investment to consult with a lawyer to make sure that you’re laying a proper foundation. It can save you lots of tears, headaches, and money in the long run.
Q: In which state(s) are you authorized to practice law?
Annette’s why: In the United States, lawyers must be licensed by a specific state to give legal advice about that particular state’s laws. A lawyer who is licensed to practice law in one state is not automatically authorized to practice law in another. Double check their credentials to make sure they are authorized to practice law in the state in which you’re doing business.
Q: Would I work with you online or in person?
Tamsen’s why: If meeting with your attorney in person is important to you, then you'd want to make sure that they work with clients in a face-to-face type of meeting. Likewise, if you prefer the flexibility to meet with your attorney on a laptop when it's convenient, then you want to make sure that they are comfortable meeting with you online.
Q: What are your fees and what other expenses can I expect to incur? (Am I billed for emails and telephone calls?)
Annette’s why: There are a few ways that lawyers will charge for their services. You’ll most likely come across lawyers charging either on an hourly basis or on a flat-fee basis. The former is self-explanatory – a lawyer will invoice you based on the number of hours worked. In this instance, the lawyer might also ask for a retainer (an advance payment) prior to starting the work. If the work to be performed exceeds the retainer amount, then you may have to pay above-and-beyond the retainer at the lawyer’s hourly rate. On the other hand, if work is done on a flat-fee basis, then the lawyer charges you a fixed, total fee regardless of the number of hours it takes for the lawyer to do the work. You should also find out what other expenses you’re expected to pay. For example, costs like filing and application fees will likely be your responsibility.
Patrice’s why: It's important to make sure you're on the same page with your attorney in terms of what to expect of their billing practices. You may find that an attorney who offers flat-fee services is a better fit for you versus one who bills hourly. There is no better way, but you want to make sure you know what to expect so you can focus on the work at hand and avoid stress over a bill you weren't expecting.
Q: How can we work together long term? If I purchase this product or service from you, what does that look like?
Patrice’s why: With any service provider, the goal should be to develop a long-term relationship. You'll get the most value out of working with people who have come to know your business instead of starting over at every turn.
Tamsen’s why: When it comes to issues surrounding the legal impact of your business decisions, you want to know what your investment includes. Even when your issue requires more of a traditional hourly-rate service, with the ease of technology, you should expect that your attorney can provide you guides, downloads, videos, audios, and more that complement the product or service they are providing. Be on the lookout for ways that they are using resources outside of simply talking to you or billing you for work because that means that you've found someone who is concerned about saving you money by giving you access to their knowledge in different ways.
Q: Will there be anyone else handling my work?
Annette’s why: If you’re hiring a firm with multiple lawyers and paralegals, then get clear on exactly who is going to be working on your matter and what their rates are (as necessary). Don’t assume the attorney who is your primary point of contact is the one actually doing the work.
Q: If I decide to purchase this _____ today, when would you start working with me?
Tamsen’s why: When it comes to legal issues in your business, there are emergency room issues (need to be dealt with immediately) and those that can be scheduled out. As you're talking with the attorney, they'll let you know which you’re dealing with. Don't be startled or surprised if the attorney (in non-emergency cases) says that they can work with you in a few weeks to a few months. You will run into that when you are hiring an attorney who has a thriving business (that's a good thing for you!). If you do need to wait, then they will likely have resources for you to use in the meantime.
Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential lawyer? Print these questions for an attorney out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire!
P.S.: Want more information from attorneys on what to know before you hire them? Get the (free) Prior to the Hire ebook now!
Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only; it is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of information provided here without first consulting legal counsel in your jurisdiction.