For most small business owners, “Budget” is the first key factor in deciding whether to hire a small business lawyer. Obviously, we’d all prefer to hire the toughest law firm, equipped to handle any kind of case or transaction, staffed with a team of attorneys that will respond to our needs immediately.

For most small businesses, however, we just can’t afford this “full-time legal dream-team.” So, we compromise: we hire a lawyer who is experienced in business matters, local to our business, with affordable legal rates. Hopefully, we can find a lawyer we actually like.

What’s my comfort level with legal matters?

Another important factor is: “what’s your comfort-level with contracts and legal matters?” Certain tasks are quick and simple (e.g. drafting a letter of resignation or an independent contractor agreement) whereas other may be very difficult for the layperson (e.g. responding to legal pleadings, drafting a patent application).

Why do I need to hire a small business lawyer?

The key is to at least have a relationship with a business lawyer BEFORE you get sued. An attorney experienced in small business matters should be able to assist you with things like selecting a business structure (i.e. incorporating or forming an LLC), executing a lease for office space, hiring and firing employees, registering your trademark, and more.

My experience has proven that a little pre-emptive legal work can save me thousands of dollars and potential legal headaches in the future. For example, one of the very first things I did when starting my business was to incorporate my business and file for trademark protection.

How much should I expect to pay a small business lawyer?

Some entry-level solo practitioners will make themselves available to you (“on-call”) for a small retainer (deposit), usually about $1,000. Their hourly rates may range from $125/hour and up.

A larger law firm, on the other hand, will require a more substantial retainer ($5,000 and up depending on your relationship, size of business, and other factors) and may charge between $300/hour to $700/hour and up.

When meeting with your lawyer, whether in-person or over the telephone, be sure to have all of the required documents and talking points ready to go. Most attorneys charge in 6-minute increments. An attorney’s most valuable asset is his/her time…so don’t waste it!

Should I hire an attorney from a big firm or small firm?

This decision depends on your specific budget and the complexity of your business. For most small business owners, a small firm or individual practitioner is the best solution.

A large law firm will be more expensive. However, all the legal skills necessary to help your business may be “under one roof.” In addition, and this is from my personal experience, a “cease and desist” letter from a “powerhouse” law firm often carries a much greater impact and generates a much quicker response than a letter from an unknown practitioner.

What sort of qualifications or expertise should a small business lawyer possess?

Simply stated, an attorney, licensed in my jurisdiction, with broad experience in real-life business matters, is the ideal candidate. Equally important is a good reputation in the business and legal community.

Areas of law where I’d want my attorney to be experienced:

  • General and Commercial Contract Law
  • Organizing and Forming Businesses
  • Commercial Leasing
  • Intellectual Property
  • Some Small Business Tax and Licensing Experience

If I decide to hire a lawyer, what should I expect out of the relationship?

Expect definite, clear answers and legal opinions to your questions or issues. Expect a clear, explanation of the reasons why a certain course of action may be best for you. Expect to be fully informed and thus, hopefully, make informed business decisions based on your attorney’s advice.

Also, expect to be billed for every meeting, every phone call, and every email correspondence. An attorney’s greatest asset is his/her time…and that’s the nature of the relationship.

Is this person really a frustrated businessperson disguised as a lawyer?

A: Maybe! The key is to be able to differentiate “business” advice from “legal” advice. Be wary of an attorney who tries to second-guess your business judgment. Hopefully, you’ll find an attorney that likes “being an attorney.”

Do I like this person?

“Liking” your attorney is always a bonus..but not a requirement. You should be able to openly and honestly speak with this person. Follow your instincts and feelings when deciding on whom to retain as your attorney.

Where should I start looking if I want to hire a small business lawyer?

First, talk to friends and other local business owners. Follow the chain of references and see who you meet. The “Trust” factor will save you a lot of time in shopping for an attorney.

If that fails, try the local chamber of commerce or another small business support group.

If you still come up dry, I’d research attorneys and their profiles in your local jurisdiction via your state bar website or the American Bar Association.