If you started a small business, you’re eventually going to need an amazing small business lawyer. How do you know your lawyer is any good?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 25 years and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve tried to learn along the way and make good decisions. I hope you find value in what I write.
Cheap is Expensive.
Lawyers are expensive, mine is $300 per hour. I’m not rich and I don’t spend that money like water. If I need good, solid legal advice, I may hesitate, but I definitely call because not spending the money is more expensive in the long run than spending $300 / hour now.
My first screw-up with lawyers was to find a cheap one. This lawyer was a friend, a contemporary and was really just interested in closing real estate deals which in Illinois you need a lawyer for. I would call friend for legal advice and contracts for business and he’d crank out some stuff for a few dollars. Good enough! How should I know?
Amazing small business lawyers are not cheap.
Not All Lawyers Are The Same.
Eventually, I had a falling out with a business partner and I found, to my chagrin that what I thought our contract meant was not what it really meant. That turned into 2 years of legal fighting and $80,000 defending myself. In the process, I learned that you don’t go to a real estate attorney to write business contracts. You find someone who other people feel highly enough to pay their fee to keep them in business, specializing in the practice of business law. Your attorney shouldn’t be defending DUI’s, representing divorces, or defending criminals. They should be doing business law.
Amazing lawyers specialize in one sub-field of law. Look for a small business lawyer.
Tell Your Lawyer The Back-Story.
If you have to call your lawyer for anything, you are probably thinking how you interact with them as quickly as possible to minimize the costs. This is a mistake on two different levels. First, you need a good relationship with him / her. They need to know your background, what you do for fun, etcetera. Spend a few billable minutes talking with them and re-establishing a rapport so you can work together.
Next, tell your lawyer the story of why you called. Start the story all the way back at the beginning and bring him up to speed. Spend time on the details big and small. Your lawyer will need context to why you are calling and what he can do for you. Trust me, context is worth every dollar you pay to tell the story. The last thing you need is a half baked solution offered because of a cheap-o truncated narrative. You might even wind up paying your lawyer twice as he redoes his own work after he gets it wrong the first time because you tried to save money on the introduction and narrative.
Amazing small business lawyers will listen intently to your back-story.
You Are The Boss
Your lawyer works for you, you don’t work for your lawyer. At the very least, you should feel you are your lawyers equal. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be in business or making deals that need lawyers. There’s nothing magical about the law and lawyers aren’t wizards conjuring spirits. There’s some knowledge, some skill and some experience which they bring to the table but what your lawyer, no matter how good they are, will ever fully understand is what you are trying to accomplish and why. You need to cowboy up and run the show. Don’t get pushed around by your lawyer but listen for wisdom, it is after all, what you are paying for.
Amazing small business lawyers know they work for you.
Your Lawyer Should Be Humble
Humility might seem in short supply among lawyers on TV. Generally it’s not so bad in the real world although I’ve crossed the paths of a few jerks. Your gut might tell you that you want a fierce jerk lawyer on your side. In reality the most likely recipient of the jerk mentality will be you. It’s not fun to be paying somebody a ton of money and find yourself on the wrong side of his attitude. Humble lawyers still know the law and they still know how to use it. They wind up being treated better by the judges and staff than the alternative and by association, that can help you as well. Think of humility as soft power. Jerks runs a high risk of alienating people you need to help you or feel sympathy for you.
Amazing small business lawyers are humble and pleasant to work with.
Be Respectful of Your Lawyer’s Time
It seems strange that you’d be respectful of a person’s time who you are spending $300 an hour to talk to. However, you need to show up to the meeting prepared. It’s your meeting and you definitely should have an agenda. You don’t want to forget something you wanted to discuss and have to circle back. You also want to leave your lawyer with pre-written notes about what you will wind up talking about.
It’s a fantastic idea to write down the long version of what you want to talk to your lawyer about and leave it with him / her to add to their own notes. Keep a copy of it for yourself too. This minimizes misunderstandings and lets your lawyer spend more time listening than writing. If you want extra style points, deliver what you want to talk to your lawyer about on paper in advance of your meeting. If they don’t read it before the meeting, you got yourself a bad lawyer. Your lawyer should ask good questions. Remedial questions will demonstrate they did not come prepared to the meeting or your backstory was poorly explained.
Amazing small business lawyers (and clients) will come prepared to a meeting and ask great questions.
Contracts Are Between Business People, Not Lawyers
You need to negotiate contracts between yourself and your team, and your counter-party. Once that is done, without any lawyers around, you bring the written outline of the contract to your lawyer and tell them to write it up. They will fill in stock language and council you on things you may not have thought of. If you truly feel like your lawyers boss or at least his peer, you will feel free to ignore their advice if you so choose. Lawyers often have amazing insight but they also often insert themselves into a negotiation and make productive negotiations impossible. Never outsource your negotiations to your lawyer, highly restrict your lawyer’s ability to talk to your counter-party’s lawyer unless it’s for clarification. Contracts are between the people responsible for signing them and lawyers names are hardly ever on the paperwork.
I’m going to hit this point harder. Just because your lawyer has a concern, doesn’t mean it has to be your concern too. Think through what your lawyer is saying and either agree or disagree. Lawyers have incentives to show you they are working for you by finding problems with everything. If you let their small concerns get in the way of closing a deal, you’ll never get anywhere in life. Look for big concerns, discount the rest if you can.
Amazing small business lawyers won’t insert themselves into your negotiation.