Lawyers are thick on the ground these days – how do you go about finding the perfect lawyer match for your small business? Here are 5 questions you should ask when searching for the right person to provide legal solutions for your business.
1. ARE YOU PRAGMATIC?
You’re busy, I’m busy, we’re all busy. When your business comes up against a legal obstacle, you don’t have time to wade through pages and pages of detailed legal advice. You need a trusted advisor who will cut straight to the heart of the issue and work out whether there is a practical legal risk, and if so, how to manage it to achieve the best possible project result in the shortest possible time.
The most effective small business lawyers are small business owners with plenty of commercial experience to go with their legal knowledge. If your lawyer has the right mix of practical experience and technical legal skills, they won’t distract you with obscure legal theories – rather they will be outcomes-focused and work with you to achieve a good balance of legal and commercial risk management.
2. DO YOU PRICE ACCORDING TO VALUE AND DO YOU OFFER A SERVICE GUARANTEE?
In the bad old days, lawyers charged in 6-minute units, a clunky and detestable system that promoted timesheet padding and general inefficiency. Clients lived in fear of opening their legal bill, as it was invariably a lot more than the estimate and included a multitude of infuriating fees for administrative phone calls and emails.
Those nasty times are thankfully behind us and good small business lawyers do not miss them. Your lawyer should want to meet with you to get to grips with your business and your desired outcome, and to carefully scope the legal and commercial steps required to get there. You and your lawyer should then jointly agree the price associated with each stage of the scope, up front. You should have total price transparency and certainty from the outset of the matter, and your lawyer will be motivated to do their best work in a timely manner because they are sharing the risk on pricing with you.
Your lawyer should back themselves and the value of their advice, so that if you are not satisfied with the legal service you have received, you should expect a refund, reperformance of the service, or a reduction in the price commensurate with your assessment of the value of the service.
3. WILL YOU SPEAK TO ME IN PLAIN ENGLISH?
You should understand everything your lawyer says, without having to consult an online dictionary even once. A good small business lawyer will break everything down into easy-to-follow language and provide examples that make absolute sense to you, so that you can understand and make informed decisions about your risks and how to manage them.
4. ARE YOU A GOOD PERSON TO BE AROUND?
If your business strikes legal issues you might be spending a whole heap of time with your lawyer, and you may need to share commercially or personally sensitive information with them. You aren’t paying your lawyer to be your best friend, but they still need to be someone that you like and trust.
Some people think that likeable lawyers are like unicorns (i.e., mythical creatures of fantasy), but even controlling for my own biases I say there are quite a few out there who are reasonably tolerable human beings. As for how you find one that you click with… it helps to meet them in person, and a good lawyer will be more than happy to spend time with you and really understand your business before taking on any of your work. You should also ask family, friends and peers for their recommendations – you can’t go past word of mouth when it comes to finding great local law firms.
5. DO YOU HAVE STRONG AND RELEVANT LEGAL SKILLS?
While the answers to the first four questions listed above will tell you whether you and your legal advisor can develop a good level of rapport, it is also critical that your lawyer knows a thing or two about law. The modern legal and commercial landscape is a moving feast, so make sure your lawyer has recent experience in the market in which your business operates. Many legal and commercial principles are capable of being transferred from one field to another but every sector has its quirks as well. If your lawyer has a solid background in your business niche, the time spent getting up to speed and giving you useful advice will be slashed, meaning more cost- and time-effective legal solutions and better project outcomes. Win win.
BONUS: 5 SUGGESTIONS FOR FINDING A PRACTICAL, COST-EFFECTIVE LEGAL SOLUTION PROVIDER FOR YOUR BUSINESS
You’ve asked all 5 questions above and you’re still not sure you’ve found “the one” lawyer for your business. What next? Here are a few avenues that may help you get the advice you need.
When you believe your small business is heading towards a nasty dispute
The Small Business Development Corporation website is full of fantastic resources, including some great tips about dealing with disputes. The SBDC also provides a free dispute resolution service for small businesses – it has a 90% success rate. How impressive is that!
You need help identifying your legal options, filling out legal forms or with legal research
The John Curtin Law Clinic operated by Curtin Law School at its Murray Street campus provides free assistance for eligible small businesses. If they can’t help you solve your legal issue, they will refer you to a suitable small business lawyer who can.
You want to find a local commercial lawyer but your friends don’t know anyone to recommend and you don’t know where to start looking
The Law Society of Western Australia maintains the “Find a Lawyer” database which allows you to search for a lawyer specialising in a particular field of law or located in a particular part of WA.
You think you have a legal issue but you believe you cannot afford a lawyer
There are community legal centres operating right around WA, providing amazing free or low cost legal advice to local communities. The Community Legal Centres Association (WA) Inc operates a directory publishing contact details for 28 community legal centres across the state. These services are in hot demand and very well-subscribed, so be prepared to wait a little while for an appointment.
You need a small business lawyer who lives and breathes the five traits described in this article
Give us a call at SoundLegal, we would love to help in any way we can.
M: 0408 143 606