If you have thought that the only time you need an attorney for your business is when you get in trouble, it’s time to eliminate that mindset. Professional legal counsel should be viewed as an essential member of your management team, especially if your firm lacks the size to have full-time corporate counsel on staff.
The problem is that most business owners wait until they are sued to seek out and use legal counsel, instead of preventing lawsuits by the wise and judicious use of a lawyer.
The first step is finding an attorney you trust. Talk to one you already know for advice and a referral to the correct barrister to fit your needs. Keep in mind it might be the lawyer you ask for the reference from who becomes your counsel. Knowing whether you can afford their services is less important than knowing they are able to protect your assets and save you money by avoiding legal action.
The second step is understanding what you need your legal counsel to do for your business. They can draft and review employee agreements and assist in handling employee grievances and complaints. They should draft and monitor your non-compete, non-disclosure, and confidentiality documents and insist that you use them diligently to maintain your intellectual property rights. Any contracts, leases, or other obligations you are considering should be reviewed by your legal counsel. Add in corporate by-laws, employee manual review, incorporation, operating agreements, and other legal advice and it becomes quite clear how essential your lawyer is to your management team.
Third, be clear on the role you want an attorney to play on your team. Discover their areas of expertise and their willingness to learn. If you plan on franchising your business, look for counsel with franchise experience or allow them time to study up on what is required. Their knowledge and experience obviously comes with a price, so that clarity is important and has value to your checkbook.
As you get to know your lawyer, make sure you tell them to let you know when you’re on the clock since most of them bill by the hour. Find out when the clock is ticking for such things as a 10-minute phone call or if they are responding to your E-mail so there are few surprises when the invoice arrives.
Fourth, talk to your lawyer about the steps you can take to avoid litigation in the first place, including proper treatment of employees, return policies, guarantees, product liability, vendor agreements, and any other aspect of your business that exposes your company to legal action.
Remember, your legal counsel is a vital member of your team and can be, must be, trusted to protect your assets. Take the time to interview several to find the right one to take care of you and your business. It could be the most important decision you make.