Of course, the best way to find a law firm for your business is by referral. Therefore, one should ask family, friends and business acquaintances for a recommendation. In the absence of that, business and networking organizations are a good source, along with the internet. No matter how you get the information you are looking for, before choosing a firm, there are a few important factors to consider.
1. While the hourly rate charged by the attorney or law firm is important, don’t be pennywise, dollar foolish. Having said that, the fee charged should be comparable to what is being charged in the field, and in the geographic area you are looking in. Experience and law firm size are definitely items that are factored into the fees charged. More importantly, you should find out if the experienced attorney is the one who will be performing the work, or if it will be handed down to lower level attorneys, paralegals and clerical staff. While the fees charged by these other personnel should be lower, and that is an attractive feature, oftentimes it is best to know you are dealing with just one person and won’t be handed off to others who may be less experienced, less knowledgeable, and perhaps not as compatible with your personality. And, yes, personality does matter, because you need to have a good relationship with the attorney/firm you are retaining.
2. You should certainly consider the experience of the attorney who you are hiring–is this his or her area of expertise, how long has he/she been practicing law and performing this type of work, what percentage of their law practice does business law constitute. You should steer away from a general practitioner who is practicing in a multitude of areas of law, especially if he/she is involved in litigation and is frequently in court. If that is the case, it may be difficult to reach the attorney when you need him or her. You should also inquire as to the attorney’s educational background, organizational affiliations, etc.
3. Along the same lines as the issue of fees charged, you need to find out how the firm charges for services. For example, are you billed for every single phone call or email, even if it is less than five minutes, for example. Oftentimes, clients are shocked and dismayed to find that just picking up the phone will result in a bill. Can or will the attorney provide you with an estimate of fees incurred for any one particular project? That is an extremely important feature, especially if you are just staring out in business.
4. Extremely important is the availability of the attorney. How easy or difficult will the attorney be to reach? Does he or she answer calls and respond to emails in a timely fashion? These are critical bits of information to know. Unfortunately, the only real way to find out, is to try the attorney on a trial basis, hiring him or her for just one project or for a limited basis, to find out how responsive he/she is. Again, if the attorney is involved in a myriad of projects at one time, his or her availability may not be what you expect.
5. In terms of budgeting for fees and also in terms of knowing that your work will be done in a timely fashion, one should ask the attorney if he or she is willing to work with you in a flexible fashion. For example, I often get new clients who are just starting out in business and who are looking to keep costs in line. One way to do that is for the client to have the attorney review preexisting agreements or contracts, perhaps ones created by the prospective client, instead of having the attorney start from scratch. It is important to know if the attorney or firm you are working with is amenable to such an arrangement.
In summary, there are a number of important factors one should consider before choosing a law firm or attorney. Oftentimes, having a free initial consultation will provide the client with an opportunity to personally meet the firm or attorney, at which point one can ask these questions and also get a feel as to whether he or she thinks this person is someone they can work with cooperatively and effectively.