Whatever your status as a business owner — prospective, new or established — you’re better off having a relationship with a business lawyer. That’s not to say you necessarily need one on retainer, but it’s smart to have someone available for you if something comes up. And something is bound to come up at some point, be it an employment issue, a contract, a lease or another facet of operating a business.
Qualifications — The qualifications you’ll be looking for depend on the needs you expect to have. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want someone who works with a wide variety of business entities (e.g., LLC, S Corp, etc.) so he or she can help you decide what structure is best for you. If you’re already in business and you have a case that’s arisen, a delinquent account, for example, you’ll want someone who practices with other attorneys who do litigation. Most business lawyers are not litigators.
- Fees — Ask how the lawyer charges. More and more, lawyers are offering flat rates for certain projects, making it easier for business owners to budget. Ask how they bill for telephone calls and emails. Is it on an hourly rate? Also ask how often they bill. It’s important to note that in Wisconsin, any matters with legal fees exceeding $1,000 require a legal services agreement.
- Accessibility — Most lawyers have policies about requests during non-business hours. If that matters to you, be sure to ask about. Also ask how accessible the lawyer will be to you during regular business hours.
While it’s recommended you ask about the types of businesses a lawyer works with, don’t ask for references. Legal work often is highly confidential, and ethical lawyers won’t disclose a client’s identity without prior permission.