(Updated from 06/25/2019 post regarding my contribution to an article in Urban Freedom Magazine)
Choosing a lawyer for your small business is a big decision. Ideally, you will develop a mutually beneficial relationship that allows you both to thrive well into the future. Imagine having a trusted advisor you can call on when you’re not sure if you’ve made the right choices. You won’t be afraid to call because you know your lawyer is always looking out for you. When conflicts occur, you’re able to talk candidly to resolve them quickly. You feel more confident resolving whatever comes your way.
This takes some additional time and effort to establish, but it’s heavenly once you have it. Here are some tips to move you in that direction.
Start Developing the Relationship Before You Need an Attorney
You will eventually hire your first workers. and make several other decisions that increase your business risks. We are trained to spot the ones most likely to cause you harm. We can also help you minimize the impact when those risks can’t be avoided.
We can’t always drop everything when you want us to, especially for someone we don’t know.
Look for Attorneys with Flexible Payment Arrangements
You don’t necessarily need to tie up your operating funds by paying a large lawyer retainer.
Many attorneys who have experience working with startups and small businesses will work with you on an as-needed basis. They will charge you for occasional consultations when those are most appropriate. For larger, long-term and unpredictable projects like litigation, you might pay an hourly rate. For short-term projects like document drafting, you might be able to negotiate a flat fee.
Use Legal Document Providers Only Where They Make Sense for You
Large-scale services can be useful for business owners who have a lot of experience in business and are aware of their risks. They can do some of their own issue-spotting where a first-time business owner might need a more customized approach.
I often negotiate reductions in penalties assessed against small businesses who, for example, purchased “standard contracts” for independent contractor relationships and didn’t know there is a very narrow definition of an independent contractor in New York State. These businesses unintentionally misclassified their workers.
This caused them to make other costly errors:
- They failed to provide workers’ compensation, disability and Paid Family Leave insurance.
- They failed to pay overtime wages.
- They failed to pay for sick leave.
- They didn’t comply with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.
The money they thought they were saving quickly disappeared. And then some.
Use Clinics When You Can
Know the Rates for Your Market
The rates of attorneys charging by the hour vary greatly. In small towns or mid-sized cities, attorneys might charge $200.00 to $300.00 per hour. Attorneys who operate in metropolitan areas might charge $450.00 per hour and up. In Manhattan, prices can be far higher.
All attorneys practicing in the state in which you are operating have met the same criteria for licensure. They swore to uphold the same laws. Shop around for someone who can provide the services you need within the budget you have.
Don’t Forget Your Interviewing and Screening Skills
During the first meeting with a lawyer you are considering, expect your concerns to be addressed. We might know the law better than you, but you know your business better than we do. Make sure your attorney is listening to what you think you need and why. If the attorney does not answer your questions in plain language and leave you confident in any decisions you make together, look elsewhere for a better fit.