Dec 08, 2008
by LORIE HARRIS HANCOCK & KIMBERLY MEDFORD of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt
The first question you might ask yourself about this article is, “why do I need to worry about choosing a law firm now?” Selecting a law firm is an important step for any business. When you choose a law firm, you are establishing a relationship with a lawyer or lawyers that will help you make informed critical decisions for your business by providing you with the tools you need to manage certain risks and understand the laws that affect you. Don’t wait until you are confronted with a crisis. And remember, sometimes a business issue or problem can be foreseen, minimized or avoided by some advanced planning with your business lawyer.
There are a lot of law firms out there; so how do you decide what firm would do the best job for your company? Do you pick the lawyer that your friends recommend? A small firm? Or do you go with the large firm that has lawyers who specialize in several different fields?
Generally, there are three types of firms: (1) the general practice firm; (2) the special practice firm; and (3) the firm that is large enough to combine the expertise of both the general practice and the special practice.
General practice firms offer a broad range of services that a business needs. These services range from helping you select and form an entity to reviewing and drafting contracts. If you will need help in a specialized area of the law such as protecting intellectual property, most general practice firms can’t help you out so you will need to establish a relationship with one or more special practice firms.
Special practice firms focus in a particular area of the law and will have the resources and experience to provide more service in that area. However, hiring two or more law firms may not be the easiest way to go. Larger law firms may be the answer.
Larger law firms combine the offerings of the general practice law firm with the in-depth experience of a special practice firm. They have both general business lawyers and specialist to address specific concerns such as in intellectual property protection, employment issues, technical compliance issues, and various litigation needs. This allows you to have all your legal needs met within the same firm.
Once you have identified your needs and considered the type of firm or firms to meet those needs, you can begin your search for the right-fit firm. Choosing a firm to fit you and your business requires homework beyond the yellow pages. If you know a lawyer, accountant, banker, or other professional, these are good people to start with by asking them questions about what law firm they recommend and why. Ask business peers which law firms they use and why. Friends and family can also start you along the right path, as the best referral is a personal one. Research the websites of the various law firms to learn more about them and the type of work they do.
Nothing replaces the personal meeting with the law firm’s lawyers to help you assess whether you will be able to establish a good working relationship and have confidence in their advice. When you interview the lawyers, ask the same types of questions that you would ask your doctor and expect frank and realistic answers:
1. Here’s the situation, how bad is it?
2. How soon do I have to do something?
3. What are my options?
4. Who will do the work?
5. What do you charge?
6. What resources do you have?
7. Have you done this before?
After your interview, take time to consider whether you would be comfortable working with the person as your lawyer. Consider whether you received clear and direct information, whether the lawyer will be available to you in an emergency, whether the lawyer spoke to you in a knowledgeable and understandable manner, and whether you have a shared understanding of the role the lawyer will play in decisions for your business.
Finding the right law firm for your business requires an investment of time and legwork. However, developing a relationship with your lawyer will create efficiencies and move you to the top of their list when a critical need arises.