As a General Counsel, I spent a significant amount of time researching and interviewing attorneys and other professionals to represent my company’s interest in litigation and business negotiations. The selection of counsel is a significant investment for a business and is more than a cost. As a matter of fact, selecting the wrong counsel or failing to engage counsel may be the most costly decision a business may ever make.
Business lawyers are not a dime a dozen and all lawyers are not created equally. Experience in business and with specific transactions helps clients set strategy and successfully navigate the most difficult transactions from financing arrangements to large acquisitions of property and negotiations with key employees and contractors. Often, business lawyers are sounding boards to business owners contemplating confidential business transactions.
With the advent of the internet, it is easy to find lawyers and there are plenty of bidding sites like Elance.com and Guru.com where you can get a flat fee or a cheap quote. As tempting as it is to hire the cheapest lawyer, I strongly suggest that business owners take the time to find the best lawyer for the situation, avoiding what might be a costly mistake. So here are 5* questions I always ask when I engage counsel for business matters:
1. Who at the law firm will handle my work?
- If it is a team, who will be on the team?
- Who will be the lead and my contact?
- How was the team selected?
2. What is [each working attorney’s ] experience in handling matters like the one that I have described?
- Has this attorney ever handled this type of matter before?
- Has the lead attorney ever been the lead in a matter like this before?
3. What is the attorney’s and firm’s workload and ability to handle the work in my time-frame?
- Any time off or vacations planned?
- Is the lead attorney accessible?
- How will communications work? Email or Telephone? In Person Meetings?
- How often should I expect to receive a status report?
4. What does the attorney anticipate the process to be?
- What outcomes might I expect or should I consider?
- What are the issues are concerning?
- Make sure you understand the terms the lawyer uses and do not be afraid to stop a lawyer and ask what something means!
5. Billing and Fees:
- How does the firm/attorney charge?
- Can the firm provide a detailed invoice no less often than monthly for my review?
- How can the firm and I positively or negatively impact fees?
As you can see, fees and costs are last, but not forgotten. It is important to understand that an inexperienced attorney can consume excessive time researching a matter just like a disorganized client can consume excessive amounts of attorney time just to get information gathered — both situations can significantly increase legal cost.
I have found that for some matters, an hour of a very experienced, albeit pricey, lawyer’s time is often more valuable than ten hours of the time of an attorney who is a newcomer to the topic. When I expect the transaction or litigation to have big rewards or expose my company to significant risk, I choose experience over hourly rate every time.
*By way of disclaimer, I usually ask more than 5 questions, I always do plenty of research, and I also ask business friends and other professionals I trust for referrals to appropriate business lawyers. My five questions are in addition to references and research.