Far too many business owners put off hiring an attorney, accountant or financial analyst until there is a sudden emergency. Based on my experience with client-matters, you do not want to wait until there’s a legal emergency before you hire a specialist who understands your company’s unique culture, operations, products and services inside and out.
Understandably, startups are working on a shoestring budget at times. However, you should at least consult with a business law attorney who can help you develop a roadmap for your business’ success and help you avoid the expense of trying to recover after losses and/or lawsuits.
Choosing the right attorney matters. So, when you’re ready to seek out that qualified counselor, here are 5 mistakes to avoid before hiring your business law attorney.
Mistake No. 1 – Waiting to Get Sued Before Hiring an Attorney
Waiting to hear “you’ve been served” before hiring a business lawyer is the last thing you want to do as a startup or seasoned business owner. Simply put – litigation is expensive, and one lawsuit can put you out of business quickly. A good business lawyer can help you establish and implement vital protocols, policies, contracts, registrations, and overall strategies while keeping federal, state, and local laws and ordinances in mind.
They can also assist you with protecting your intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and patents) from a competitor who would otherwise steal and use your work product as their own. For instance, even exercising your right to sue someone for unlawfully using your logo, artwork, website content or company name can be expensive. Working with an attorney before your company gains serious traction can help you protect and secure your exclusive right to your original works; therefore, minimizing the hassle of hauling someone into court to defend your rights.
Do not wait until the sheriff knocks on your door with a summons notice. Instead, allow an experienced business law attorney to keep you out of court.
Mistake No. 2 – Solely Relying on TV and Billboard-Recognition over “Fit” and Experience
Are you guilty as charged? I believe many of us have been guilty of relying exclusively on “a name” when purchasing lawn equipment, tax preparation services, and tech gear only to later discover that the service/product or company itself did not fit our personal or professional needs.
When it comes to a client-attorney relationship, nothing compares to being able to pick up a phone and speak directly to your attorney about your business matters as opposed to an automatic recording or non-attorney spokesperson.
Consider this — your sandwich shop is not like the sandwich shop down the street. Your employment or vendor agreement needs may be more complex or simplistic than the manufacturer in the next county over. Accordingly, individualized and experienced legal guidance is what each business owner needs.
Mistake No. 3 – Not Seeking Referrals and Online Reviews
A referral or testimonial from a friend, family member or colleague is one of your most trusted sources when evaluating the competencies of an attorney. Before we had Facebook, Google Places, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other consumer review websites, we had (and still have) the recommendations of our personal contacts. Indeed, many of the clients I have today dialed my office number years ago based on the recommendation of another client, attorney, friend or family member. Most business owners would agree that their clients came from similar sources.
However, when personal contacts are unable to provide a recommendation, there’s always online reviews to consider. These days, almost everything we need is available to us online with one swipe, click or Siri/Alexa request. Unfortunately, not all online reviews are reliable. According to market researchers, 96% of unhappy customers will complain to 15 friends and followers before sharing their complaint with a service provider.
While some reviews (positive and negative) may be fraudulent, most consumers are sophisticated enough to distinguish between legitimate and fake/unwarranted reviews. Not all review websites are equal, but a lawyer review website like Avvo is a good place to start.
Accordingly, do a little digging and research before you call the first name that pops up in your Google search results. When seeking out and evaluating your options, cross-reference two sources – (1) your personal contacts, and (2) reliable online review sites.
Mistake No. 4 – Being a Jack-of-all-Trades, including Your Own Business Law Attorney
If you’re the best barbecue restaurant in Atlanta, be the BEST barbecue restaurant in Atlanta. If you own the best cupcake bakery in Atlanta, own the BEST cupcake bakery in Atlanta. However, if you did not attend 3 years of law school; develop your skills under a mentoring attorney; and practice law for over 10 years, perhaps you should allow a business lawyer to assist you with your business’ legal matters.
I’ve seen contracts fall to pieces because one comma or keyword was misplaced by the client who relied on a family member who went to business school to draft it. I’ve reviewed and updated a number of employment handbooks and policies that were copied and pasted from Google and missing key provisions specific to Georgia law. These types of mistakes may seem minor, but they can leave business owners without sufficient protection from government authorizes, disgruntled parties and the court system.
Equally important is the fact that your time is VALUABLE. As business owners, we have to use our time in a way that brings the most value to our companies. Simply put, hire a painter, hire an accountant, hire a consultant, hire an attorney — hire the professional needed so that you can use your time growing and enjoying your business.
Mistake No. 5 – Sacrificing Quality and Relationship over Price (LegalZoom vs. Lawyer)
Hiring an attorney may seem costly. Because of this assumption, some business owners look to online service providers like LegalZoom to provide them with the same one-on-one attention, care and quality service a competent attorney would provide. Can you really pay $30 or so a month to receive reliable, sufficient legal services? You know the old saying – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
LegalZoom’s own disclaimer speaks to its inadequacy:
LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney.
LegalZoom’s legal document service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.
LegalZoom cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction.
LegalZoom is not permitted to engage in the practice of law.
The practice of law involves providing each individual with client-specific advice, recommendations, and professional opinions that help them understand their legal rights, defenses, obligations, options and strategies. Every business is different; no “one shoe fits all.” Long-term, you and your business will save more money if you hire the right attorney and allow them to put your legal affairs in order.
I hope this list will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that many business owners find themselves in when their legal matters are left unattended. At Brim Law, we pride ourselves on providing the direct and personal relationship of a small firm with a big firm’s ability to handle a variety of needs in several areas of business law. When in doubt, hire the professional who can take some of the load off your shoulders and help you successfully navigate the maze of legal issues facing entrepreneurs today.
Your Thoughts: Feel free to add to our list. What would you say is the 6th mistake business owners should avoid?
This article is intended to provide you with general information; it does not constitute any type of legal advice. For recommendations related to your specific matter, we encourage you to review our Practice Areas page for additional information and then contact us to discuss your company’s legal needs.