Why on earth would I want to engage a lawyer?

When worrying about cashflow, pipelines, supply and customer issues, very few small businesses think it a good idea to bring a lawyer into the advisory mix. After all, aren’t lawyers cost centres who drain money from business only to strangle business potential with legal naysaying?

Countering the impression of lawyers as cost drainers and naysayers can be difficult. This legal reputation and brand did not materialise out of thin air but rather has its source in lived experience. From a lawyer’s perspective, some of my colleagues have warranted the cost centre and naysayer brand.

However, many commercially-minded legal advisers provide valuable and cost-effective advice that enhances business strategies, plans, offerings and minimises the effects of disputes. These lawyers many times assist businesses in increasing revenue potential and saving costs.

The problem for small-business owners is finding the time, and sometimes the inclination, to sort the wheat from the chaff? Given the number of lawyers out there who profess to be commercial lawyers, how do you find the lawyer that best suits your business needs?

Here are a few tips when searching for that legal trusted adviser who enhances your business:

  1. At the outset look for a lawyer who you would trust to provide valuable legal advice on an ongoing basis.
  2. Do a bit of research before seeking out a lawyer. Perhaps speak to friends, family or other business associates who have used the services of lawyers previously. Word of mouth recommendations are often the best recommendations.
  3. Before engaging a lawyer, it is best to have an introductory conversation to work out whether you have the right personality fit. Do you feel comfortable talking to the lawyer and would you be comfortable in revealing confidential information to them including your business aspirations and/or troubles? If at the outset you feel uncomfortable talking to a specific lawyer, then this person might be the wrong personality fit for you.
  4. During your first meeting gauge whether the lawyer is demonstrating an interest in you and your business. Has the lawyer asked you any questions about the background to your business, the current state of your business, your risk appetite and future plans? Is this someone you would like to work with on an ongoing basis? If you feel that you are being pigeon-holed and undervalued then it is worth looking elsewhere for your legal advice.
  5. Be forthright about the type of budget you have for legal fees upfront so that realistic expectations can be set. That said if you have not engaged legal services previously be guided by market rates for lawyers when setting up your legal budget. If your budget is unrealistic, you are unlikely to find a competent lawyer willing to take on your business as a client.
  6. Be forthright about the type of services you are seeking and don’t be afraid to be honest if you are not completely satisfied with the advice provided. Your legal adviser should be able to have frank discussions with you about the reasons for providing advice and to discuss various options based on your risk appetite that might best suit your business but might not be the most risk-averse legal option.
  7. If you are unhappy about the service to be provided or being provided it is best to walk away sooner rather than later. It often takes time to find a lawyer that best suits the business needs – but when you find the right fit the resulting relationship will be invaluable to your business.

Elise Margow, Founder, Legally Speaking