Seeking Legal Eagles

Q: What should I look for when selecting a lawyer for my business?
— R. Jackson, Oakland, California

Having a lawyer on hand is essential. He or she will likely be one of your key advisors. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for an attorney. Make sure the attorney has experience in your field and is familiar with the legal issues of your industry.

If you know others in your field and trust their opinion, ask for referrals. Don’t go with the first attorney who seems to fit the bill. Interview at least two or three others. When you interview potential attorneys, make sure you’re comfortable with that person. You should be comfortable with asking questions, discussing problems, and shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated. Ask for business referrals. When you contact those business owners, be sure to ask if the attorney has demonstrated the ability to practice preventive law — anticipating problems and keeping up with any new laws that may affect business.

Also, be sure to ask how much legal fees will run. You have to budget for these things. Most attorneys will charge an hourly rate for their time on business matters, although a fixed fee may be arranged for some matters. Most importantly, check with your state bar association to be sure the attorney is licensed and whether there have been any public disciplinary actions against the attorney from the bar association.
You should also contact the bar association for a referral service. For a list of state bar associations online, go to bar.html. In addition, many local libraries have legal dictionaries that list attorneys and their areas of expertise in and around your state.