Finding the Right Legal Advice

By George Leposky

Good legal advice, despite its seemingly high cost, can actually save a business money and help it generate additional revenue.

That’s why you should establish relationships with lawyers who can meet the legal needs of your business -- before those needs actually arise.

Of course, as a prelude to finding the right lawyers, you should try to anticipate what kinds of legal needs your business might generate. The following checklist may help. You need a lawyer if:

• You are organizing a business as a partnership or corporation, to draw up the proper documents.

• Your business involves signing contracts of any kind.

• You’re buying, selling, or leasing real estate.

• Your business offers a warranty for the goods or services it sells.

• Your business has employees. You’ll need guidance in the proper procedures in hiring, disciplining, and firing employees; in structuring a pension plan and other employee benefits; in negotiating labor-management agreements; and in designing individual executive-compensation agreements for your top managers.

• Your business acts as an agent for an individual or another business, to avoid liability for your client’s actions.

• Your business involves an element of risk that could open you to liability for damages to an injured or aggrieved party, such as a customer injured by a product that your firm manufactured.

• Your business involves trademarks, patents, or copyrights, to be sure your own operations fully protect these rights, and to discourage others from violating them.

• You’re writing a will that involves disposition of your business and its assets.

• You’re declaring bankruptcy, to file the necessary papers, safeguard your rights in court, and represent you in dealings with irate creditors.

To find the right lawyer for your specific needs, begin with the phone book. In many communities, lawyers now list themselves in the Yellow Pages under specialty headings.

In some states, the bar association sets standards for specialized practice and has a formal program for recognizing lawyers as specialists.

In many communities, the state or local bar association offers a referral service. Most will give you a referral by phone; a few require you to appear in person. You’ll receive the name of a private lawyer near you who specializes in the field of law that concerns you. You make an appointment with that lawyer for a preliminary meeting, at a modest fixed fee set by the service. After that, if you want to continue the relationship, discuss with the lawyer the amount of work and the fees involved.

If you have very specialized legal needs, call a university law school and ask to speak to a faculty member in your field of concern who combines teaching with private practice. Presumably, such an individual not only know his/her field of expertise well but keeps abreast of the latest developments affecting it.

A less systematic but potentially effective way to select a good lawyer is to read local newspaper accounts of trial and legal disputes involving matters of interest to you. Note which lawyers are mentioned often -- and which of those lawyers seem consistently to win.

Consider interviewing several lawyers before making a decision, especially if your legal concerns are substantial. While you may pay a consultation charge each time, weigh the price of finding the right lawyer against the cost of choosing the wrong one.

Ampersand Communications



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