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Hire an Attorney… When or Before You Need One?

“Hire an attorney” are three words most new or early-stage business owners never want to hear. The phrase is commonly associated with being in trouble or experiencing frustration with an abundance of overly complicated paperwork required to perform what would appear to be a simple, straightforward deal or arrangement. As an attorney, I understand the reluctance to seek legal counsel… and to pay for it. I get it.

When to Hire a Lawyer

Reluctance is a normal reaction when anyone has to engage in a process or establish an unfamiliar relationship. Fear or anxiety at having to invest additional time, money, and effort to engage legal counsel when you are already investing time, money, and effort contributes to the reluctance. It is a fear of the unknown combined with dread of the known. Many people do not know what an attorney does or can do, and popular culture leads people to expect the worst.

Good News

In business, needing an attorney is often a positive sign. It may indicate your business or entrepreneurial effort is growing and the simple business agreements that worked in the past are no longer sufficient because your customer base is growing and demand is increasing. Or, the company may be so successful that someone wants to buy it, or you are now in the coveted position of being able to buy a competitor or a complementary business. Or, your company may be ramping up employees or buying more facilities because Kim Kardashian started wearing your product and now everyone wants one.

Do You Need a Document or a Relationship?

These are some events or pivotal points in a business when an owner should realize that she needs legal counsel and advice, not just a document drafted to deal with a situation. There is a difference between hiring a lawyer for one project (an office lease, for example) and starting a relationship with an attorney where both sides invest in building the relationship so that the attorney knows the business and can advise on ongoing matters, big and small.

This shift does not require keeping an attorney on expensive retainer. The shift is more about recognizing the value of having someone take the time to understand your business and your culture. By having an attorney in the wings who is familiar with your operation, when needs arise you can be more confident that you are getting thoughtful advice based on institutional knowledge rather than action based advice on a limited number of hurriedly dispensed facts that you happen to think are important.

Attorneys Prefer Relationships over Emergencies

Many attorneys welcome the opportunity to start a relationship with a business owner before a significant project is looming or there is an emergency. I often find that I am better able to craft a solution or provide advice that is tailored to and reflective of my clients needs when I have had the ability to develop a relationship with the client. Of course, I see my fair share of emergencies with new clients where the relationship is new, but more and more frequently in my practice, the client-attorney relationship begins before the fire drill, so we have time to connect and plan and even wait for an event.

“Hire an attorney” does not have to be a dreaded phrase, and by hiring an attorney before you need one, you can significantly reduce the fear and anxiety that phrase commonly triggers.

However, you do need to focus some time and attention on carefully selecting an attorney who is right for you, which is the subject of next week’s post.


Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from Stephen Dietrich, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.


About The Author: Stephen Dietrich is an attorney and author who has a passionate interest in the human side of business. His distinctive combination of legal and business knowledge, human insight, and dedication to clients makes him uniquely qualified to help corporate leaders and other C-level executives navigate high-value mergers and acquisitions, restructure transactions, and manage day-to-day operations. Through this blog, Stephen shares his extensive experience and unique personal and professional insights in the hope of stirring thought and dialogue that leads to ever deepening insights and understanding. For more information, please visit


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