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Understanding The Vetting Process to Choose an Attorney for Your Business

In my last post, “Hire an Attorney… When or Before You Need One?” I asked you to consider establishing a relationship with an attorney before you need one, so that when you need an attorney, you can hit the ground running.

Vetting Attorney

You can find plenty of attorneys online, in a phone book or through referrals from colleagues and trusted friends. After your collect your referrals, you face the challenge of having to choose which attorney is best for you. In this post, I lead you through one process of vetting your prospects.

Choosing an Attorney Who Meets Your Needs

The first step in vetting attorneys is to determine what you will want the attorney to do for you most of the time. Will she be reviewing contracts, protecting your intellectual property rights, working on business mergers and acquisitions, franchising your operation, or providing legal counsel in other areas? In other words, you may want to focus on a core knowledge area or skill set.

Another option is to look for someone with a broader range of business-related knowledge and skills — an attorney who can do it all, but who is eager and able to develop a deeper understanding of your business. Such an attorney can then work with you to identify and address the specific legal needs of your business.

Choosing an Attorney You Trust

After whittling down your list of candidates based on the attorneys who have the competencies to do the job, you can pare down the list even further by determining which candidates you trust. A legal advisor needs to be a trusted individual.

Checking references is a good initial approach, but you also need to think about what you need from your attorney to trust that person. For some people, it’s knowledge and experience. Others are more trusting of an attorney who is not afraid to be blunt. Some business owners, on the other hand, are more likely to trust an attorney who is less aggressive and operates with a softer touch. You need to reflect on what is right for you.

When you know what you need from an attorney to trust that person, set up a meeting in person, by phone, or via videoconference based on what you need in order to establish trust. If you feel you cannot get a good sense of a person’s character or operating philosophy via phone or video, insist on meeting in person. It does neither side any good if the first step creates distance or a potential disconnect.

Gauging Engagement and What the Attorney Wants

When connecting with an attorney candidate, find out how she engages with clients and what she is looking to get out of the relationship:

  • Engagement: You may want an attorney who is more interested in learning about you and your business than in telling you about herself and her business. The attorney who asks more questions and spends more time listening may be more attentive to your needs.
  • What the attorney wants: Obviously, the attorney is looking for business, but beyond that, find out what she values in a client relationship. By finding out what the attorney wants, you have a better sense of whether the two of you will be a good match.

Asking a Few Key Questions

As you meet with attorney candidates, you will probably have plenty of questions of your own, but here are some threshold questions to consider:

  • Do you represent others in my type of business?
  • Why do you work in this area of law?
  • Where do you see this relationship going in the future?
  • How long are your longest client relationships?
  • Do you have client references that I can contact to determine what working with you is like?
  • How do you handle legal areas that are not your area of expertise?

The list of questions could go on, but these questions keep the focus on the value and skill that the attorney can bring to your business and how he or she will interact with you. Competence is essential, but for a legal advisor to be valuable, he or she must be genuinely interested in you and your business.

Save the Money Talk for Later

Although attorney fees, billing rates, and cost management are certainly important considerations, avoid bringing up those topics until after you have determined whether a particular attorney is well suited to serve you and your business. It is unlikely you will get the relationship you want if you lead with cost conscious discussions. Immediate talk of money puts both sides on an adversarial path because both parties feel compelled to begin negotiating on cost. That will happen, and should happen, in the future, but it creates a difficult foundation for trust and respect if money concerns are introduced too early in the conversation. Besides, you both have more important things to discuss at this juncture.

One final consideration: Trust your instincts. There are plenty of competent attorneys to choose from for your business. If you feel uncomfortable with a candidate for any reason or even for no reason at all, consider scratching that person’s name off the list and move on.

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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.
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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 www.StephenDietrich.com.

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