While you may not need legal advice on a regular basis, it probably pays for you to have a Lawyer for your company on call. That way, when you need legal advice and assistance, you'll be working with someone whom you're comfortable, and who understands the needs of your business.
When will you need legal counsel? Here are some typical situations:
- When you're deciding whether to incorporate - and need to file the appropriate paperwork
- When you're trying to write or decipher a complicated contract
- When you're threatened with a lawsuit
- When you need help collecting a debt
- When you need information on regulations pertaining to your business, and assistance in how to comply with them
Hire a Lawyer who understands your business
Make sure that your Lawyer (and any other professional advisor) understands the specific needs of your business. When interviewing to select a lawyer, ask whether he/she has previously worked with a company such as yours - you don't want to have to pay for learning time. Has the firm worked with small businesses before? What kind? And if your industry has specialized regulatory or other legal requirements, you'll want a lawyer who is familiar with them.
Referrals are the best way to find just about any service you might need, and finding an Lawyer is no exception. Talk to other small business owners, and to your banker, accountant, or other trusted advisor. You can also check with your local bar association, although not all of them verify an Lawyer's specialty or experience. A bar association referral will, of course, guarantee that a Lawyer has passed the bar exam.
Take legal services seriously
A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade. It pays to remember this when relating with your lawyer and makes you appreciate services rendered. Most entrepreneurs try to manage the cost of legal bills by trying to get advice in a casual manner. While this may seem an attractive way to go, it does not ensure that you get the quality advice you need. A better approach is to choose a lawyer; adopt a pay as you go plan regarding his fees and agree with him that the bills will be settled at agreed intervals.
Understand your charges before you get a bill
An Lawyer's fees will vary depending on the location of the practice, the experience of the Lawyer, the specialty, and whether you're dealing with a large firm or a small legal office.
Be aware of how the Lawyer charges. When you call for assistance, are you being charged for the time on the phone? If so, how are these charges calculated? Are there different rates depending on who works on your account - a lawyer, a researcher, a paralegal? In Nigeria, lawyers will typically charge you for consultation and a flat fee. Also, ask in advance whether there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Always ask for an estimate of the legal bill.
Negotiate a billing method that suits your needs Most small business people pay Lawyers when they need them - if a Lawyer does two hours of work, you pay for that time. If you have an ongoing relationship with your Lawyer, you will probably be billed once a month for services rendered.
Another option is to have a Lawyer on retainer, but that is rare for small businesses. Retainer means that you pay a fee to a Lawyer to be available to do an agreed-upon amount of duties for your company on an ongoing basis. If you head into heavy litigation, or a special project, additional fees are negotiated. It is sometimes possible to obtain a prepaid legal plan where you get a variety of services for a flat annual fee.
There are a number of ways you can save money on your legal bills. Here are some suggestions: Be organized for all meetings with your lawyer, because the clock is ticking. Make non-legal phone calls yourself. Do basic research yourself. Prepare a contract and show it to your Lawyer rather than asking him/her to prepare it.