How To Choose A Lawyer: The First Date
In our recent post, we talked about being choosy when choosing a lawyer. It’s a little like building the perfect profile for a dating app and then carefully considering which way to swipe. Now that you have a few potential interests in the cue, it’s time to get to know these candidates. Whether through email or a call, the first step is to set up some time to talk.
Remember, lawyers want your business, so do not be afraid to approach them for help. A lot of lawyers (including us!) offer free initial consultations for this very reason - both sides need to make sure it’s the right fit!
Be prepared with a list of questions. Because you have already thought through this when building your list of potential lawyers (see this post), you already have a good sense of what to ask.
Are you familiar with my industry?
Get your elevator pitch and business mission ready, and then, ask for examples of businesses the attorney has assisted before. Client lists are confidential, so the lawyer will not (and should not) provide you with client specifics, but will be able to give you a sense of what type of work he/she is familiar with.
Key Takeaways: Is the attorney familiar with your industry? Do the examples sound similar to the issues you are facing?
Do you have experience with the challenges I am facing?
Don’t expect a full legal solution (because you need to pay for that), but ask about the issue you are facing (e.g. commercial lease, employment policy, etc). Don’t worry about the legalese. Your lawyer should be able to speak plain English and translate. If not, that’s a relationship factor to consider. The right lawyer for you will be able to ask the right questions to understand your needs, sort of like a business therapist. And, like with the questions about your industry, ask the lawyer if he/she has ever handled an issue like this.
Key Takeaways: Does the attorney seem comfortable with the topic? Does he/she speak knowledgeably about it? Do you feel comfortable with the answers she gave? Do you feel empowered by the answers and proposed next steps?
It’s Not You, It’s…
Keeping up with our dating metaphor, a good lawyer knows their own specialties and will confidently say, “that’s not my expertise but I can refer you to someone.” A good lawyer knows their boundaries and niches. While you may not have landed a lawyer, this is progress. It can be a bad sign if a lawyer practices “all areas of law” (That old jack of all trades, master of none adage rings true).
How do you bill?
Talking about money can be awkward and lead to stress, so upfront communication is key. Surprise presents are great. Surprise bills… not so great. Does he/she bill hourly? What is the hourly rate? Does the firm offer flat-rate options? Are you billed for your consultation? Are you billed for every call or email? Making sure a lawyer fits your budget is important. It’s also important to know how your budget works; can you afford open-ended hourly, or do you need something more predictable? At Trellis, we make our pricing as clear as possible.
What is your availability?
Let the lawyer know how quickly you need your legal needs addressed (a week? A month?) so he/she can determine if that timeline fits with their current workload. This way both sides know their expectations and limits. Remember, relationships go both ways. How does the attorney like to work?
What does the typical process look like?
Is it mostly through email, phone, text messages or in-person meetings? Is he/she flexible? What is the turnaround time for most communications? Listen to the answers - do the attorney’s answers gel with how you like to work? Remember, legal counsel is in service of your business, so make sure the process helps and doesn’t hinder your work flow. You have enough on your plate as is.
What does your gut say?
This is an investment in your business. You can be as picky with your lawyer as you would any employee. While you are talking, do a gut check with yourself. Do you like this person? Do they match your personality and vibe? Are you someone who likes a more traditional attorney or maybe one that’s less traditional and more casual? Do they seem committed to helping your business? Do you feel like you could work with them to get your needs addressed?
How does the lawyer feel?
Remember, this is a relationship that will grow with you and your business needs. It’s a two-way street, so ask the lawyer what his/her gut says. See if you have that “spark.” Even if someone seems like they have years of experience, but it’s not the right fit, it’s ok. There are plenty of lawyer-fish in the sea.