Since we started Sleegal AI, we are often asked by many small business owners and startups: how do I find the best lawyer? What criteria should I use while searching for a lawyer? What’s the best way to find a small business lawyer and obtain quality yet cheap legal services? While we have written about what kind of business lawyers people want, here are our suggestions about specifically what to ask before you hire a lawyer.
One: Legal experience or expertise
The first thing you want to ask, of course, is whether the lawyer has the right knowledge or expertise for what you are looking for. The more precise your inquiry, the easier it will be to determine whether this lawyer is the right fit for your needs. While “business lawyer” could mean a variety of different things, if you are looking for a lawyer specifically for raising venture capital for your startup, it’s much easier to help narrow down the lawyers on your list. Not sure what kind of lawyers you may need? Come to Sleegal and ask your question in your own words, we can help to point you to the right kind of lawyers.
Once you know you need a fundraising lawyer, how do you know whether the lawyer you are talking to has the right level of knowledge or experience?
There are a few things you can do to verify that.
- Talk to them. Always choose the lawyers who offer a free consultation and ask about their experience and expertise directly. Gather their answers and observe whether they respond to your inquiries with professionalism and ease.
- Check their website or LinkedIn profile to see whether they’ve represented similar clients or worked on similar cases. Many lawyers will list what they have done extensively on their website. The more similar the cases they worked on are to your situation, the more likely they will have the right level of experience in dealing with your case.
- Ask for a reference. If the lawyer is willing to offer a few reference clients that they assisted in the past who can comment on their performance in the past, that’s a strong sign that they are confident about their expertise. If your project is significant, it’s worthwhile to talk to a few of these references and ask about their experience. Ask specifically about things that may not have gone well, and to the extent they are willing to share, assess whether these are things that can happen to you and whether you are willing to deal with the issues.
- Check out reviews. If the lawyer is featured on online websites or forums, sometimes you may find reviews that other clients left about them. Read about the good, the bad and the ugly.
Of course, once you have determined that this is the right kind of lawyer that you are looking for and they are good at what they do, the next natural question is: how much will this lawyer cost me? Is this going to break the bank? Being a small business or startup, the cost issue is especially important for many owners or founders. Always ask for a proposal ahead of time.
A project based proposal is often better.
While many lawyers still charge by the hour, more and more forward thinking, innovative lawyers are willing to quote by the project.
There are a few advantages of obtaining a proposal based on the scope of your project:
- You know your total legal expense ahead of time, which helps with budgeting and planning for your business.
- You align incentives the right way. Instead of charging you by the minute that you talk to the lawyer on the phone and for them dragging the project out, they are incentivized to finish as quickly and efficiently as possible, so they can earn the full amount.
- The key things to note for a project based proposal is to define and itemize all the deliverables clearly, and tie the payments to project milestones. Also have a mechanism to implement changes as they may emerge during the course of the project.
If quoted an hourly rate, make sure you ask for an estimate of total hours needed for your project.
Depending on the nature of your project, sometimes it may not be practical to have a project based quote. Even if that’s the case, always ask for a written estimate of how many hours the lawyer thinks this project will take. Even if it’s not binding, at least you are setting the expectation and if the actual hours start to far exceed the hours estimated, you need to quickly have a discussion about what has changed and what’s driving up the cost.
Although cost is not everything, you can often compare and choose the more cost effective lawyer.
While some lawyers still have the “my fee is my fee” mentality, many others are starting to realize this is also a competitive market place and they are willing to make certain concessions to earn the business. While we are not saying you should find cheap lawyers, at Sleegal, our lawyers are known for being reasonably priced and cost conscientious. The days of expensive lawyers dictating their fees are behind us. We are here to help clients find cost effective yet good quality lawyers.
One thing that you should definitely inquire about before hiring a lawyer is how soon they can start working on your project. In today’s startup environment, speed of execution is everything. Don’t let legal become the weakest link. Clarify how soon your lawyer can turn your stuff around, whether it’s 24 hours, 48 hours, days or weeks.
The best lawyers have strong work ethics and understand todays’ clients want both good quality and speed. They are also more adept in adopting the latest technology and staying in touch with their client via email or text, vs. the good old paper letters or emails. We have lawyers who have deployed chatbots on their website and strive to provide 24/7 access and availability.
Aligning on expectations on how soon things can be expected to be done will make a strong foundation for the relationship between the client and the lawyer. Once aligned, the client should also hold the lawyer accountable and maybe have the speed of execution tied to some kind of payment incentive or penalty. Reading about the lawyer’s reviews can also help shed light on this aspect. Typically, the highly efficient lawyers will get reviews that complement them on this aspect (and vice versa).
Four: Personality Fit
This is often overlooked by clients when looking for a lawyer but can be critically important for the relationship. Does this lawyer care about your case? Will she or he listen to what you care about? Do you want to be constantly updated or only briefed when there is an issue? Do you want someone who is curious about learning about your business or just wants to get the deal done? Are you looking for someone empathetic or some one that sticks to the matter of fact? Do you want them to argue with the other side to the limit, or do you prefer someone who is more collaborative and can strive to find a happy middle ground?
Some say finding a good lawyer is like finding a spouse, or at the very minimum a good date. While all the “hard” requirements must be met, given the client and the lawyer may work on lengthy projects for an extended period of time, the personality fit becomes increasingly important. Everyone wants a lawyer that they can trust, that they can talk to, and that cares about them. Knowing the personality traits that are important to you and that you are looking for in a lawyer is extremely important before you commit to hiring the lawyer.