Why does my company need a corporate attorney?
At some point, all businesses will reach a point where they feel like they need legal advice. For some, that moment occurs at the start, when they reach out to an attorney to help them cement a relationship between a group of friends with an idea. Others will need help with bringing on investors and financing, securing intellectual property, contractual and licensing relationships with customers and vendors, major transactions, or the day-to-day operations and governance of the company. Corporate attorneys can help you with problems you don’t know how to resolve and identify ones that you might not have been aware existed. Good corporate attorneys can work with you to understand your business, identify potential risks, and help you find ways of mitigating them.
Laws and regulations are often complex, and it can be challenging to determine on your own which ones apply to your business. A corporate attorney can help you stay in compliance and make sure that you’re not subject to costly penalties or remediation efforts. Corporate attorneys can also help your business establish and maintain good relationships with your customers and the community at large, with advice on corporate citizenship and social causes. Think of a corporate attorney as a sword and shield that can help you ensure that your business doesn’t get bogged down in legal issues and challenges.
What does a corporate attorney do?
Put simply, attorneys provide legal advice. They are trained to interpret laws of the jurisdictions in which they are admitted to practice, and to advise clients on how the law applies to them. Attorneys can represent you in court and administrative proceedings, draft contracts and other corporate documents, and help you plan for the future of your business. The attorney-client relationship is one that is protected by law and privilege, as well as ethical obligations and duties. Your attorney will keep your communications confidential and is expected to represent your interests to the utmost of his or her ability. An attorney can help you strategize what protections your business will need in the future, and can take steps to help you implement those protections in the present. One of the more common services a corporate attorney provides is contract review and drafting. Any time you want to establish a business relationship with another party, it’s imperative to memorialize your agreement in writing, and to make sure that the written agreement accurately reflects your understanding of how the relationship will work.
Attorneys specialize in a variety of fields, and you will want to find one that has expertise with your issues. Due to television and movies, most people will be familiar with attorneys that specialize in criminal or civil litigation. These are the attorneys that will represent you in lawsuits and appear in court before a judge. Litigators can also help you resolve disputes before you end up getting sued, but most business owners will need the services of a corporate attorney. Corporate attorneys, known as transactional attorneys, will typically have the ability to advise you on most business issues ranging from incorporation to complex transactions involving multiple parties and vast amounts of money.
Fun fact: What’s the difference between a lawyer and an attorney? In the United States, the words are essentially synonymous, but technically, “attorney” denotes someone who is licensed to practice by a state bar, whereas “lawyer” means someone who has a legal education. State bar admission is a critical requirement before an attorney may lawfully represent a client. Most state bars require attorneys to pass a multi-day test of the law, and will evaluate the attorney’s moral character before allowing them to practice law in the state.
When is the right time to hire a corporate attorney?
Every business has its own set of challenges and expectations, but you can’t go wrong in engaging an attorney as soon as possible. Preventative measures can help prevent problems from blooming into expensive mistakes. Attorneys can help you understand the advantages and drawbacks of various business relationships and let you know if there are any areas of concern. If you find yourself at a point where you are starting a business, hiring employees, negotiating agreements with vendors and customers, raising money, considering trademarks, patents, or other registered intellectual property, or dealing with shareholders, you could most likely benefit from a corporate attorney’s advice.
It is often to your benefit not to wait until you have problems before you consult an attorney regarding your business. Disputes and litigation can be time-consuming and costly, and implementing preventative legal measures can be the difference between a protracted court fight and being able to focus your resources on growth and improvement. Attorneys can help you understand how you should deal with your clients, suppliers, contractors, employees, shareholders, the government, and even with each other.
How do I find an attorney?
It can be difficult finding an attorney that is right for you, but California has over 180,000 practicing attorneys to choose from, so you should be able to find someone that suits your needs. You can typically find attorneys through advertisements, referral services, and recommendations. Attorney advertisements can be found in newspapers and other print mediums, Internet searches, and occasionally, on radio and TV. There are a number of ethical constraints on attorney advertising, but attorneys can advertise their services so long as their ads do not contain false or misleading information. There are a number of commercial and legal aid third party services that will provide you a referral for an attorney. These sites often have an established network of attorneys across a variety of specialties to whom they can reach out in an attempt to find you an attorney. In addition, the California State Bar offers certified referral services for certain specialties and issues. Sometimes, you may be able to find free or low-cost legal services from a public interest legal services program.
Perhaps the best way of finding an attorney is obtaining a personal recommendation from a trusted source. Perhaps someone you know has hired an attorney to deal with a similar situation, or you have a friend who went to law school. These sources may be able to point you directly to a competent attorney or firm with experience in handling your issue. If you have a matter that is outside of an attorney’s expertise, they will often be happy to refer you to one who will be able to help. It’s a good idea to request multiple recommendations and speak to each one to get a sense of whether they will be a good fit for you.
Once you have compiled a list of potential attorneys, you can research them and their firms. You can begin by eliminating the firms that may be “too big” for your company or you may risk the possibility of paying high premiums while not getting the utmost attention from your attorney who may be busy attending to “bigger” clients who are paying higher invoices. Most firm websites will feature attorney biographies containing background information such as education and years in practice, as well as representative clients and matters demonstrating the attorney’s experience. It is increasingly common for attorneys to make use of social media as well, and you can review their social media presence for useful information that might indicate the attorney can be of help. In addition, most state bar association websites will have a page where you can verify that the attorney is actually licensed to practice in that jurisdiction, and whether or not the attorney has any history of disciplinary action.
Which attorney should I choose?
Given the significance of the attorney-client relationship, it’s important to find an attorney that has the right “fit” for you. Communication styles are important, as is finding someone that you trust and that is able to understand your concerns. Some clients are looking for attorneys who will handle everything on their behalf, and want to be minimally involved. Others want to know all the options and make choices for themselves. You should take a moment to determine what you’re looking for and find someone who will be able to suit that need. Generally, you will want to find an attorney that is responsive and that has the appropriate experience and background for your situation. Keep in mind that age isn’t necessarily an indicator of experience. If the attorney offers an initial consultation, you can take that opportunity to discuss your matter with them, and to get a sense of whether he or she has a personality that will mesh well with yours. Some attorneys will offer a free initial consultation, but please be aware that others may charge for this time.
Good questions to ask of a potential attorney include whether they have handled similar cases before, and whether that attorney will be personally involved in your case. Ask as many questions as you need in order to feel comfortable. Your business is important to you, and you deserve legal counsel that will take your concerns seriously and make sure that you remain a priority. Although reputation can be important, sometimes you will find that you get along better with a less prominent attorney, or one that is not as well known in the field. In addition, you should be confident that your attorney understands your business and has a grasp of the challenges that you are facing. Although you may not be relying on your attorney for business advice, you may have a harder time communicating with someone who is not familiar with your industry.
Last but not least, become familiar with and ask questions about the firm’s mission statement, values and culture, and see what resonates with you and your company. If important to you, does the firm promote diversity and inclusion, and if so, how many women or minority partners are at the firm? Does the firm promote social causes and community service and how? You may also consider whether your attorney is subject to the firm’s “minimum billable” requirements. Traditionally, most law firms require its attorneys to bill a minimum number of hours each year (on average 1800 to 2000 hours per year). The pressure to satisfy the “minimum billable” requirement can be counter to the attorney’s desire to be efficient with his or her time and could potentially result in a higher bill.
How much will an attorney cost?
Attorneys have historically billed clients by the hour, although alternative fee arrangements such as fixed fees are becoming increasingly common. In a fixed fee arrangement, the attorney and client agree in advance on the total amount that the client will pay for the legal services. Fixed fees provide certainty for both attorney and client, but it’s important to establish a clear scope of responsibility, and specific tasks that the attorney will perform. One popular option for mature businesses is using an attorney on a periodic, fixed-fee basis. An attorney could, for example, dedicate a set amount of time to a client’s legal needs each month, or use some other tangible measure such as a number of contracts reviewed, and be paid a flat fee by the client each month. Attorneys can also represent clients on contingency, where the attorney will offer up-front legal services for free, but will receive a percentage of the client’s recovery. Contingency arrangements are not as common in corporate law, but are frequently seen in personal injury litigation cases.
Attorney fee agreements often contain retainer provisions, which many clients will be encountering for the first time. A retainer is a fee that is paid in advance to engage an attorney. Retainers can be used as an initial deposit on services, and retainers can be nonrefundable or refundable, but the specifics of the retainer must be specified in the fee agreement between you and your attorney. Attorneys are usually required by ethical obligations to keep retainer funds in a separate, special account, and may not deduct them until they have been earned.
Legal services can be expensive, and many business owners will be tempted to go for the lowest cost option. Attorney fees are a necessary cost of doing business, however, and paying upfront for quality service providers can help you avoid costs in the future.
What do I do now?
The first step is deciding whether it is time to hire an attorney. If you’re reading this, it is likely that you have important questions that you need answers for, or you want to make sure your business is protected. It is far better to engage an attorney before problems arise than to wait until after the fact.
With so many choices, and so much to consider, searching for the right attorney can seem like an impossible task. Although it may be tempting to Google “attorney” and pick the first one that comes up, it is in your best interest to take the time and effort to ask for recommendations, research the attorney’s background, discuss fee arrangements, make sure the attorney is experienced, and most importantly, speak with the attorney to see if you communicate well together. These steps will greatly increase your chances of finding an attorney who is right for you and your business.