Small business owners often complain that it is hard to find and work with attorneys. Here are some tips to make it easier.
Finding an Attorney in Kansas City
The best way to find an attorney is to ask for a referral. If you can’t get a referral, search the internet or contact your local bar association for help.
Once you’ve found some options, here are a few things you might consider when evaluating them (in no particular order):
- Relevant Experience: A common misconception is that all lawyers can handle all legal matters. While that is true, it isn’t necessarily true that they will do a good job. A “general practice” lawyer that lists 20 practice areas in their bio is probably not the best pick. Rather, if you need help with contracts, find an attorney that focuses on business and contract law.
- Industry Knowledge: Your attorney doesn’t have to be an expert in your industry, but it certainly helps if they have a good understanding of your industry in general. For example, the software industry is very different from construction industry.
- Work Style: Lawyers are just like other people in that they all practice differently. Ideally, you will find a lawyer that works the same way you do, whether that means phone over email or paperless over paper. The point is you don’t want to work with an attorney if he or she doesn’t mesh with your daily operations.
Paying an Attorney
When engaging an attorney you need to make sure you understand their rate and how they bill. You don’t want to get upside-down with your lawyer.
Here are a few general thoughts about legal fees:
- Most business lawyers charge by the hour.
- Hourly rates in Kansas City are normally between $150 and $450 (but they are sometimes higher).
- If your lawyer bills hourly, always ask for an estimate and closely monitor their time so you don’t get a big surprise the end of the month. Additionally, you might ask that the lowest billable person with the right experience work on your project to reduce your bills.
- Even though most lawyers charge by the hour, more and more are offering fixed fee services.
- If your lawyer uses fixed fees, make sure you understand what is (and what is not) included in the fixed fee.
- Generally speaking, the larger the firm, the more you’ll pay (but some small firms charge the same as big firms).
- Whatever you do, don’t pick your lawyer solely based on their fees. Their rates should be a factor in your final decision, but it definitely shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.
Working with Attorneys – Setting Expectations
It is always important for you and your attorney to have a clear understanding of what you expect from their services. Here are some things to consider:
- Always talk about your goals with your attorney. Depending on the situation, they may not be viable options, but it is critical that your attorney understands your goals.
- Determine the best way to communicate with one another. If you expect regular phone calls, tell your lawyer this. If you prefer email, tell your lawyer that. Etc.
- Never skip the discussion over fees. (see above)
- Always ask questions if you are unclear on something. Your lawyer’s job is to help you, that includes explaining things that may not be obvious to you.
Two additional tips:
- The right attorney at the right
The right attorney for your early stage startup is probably not the right attorney when you have 500 employees nationwide; and the right attorney from that time probably won’t be the right attorney when you have 5,000 employees worldwide. But thanks to technology, it is easier than ever to use multiple law firms and/or transition between them when needed. The important thing to understand when hiring an attorney is whether they will support your use of multiple attorneys or if they will try to keep you from leaving their firm.
- You Get What You Pay For
There are a lot of free and low-cost legal resources out there. But always remember that you get what you pay for. Sometimes they will be a good fit for what you need (seriously, sometimes they are perfect for your situation). But other times they can cause more problems than they solve.