Information on legal and business topics from Canadian business lawyer Shane McLean

How do I choose a lawyer for my business?

Posted by Shane McLean on May 25, 2009

Further my recent post re: why I think your business needs a lawyer, I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about how I think  you should choose one.

Whether you are looking for a lawyer, accountant, construction contractor or for someone to babysit your kids, in the search for any service provider the obvious first step is to ask around.  In the business context you should be asking people you know in the same industry if  they have experience with good (and maybe poor)  legal counsel.  This should help narrow the scope of your search.   Like anything else, you should focus on lawyers who are specialists at doing whatever you want them to do.  You probably shouldn’t use a lawyer who spends 99% of their time doing divorce and child custody matters to handle your startup’s first round of venture capital financing.  Likewise, don’t call me for your family law matters!  

Other service providers such as accountants, bankers and even other lawyers are also a good source for leads on legal counsel.   They deal with lawyers all the time and will often have a good sense as to which ones are good and easy to deal with.   

If all else fails, hit the Web and look for lawyers practicing in your field.  Check out Lexpert’s Legal Lexpert Directory, news articles, firm web sites and other resources to try and identify the good lawyers in your business area and then contact them.

Once you have a list of prospective lawyers, you need to meet with those prospects.  You should be hoping to build a long term relationship with these people and the interpersonal dynamic is very important.  You need to be able to trust your lawyer and you will often be working very closely with him or her.  There has to be a level of comfort and a “fit” both in terms of personality and energy.  If you don’t personally like someone or if they make you uncomfortable it doesn’t matter how good a lawyer they are, you are less likely to call them when it counts and chances are that the feeling is mutual.  Life is too short and there are too many lawyers out there (way, way too many lawyers)  for you to be stuck with a lawyer or law firm that you don’t like or can’t get along with.  Your lawyer should also be someone who brings the same level of energy to a project as you.  If you are someone who is glued to your blackberry and expect answers to quick questions day and night, make sure your prospective lawyer understands that and brings the same enthusiasm as you. Ideally your lawyer will be a valued “partner” in the long road ahead for your business and having someone with the same values and work ethic as you will help ensure that you are speaking the same language.

Talk about billing.  Make sure that you understand your lawyer’s billing practices and rates and that your lawyer understands how and when you want to be billed (note: “never” isn’t giong to work).  If you think it will be a while before your business will be in a position to pay some or all of the legal bills, be upfront about that so that your lawyer can enter the relationship with eyes open.    As I said in my last post, don’t be afraid to ask for fee quotes and be sure that your lawyer understands that you expect them to live up to them.  Except in litigation or in some unusual or highly complicated matters, if your lawyer won’t provide you with a quote that can be a red flag and you should think about how committed they are to the relationship.

If all else fails and you end up with a lawyer that you just can’t handle, switch.  It’s not nearly as hard to do as we make it out to be!


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