Have You Outgrown Your Legal Counsel?

by : Richard A. Hall

How can you tell when you’ve outgrown your legal counsel? The following questions may help you decide if you need to make changes on your legal team.

There are basically two types of business lawyers, litigation lawyers and transactional lawyers. Litigation lawyers specialize in handling lawsuits and courtroom proceedings, while transactional lawyers handle contracts and other general business matters.

You’ll want to hire a litigation lawyer if you’re involved in a lawsuit or criminal proceeding. Otherwise, a transactional lawyer can probably handle all your business needs.

* What services do you feel you need that you aren’t getting now from your present legal counsel?

* Has the nature of your legal work changed recently where your current legal team can no longer meet the needs of your business?

* Has the volume of your legal work increased (or decreased) where you need a bigger (or smaller) team?

* Has the legal work become more complicated where it requires specialized knowledge or skills?

* Have you recently automated your systems and your current counsel is still doing things the old fashioned way?

* Does your current attorney seem overwhelmed with the amount of legal work you’re generating?

* Has the relationship broken down for personal reasons or a personality conflict?

* Do you feel that you’re not getting good value for your money? What areas do you have specific complaints about?

* Do you always have to chase staff down to try and get answers to your questions?

* Is your current attorney always late in getting paperwork and reports to you on time?

* Do the costs you’re being charged seem excessive?

* Is your current counsel short-staffed?

* Do you seem to spend a lot of time managing the legal staff and dealing with their problems?

* Is your current legal counsel too busy to take your calls?

Once you determine that a new legal team is the right decision for you, here are a few pointers for hiring the right attorney for your business:

* Look for a law firm that specializes in the expertise you’re looking for

* Ask for references from other clients

* Ask about potential conflicts of interest with other clients

* Set appropriate terms for the engagement

* Estimate engagement costs before deciding on hiring a specific firm

* Specify which lawyers you want assigned to your case, and pay only for those lawyers you pre-approve

* Require a full description of conferences between lawyers and the matters discussed

* Require that a designated partner review and sign-off on all invoices

* Designate who will take and review depositions

* How will photocopying be handled?

* Explain your budget for fees and costs beforehand

* Insist on periodic, timely billing

* Establish milestones for engagement and budget review

* Communicate your expectations clearly so there are no misunderstandings

* Establish a maximum fee for the engagement and stick to it

…and finally, be a good client! The relationship with your legal team should be a collaborative partnership. To ensure quality results, be sure that you are clearly communicating with your legal team. Don’t keep them in the dark about changes in your business strategy or tactics and do immediately communicate when you have questions or concerns about their work. Choosing a legal team is hard work and well worth the effort to nurture the relationship once it is established.