10 Tough Questions to Ask a Business Lawyer Before You Hire Them
Every business needs competent legal counsel. The bigger the business, and the more widespread the scope of the business, the more complex the legal issues facing it will be. Failure to cover all the legal bases of a transaction at the outset can result in dire and costly consequences. So it's crucial to find the right lawyer to handle your company's legal affairs. The task can seem daunting, but getting satisfactory answers to the following questions will help you narrow down the possibilities.
1. What business courses have you taken at the university or graduate school level?
A lawyer who had academic exposure to subjects such as corporate finance, cost accounting, human resources, risk management, and marketing demonstrates an early career choice to serve the needs of business.
2. What is your experience in managing or building a business like mine?
You may take comfort in learning the person you trust with providing legal services to your company possesses empathy resulting from having ‘walked in your shoes’. A person with this type of experience is more likely to appreciate the management context of the decisions within the company’s legal environment.
3. Have you ever been responsible for buying legal services for a business?
There is no better way for a lawyer to get to know a business client’s needs than to be on the buying end of the transaction – just like you are. This type of experience adds value and is likely to develop the service-centric attitude you seek.
4. What percentages of your services are ordinarily delivered at your client’s site as opposed to at your office?
You may value having your own business premises as the primary point for legal services delivery, as this would give you and your employees easier access to your lawyer, akin to the advantages of hiring an '‘in-house'’ lawyer. You may prefer your lawyer to work on site to save time lost for staff to go to an external lawyer’s office when services are sought.
5. In your firm, what is your authority to make immediate changes respecting pricing of the work product, the technology used to process it, and the way it is delivered?
As a businessperson, you may feel more comfortable knowing that the lawyer you deal with is positioned to decisively act ‘on-the-spot’ in these areas, just as you likely are in your own realm of business.
6. Besides business law, in what other areas of law do you personally practice?
It is worth knowing whether the law firm under consideration restricts their practice to serving the needs of business or also practices in other fields like real estate, employment law, intellectual property and tax matters.
7. What has been your exposure to globalization, creation of efficiencies through new technologies, and outsourcing?
The so-called ‘new economy’ is in large part a product of these factors. You may feel that significant exposure to and experience in these areas will provide a real-time context to the advice you receive, as you confront these issues in the evolution and competitive environment of your business.
8. Name concrete steps you have personally initiated in the last 3, 6, and 9 months to reduce your overhead, and how has each step affected pricing to your clients?
You may feel that a lawyer who manages his or her own internal costs and in a manner consistent with your own values reflects the innovative spirit you seek.
9. How does your fee structure demonstrate that you, as a supplier, share the same risks that I incur in carrying on my business?
If hourly billing is not your preferred pricing model, you may wish to explore billing methods involving fixed fees to perform specified work, or one of a number of arrangements described above. Typically, in such arrangements the up-front and ongoing costs of a legal project are reduced in return for some sort of incentive on project completion or related to success of the outcome, as defined in a fee agreement.
10. What is your track record in designing and implementing plans aimed at controlling and reducing legal costs?
You may be interested in a commitment to put proactive advice in action to:
- avoid creation of legal disputes,
- manage the cost and progress of major lawsuits and projects, and
- push the legal learning down to the operating ranks of your company to support more knowledgeable decision-making.
If such issues are important to you, you may wish to seek concrete examples of how this has been achieved by this person in the past.