A small company has need for legal advice, but is unsure how to properly utilize a lawyer. Legal costs have gone up over the last decade, so expense is one concern. Another is a desire to understand how to form an effective relationship with a lawyer or law firm, and how to effectively manage billable hours. Bottom line, how can a lawyer help you meet your business goals?
Advice from the CEOs:
- First, seek the counsel of a firm that specializes in small businesses. Just as you would seek a specialist physician to treat a serious medical condition, SMBs are best served by corporate lawyers who understand how they are different from large corporations and who can advise them at a rate and under an arrangement that fits their financial situation.
- Schedule regular “off the clock” lunches and conversations with your lawyer. The ideal lawyer for smaller companies serves as an “outside counsel.” Your outside counsel is essentially your legal quarterback and should be willing to meet with you off the clock to discuss general business needs. Of course, as a courtesy to your lawyer, if your conversation starts getting into areas where you are receiving legal advice you shouldn’t expect free advice.
- Know what to ask your lawyer versus what to ask your auditor and tax specialist. Each has a separate and distinct domain.
- Trust your lawyer – or find a new lawyer. The best legal relationship is when your lawyer is treated as a member of your team. Sharing the business context aids your lawyer in advising you.
- There is no need to overspend on lawyers, but you do need to assure that you spend for what you need. A good relationship with your lawyer can help you to walk the line where you are spending appropriately.
- Special thanks to Deb Ludwig of DJL Corporate Law for her contribution to this discussion.