It takes a lot of different skill sets to keep a small business running. As a small business owner or entrepreneur you’re probably used to wearing a few different hats and overseeing things such as production, marketing, customer service, and so on. But even though you can do things, doesn’t always mean that it’s in your best interest to do so. One such expert might be an attorney. But when might you need one and how do you go about hiring the right one? We’re sharing some of the when’s and how to’s below.
When To Know if You Can Do it Yourself or Should Hire an Attorney
We’ll cut right to the chase. Doing it yourself often saves you money and that’s important for a small business owner – every dollar counts. Here’s our short list as to when you can do it yourself compared to when you might consider hiring an attorney:
When You Could DIY It
- writing a business plan
- filing for a business license and deciding on a business entity
- reserving a domain for your website
- applying for an EIN for tax purposes
- applying for licenses & permits
- creating contracts for use with customers, clients or vendors
- creating a buy-sell agreement with partners
- updating any partnership or shareholder’s agreements under which you are currently working
- handling audits by the IRS
It’s important to note that these items are things you could potentially take care of yourself, but that you could also hire any reputable attorney to take care of for you. Remember, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean that’s always the best option. When in doubt, seek expert advice before deciding to DIY it.
When To Hire an Attorney
- former, current or prospective employees sue for wrongful termination or a hostile work environment
- state or federal investigations of your business because of claims of law violations
- negotiating the sale of your company or an acquisition of another entity or it’s assets
What You Should Be Looking for When Hiring an Attorney
Not all attorneys are created equal. Yes, they should all have a reputable law degree but just like doctors they specialize in a variety of areas. Making sure you understand what types there are to choose from and which you need for your particular concern is a great place to start. When looking for an attorney to help you with your business, you’ll want to find as many abilities as you can in the same person. Here are a few specialities that might come in handy:
- contracts – this comes in handy if you’re hiring employees, setting up contracts with suppliers and so on.
- business organizations – if you’re not sure what type of business entity you should be setting up, an attorney is a great person to ask. They’re also able to prepare the necessary paperwork.
- real estate – this may not be an essential if you’re an online business but it might be if you’re looking to lease commercial space or build and run a brick and mortar store.
- taxes & licenses – yes, an accountant will file your taxes annually, but you’ll need an attorney to help you get the proper licenses and they should also understand the more basic legalities that come with basic business transactions, etc.
- intellectual property – if you’re creating new products or work in a creative field it’s important that your attorney understand how to register for trademarks and copyrights or at least know a specialist that can help if needed.
Once you’ve got the specialities down, you’ll need to also consider the following:
Communication is Key
JP Morgan once said, “I do not pay my lawyers to tell me what I cannot do, but to tell me how to do what I want to do.” A good attorney will outline your options, keep you posted on potential outcomes and make sure you stay above the law and out of any harmful legal action. Make sure that the attorney you hire is wiling to give you more than just “don’t do that” or “I’ll take care of it”. This is your business after all, they’re there to advise and that means they’ll need to use more than just a few brief sentences to keep you informed.
Location is Convenient
It goes without saying that keeping things close to home is always a good rule of thumb. Sure, there may be legal counsel that is highly acclaimed in a big city, but if it’s difficult to get there or even set up a time to meet, the odds are you won’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Picking an attorney that is closer to home means they’re invested because you’re a client that isn’t going to be infrequent and you’ll also be a great referral to others in the area if they accommodate your needs well. Besides, usually things are dicey or complex when you need an attorney – so it’s best to make the process of meeting with them as simple, an time efficient as possible.
Trust Your Gut
It’s not always important that those you work with are your best friends, but it is important that you trust your gut feel with those that you hire to represent your business and give legal advice. If you get a funny feeling that the attorney you’re meeting with isn’t going to be a good fit – keep looking. This individual is going to need to be a good communicator, they’re going to have to understand your business and get along with you. Just because their legal advice comes with a great referral or at the right price doesn’t always mean it’s a good fit. Legal stuff is hard to deal with – so you’ll need to be comfortable with the person that you’re going to ask the hard questions to. You’ll also need to be ready to hear the tough stuff from your attorney as well, so be sure it’s someone that you can trust.
Ben Sutton is the founder of Mazuma USA, an accounting firm providing tax, bookkeeping and payroll services to small businesses. Since founding Mazuma, Ben has established himself as an expert in the small business world. He’s still driven by that same desire to provide accounting help to all small businesses – from photographers, bloggers and creatives to lawyers, doctors, and dentists, everyone needs affordable accounting help. Ben is a Certified Public Accountant, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. But Ben considers his greatest achievement and credential to be his happy wife and four children.