Most small business owners don’t have the luxury of having an in-house attorney to handle legal matters as they arise. However, the potential cost of not having ready legal counsel to advise on emergent threats greatly outweighs the cost of establishing a relationship with an attorney. Here are three tips for a small business looking to hire counsel:
- Don’t Wait For An Emergency. Many business owners wait until they are faced with a crisis before they seek legal counsel. Oftentimes, business owners sign contracts without having an attorney review the terms in advance, and the business owner is later shocked to find out that their rights under the contract leave them exposed to much greater risk than the price of the contract warrants. From commercial leases to operating agreements to MSAs, having an attorney to negotiate terms in advance drastically improves the ability to appropriately allocate risk and to be aware of each party’s rights and responsibilities under contracts.
- Come Prepared. When you decide to consult with a business attorney, be prepared for the meeting. Take time before the meeting to assess areas of your business that may need attention. Do you have an employee handbook or other written policies? Should you? Having an attorney review these items can save your business the expense of lawsuits by former employees and keep your company in compliance with the law. Do you have a form contract that you routinely use? An attorney can ensure that the terms are enforceable and cover the most important areas of risk that the business faces, whether that is punctual performance, timely payments, broad indemnity or some other issue.
- Think of the Relationship As “Preventative Medicine” for Your Business. While your cardiologist can’t guarantee that you won’t have a heart attack, she can give you advice on how to reduce the risk of having one. The same goes for hiring an attorney. There is no guarantee that your business won’t be sued or that every contract will be performed perfectly. However, finding an experienced attorney who understands the risks your company faces can reduce the risk that a misstep cripples the company. The value in having an attorney is preparation, whether it is planning an exit strategy for the members of a limited liability company through an operating agreement or specifying how notice must be given to a defaulting party in a construction contract. A small amount of time and money invested on the front end can save a company hundreds of times in the long run.