Published July 13, 2011

How to Answer the Legal Counsel Question

Every small business has a need for legal counsel. Sometimes it's just a simple need to review and help negotiate a commercial lease or draw up a partnership agreement. However, what if you operate a business that needs a little more legal help? Having access to qualified and adequate legal counsel should be a priority because without it, you could face serious liability and even lose your business.

Here are some good reasons to hire good legal counsel and avoid going out of business:

  • Litigation - In this litigious society, people want to blame someone else for their troubles. But what if their troubles have a valid case against your company? If you are sued by a client or customer for whatever reason, negligence, injury, errors in your service, you must have good counsel on your side to successfully litigate and settle any and all claims.
  • Bankruptcy - How do you handle your rising debts? Should you file for bankruptcy? Or what if one of your major clients files for bankruptcy; how do you respond and handle it? Counsel can guide you through this murky financial turmoil.
  • Federal Fines - Are you unknowingly breaking federal regulations? You could be faced with stiff fines for failure to comply with state or federal laws while operating your business. An attorney can help you make sure you comply with all pertinent laws aimed at your business and industry.

So how do you decide on hiring a lawyer? Here are a few strategies:

Hire From Small Firm

Many small law firms specialize in small business legal counsel. The main partners or associates may be well versed in handling common business issues like business formation, contracts, real estate, and employment law.

Hiring from a small firm can be beneficial in that you get to know the attorneys better, making a good rapport. Plus a smaller firm will usually charge you less than a larger corporate legal firm. However, on the negative side, a smaller firm may only have generalists who are not well-versed in special legal situations.

Retaining Counsel from a Larger Firm

You could consider hiring counsel from a larger firm. A larger law firm will have a wider range of associates who could help with most all aspects of your legal issues, especially if your small business is on the 'larger' size with a number of employees (100+), or your business is in a legal minefield industry, such as medical or even intellectual property.

The downside is that you may talk to a partner of a large firm when hiring, but you'll be assigned a lowly associate to handle your issues. You may also be required to retain counsel and pay an exorbitant amount of money up front. Plus you could be working with a number of different associate 'specialists' and never really know many of them personally.

If you do choose to hire from either a small or larger firm, be sure you research potential firms and network to get good recommendations. Talk with them. Find out who you are comfortable with, who you trust, and whose prices you can afford.

Hire In-House Counsel

Ultimately, you may determine you have a business that requires an attorney on hand most of the time. For instance, small businesses in an inter-state mail order pharmacy industry, a financial commodities industry, or a medical field are good examples of businesses that need an in-house counsel.

If your business requires an attorney on staff, even if it's just a generalist to handle most legal problems or questions, it could be beneficial and cost-effective. Consider offering a partnership or a share in the business as a company officer. An Executive Vice-President and Legal Counsel is a nice title for an experienced attorney wanting to get out of the grind of a larger firm or who has a similar entrepreneurial spirit like yours.

Your general in-house counsel can handle probably about 80% of most business legal needs, including general business law, employee law issues, taxes, and even have a specialization in your industry. But if ever you need a specialist in certain areas like litigation or insurance fraud law, your general in-house counsel will likely have the network contacts to hire outside counsel and be the contact to make sure all legal issues are handled properly and affordably.

Whether you need help and advice on a contract or constant oversight on the legal issues of your industry, hiring proper legal counsel is always a wise choice for small business owners.