If you've ever wondered how to approach, hire or work with an attorney for your small business (or even idea), today is your lucky day! We roped in our favorite legal girlboss to break down the ways to effectively and efficiently work with legal counsel.
Whether you need help with a contract or some serious advice with a copy cat creative, Amanda chats about all of the ways to find the best attorney fit for you.
Amanda takes an even deeper dive into these topics and more on this week's Fridays with Flea Style podcast. Listen here!
Brittany: Like I said on our podcast (be sure to listen, y'all -- it's full of juicy info!) I found your company through a friend. I'm a big believer of asking people you respect and admire for referrals. How do you advise people to find an attorney that works for their budget, business and personality?
Amanda: Getting referrals from the people you trust is a great way to start your search, because they care about you and want to give you their best recommendations. As far as the hiring of legal counsel part, I think your instincts will guide you well. I know when we first started working together, our personalities just clicked. You’re great to work with because you’re very straightforward on what you need and you paint a clear picture of Flea Style’s goals. Just in general, I think most lawyers will tell you, from the beginning, that you have to openly communicate with us: tell us exactly what you need and what your expectations are. We will follow your lead and give you some options for going forward. That saves time for the attorney, which is better for you and your budget. If the work you’re suggesting sounds like it could have extra costs or require significant time, your lawyer should tell you that. (And if they don’t, you should ask — this is not a rude request!) Like most relationships, good communication is everything.
Brittany: What advice would you give somebody in a tight spot with an ongoing business relationship, contract, or dispute but is afraid to call an attorney?
Amanda: When it comes to protecting your business and advocating for it, you should do anything and everything you can. It’s important to be decisive and realize even if you do nothing, that’s still making a decision — typically the wrong one. If you stay ahead of a problem, you’ll be less likely to have to clean up a bigger fallout later. I would advise most small businesses and newcomers to just weather the awkwardness and vulnerability that goes with reaching out for help. You may have awkward phone exchanges with a law firm receptionist, and you may have moments where you feel out of your depth talking to a legal professional. You have to approach this in an open and egoless way. Maybe you’ll come out of the experience with an appointment with the ideal attorney for your business. Maybe you’ll come out of it with some quick advice to guide you to the next step. Even if it’s the latter, that’s still a pretty productive day.
Brittany: Money talk is always awkward, but billing is a big thing! How do people get all the info before making the leap with their dream attorney?
Amanda: I think most people are extremely uncomfortable talking about money, regardless of the circumstance. In most areas of your life it’s bad manners and completely awkward, right? When you’re requesting legal services though it’s a really important and inevitable conversation, and you’re just going to have to take a deep breath and jump in. If you’re picturing a significant legal bill, and it’s weighing on your decision to even ask for legal help, be upfront and explain that you have a budget in mind for what you need. You should also ask questions about how you will be billed. Ask about billable hour rates versus fixed-fee agreements, ask if the lawyer strictly takes checks or uses a credit card processing platform, and ask about available payment plans. Ask if your first consultation is free or if you will be billed. Ask what’s included in the billing, for instance: are all phone calls and email communications included? Don’t be afraid to ask about these things, it’s not as if we’ve never heard these questions. It will likely be an easier conversation than you think.
Brittany: What should people expect at their first attorney visit?
Amanda: It’s not like going to the dentist, that I can promise you! In order to prepare yourself and feel more comfortable, I would definitely do your homework and pull whatever documents you’re asked to bring and make sure you’ve either brought them or emailed a copy. Bring a notepad (always calming to have something in your hands, right?) and beforehand jot down everything you need covered in the meeting. You can use a Notes App if it’s easier, but you may quickly find yourself distracted by your phone — and you may distract the attorney as well. Ask all of your questions, even the ones you feel naïve asking. No one will laugh at you, and if someone does, you have my wholehearted permission to mock them later with your friends. Expect to receive a mix of solid answers and some partial answers that require more follow-up from you. If your first meeting is a free consultation (check first!) treat it with the concentration and urgency of a child in a ticket blaster booth at Chuck-E-Cheese. Use that time wisely! It can feel like information overload, but stay focused on running down your list and taking as many notes as you can. Even if you’re paying for the consultation, be mindful of the time and focus on nailing down concrete answers to your questions.
Brittany: What about those quick legal document/DIY-type service sites where you just enter some information and they create documents for you?
Amanda: I’m pretty sure I stumbled through this question spectacularly on the podcast, so I’m going to try to eloquently speak about them now. I assume they sell a beneficial product for some people, but I personally view them as a more short-term solution. I think you have to consider where your business is going, and if you’re likely going to need repeat-help on a variety of contracts, negotiations and potentially litigation work. Do you want to build a relationship with an attorney who will learn your business and be able to pick up the phone to regularly assist you in real time? Do you want an advocate you can meet with face-to-face and someone to request referrals from? If you go the self-help legal site route, you’ll mostly be relying on yourself to do things correctly. These sites are not really portrayed as a full replacement for legal counsel and typically contain warnings and disclosures recommending that you seek advice from an attorney. Using one of those sites for every project you have doesn’t seem sustainable to me, and I imagine relying on your own understanding of the instructions (and the law) brings additional risks. There’s an increased chance you’ll need to hire an attorney to come in and fix an error caused by or contained in your DIY documents. I think of law practice as a multi-faceted job, and there is no “one size fits all” approach for assisting clients. I have to cater and adjust my advice for each client. It’s important to understand that over time, your attorney will build institutional memory as you grow your business. We become an archive and treasure trove of information (and documents) over the course of our relationship with our clients. That can be an important resource.
Brittany: What are the perks of hiring a real deal attorney?
Amanda: I would imagine peace of mind being a big benefit. I think every business owner has a worry radar, and on it there’s concerns about money, inventory, employees, marketing, negotiations with vendors and the list goes on. The worry radar is probably most dramatic at the start of a company because you’re new and taking on so much of the work yourself. Once you’re in a secure position to delegate, attorneys and other professionals can step in and help you alleviate some of these worries.
This article is part of an ongoing sponsored series with Culp & Dyer, LLP Amanda Montgomery is a Texas attorney at the law firm Culp & Dyer, LLP (www.culpdyerlaw.com) and can be reached at 940-484-2236 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclaimer: Amanda Montgomery’s comments are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The above comments not form an attorney-client relationship between Culp & Dyer, LLP and this site’s visitors.