Hiring professionals for a small business is an important process. The best attorney for your business will depend on what the legal needs are for your company. In fact, there is a good chance there is no one attorney who can handle everything, so the best attorney may actually turn out to be a law firm with several attorneys having different specialties.

Small businesses often need help setting up the right legal form of business—negotiating contracts with customers or suppliers, assisting with real estate needs (such as a lease or a building purchase), taxes, zoning and licenses, protecting intellectual property, or settling litigation.

For example, contracts need to protect all parties involved in the transaction, when often lease agreements are written to protect only the landlord. These contracts are negotiable, and your attorney should have a standard “tenant’s addendum” containing provisions that benefit you that can be added to the printed lease document. Getting legal advice before you sign any contract could save you conflicts or dollars in the future.

So, how should a small business owner find the right legal help for their business? One option is to ask friends and business associates for a referral. Accountants, bankers, and insurance professionals will have attorneys they have worked with in the past and who they feel comfortable with. Resources also exist on the web, such as the American Bar Association, which has a state by state lawyer referral directory.

Interview more than one attorney to find someone who knows not only small business law, but also your industry. Ask questions about experience with the specific legal issues you are facing. Ask for references so you can check how satisfied other small business owners are with the services they received. Make sure you feel comfortable understanding what the attorney is saying to you. Remember, you are the customer in this situation and you need to feel this is the person or firm who can serve your needs now and in the future. Confirm fees in advance for this initial conversation and clarify fees that will be charged for future legal work.

An attorney is one of the key business professionals you want to have on your small business team. The right attorney can save your business money and time in dealing with complex legal matters.

Have you hired legal help for your small business? Share your experience in the comments below.

You can reach Arlene at asoto@socc.edu with further small business questions.

[ Down to Business is a weekly small business advice column featured in The World Newspaper, originally published online by the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, and republished here with permission. ]

Arlene SotoArlene Soto

Arlene M. Soto is the director of the Small Business Development Center at Tillamook Bay Community College. She came to Oregon in July 2007 from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, where she managed the Region 4 office in Cheyenne for almost 13 years.