Picking the Right Legal Horse

Questions to ask yourself when hiring an attorney

January 1, 2017

Choosing an attorney can be a daunting task. There are countless lawyers to choose from, most of whom are bright, hardworking, and ethical. How do you choose the right lawyer for you and your matter? As one looks beyond the number of names on the letterhead, and the aesthetics of the office, consider the following three key issues.

1. Does your attorney understand your business goals and have the background and expertise to be your advisor?
Whether one’s goal is selling a business, borrowing or lending money, resolving intellectual property issues, estate planning, or otherwise, it is important to find a lawyer that understands, or will take the time to learn about, the complexities of your business. If a lawyer does not truly understand your business, they will be less able to quickly size-up challenges and hurdles that may arise as you pursue your business goals. A lawyer that understands your business will be one who can identify helpful strategies which promote and produce success.

2. Effective lawyers need to be hard-working and responsive. Technology has transformed law firms and lawyers.
The speed with which services need to be delivered and the emphasis on rapid response has changed dramatically since 2000. In 1982, when I began my practice in New York City, I would receive a letter – by U.S. Mail – or overnight delivery service – and have a few days to digest the contents, consider the issues, research, and fashion a response. Later, I remember working with fax and telex machines (the original Twitter) to communicate with clients and parties around the country and the world. With telex machines, every letter cost money and messages were a clever stream of symbols and abbreviations! Now, of course, email and text have supplanted facsimile machines, and response time has shrunk to minutes or seconds! While technology makes your practice more efficient, it also means that you will be best served by a lawyer who is committed to working for you at a rapid, and sometimes stressful, pace.

“It is important to find a lawyer that understands, or will take the time to learn about, the complexities of your business. If a lawyer does not truly understand your business, they will be less able to quickly size-up challenges and hurdles that may arise as you pursue your business goals.”

3. Effective lawyers need to be excellent listeners, practical and demonstrate an unrelenting perseverance when working to achieve a client’s objectives.
Effective lawyers check their egos and listen to their clients and all parties to a transaction. Whether one agrees with all that is said or not, it is crucial to understand what drives all parties in a transaction and where agreement resides. By listening well, one maximizes the opportunity to have a “meeting of the minds” when negotiating deal points, drafting documents, or otherwise reaching consensus. Finally, by listening and understanding all points of view, one can work and achieve goals far more efficiently and at less cost to the client.

It is also important to recognize, in a transaction with multiple lawyers and parties, a single lawyer can play a pivotal role in determining whether a problem is solved and whether a transaction “closes.” Lawyers with strong business experience and strong communication skills are often the ones that think creatively and find “out-of-the-box” solutions that enable deals to reach the finish line.

Is it possible to learn all of the above information before hiring an attorney? It is not easy, but it is worth the effort. Here are five practical tips for ensuring you explore your options effectively.

  • Meet with your prospective attorney in person and talk in depth about your business goals.
  • Develop an understanding of the attorney’s experience and business acumen.
  • Consider the attorney’s tenacity, creativity and problem-solving abilities
  • Ask for examples of when these traits were tested.
  • Finally, consider whether your rapport with the attorney is strong. After all, he or she will be far more than your scrivener. This attorney will be your sounding board, your problem solver, and your trusted counselor.

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