Quality legal counsel is essential for your small business.
But securing first-rate legal advice requires a lot more than just writing a check. You need to learn how to work alongside your attorney to minimize your exposure and protect your company's interests.
Believe it or not, lawyers are people, too. Your attorney's primary concern is your company, but his interest in your business isn't limited to filing documents and researching legal questions on your behalf. Attorneys are also interested in developing long-term, working relationships with their clients. Most small business owners fail to recognize the value of an effective attorney-client relationship, and as a result, their legal representation falls short of what it could be.
It's never too late to start developing a close working relationship with your legal advisor. It's painless, simple, and cost-free. In fact, the hardest part is knowing where to begin. So here are a few tips to help transform your attorney-client relationship into a genuine business asset.
Understand Your Attorney's Priorities
As a business owner, you are focused on maximizing your company's profitability. But your attorney has his own priorities for your business, i.e. to fully protect your company's legal interests. If a good lawyer makes an effort to understand his client's goals and priorities, then a good client returns the favor by trying to understand what is important to his legal representative.
An inadequate understanding of your attorney's priorities for your business will quickly breed frustration, especially if his priorities conflict with yours. A much better approach is to clarify your agendas early in the relationship and agree on a strategy that gives you room to maneuver as well as legal security.
Value Your Attorney's Expertise
You probably wouldn't appreciate it if your lawyer showed up on Monday morning and tried to run your business. Well, imagine how your attorney feels when you go cheap and try to handle legal issues yourself. With so many "do-it-yourself" alternatives on the market, a lot of small business owners reserve legal counsel for lawsuits, but handle everything else in-house. The result is a strained working relationship and a frustrated lawyer who is trying to protect a business teeming with sub-par legal documents.
Whenever possible, rely on your attorney's expertise for all of your legal needs, including document preparation. It may cost a little more in the short term, but over the long run you'll have a better relationship with your attorney. More importantly, your company will benefit from consistent and competent legal representation.
Ask Questions, Discuss Issues
One of the most effective ways to build a relationship with your lawyer is through heart to heart conversations about your business. Your lawyer doesn't expect you to understand the nuances of business law, so if something doesn't make sense to you, don't hesitate to ask for an explanation. It may also be helpful to discuss your plans for the company so that your lawyer can lay a solid legal foundation for your future growth.