The word “lawyer” often carries a negative connotation. From countless television shows and colorful movie characters, the occupation can invoke thoughts of a fast-talking person in a courtroom with an ill-fitting suit and slicked-back hair pulling off some miraculous stunt to get his client off of murder charges. But in reality, lawyers can offer safety, peace of mind, and guidance navigating potentially devastating legal landmines. Below is a crash course on finding and hiring the right lawyer.
How Do I Know If I Need a Lawyer?
This question warrants a lawyerly response – “it depends.” If you have a dispute brewing with anyone, it is likely time to call a lawyer. If you have some form of intellectual property that needs protection, chances are that it is time to engage counsel. The main tip is to reach out as early as possible to gauge whether a lawyer is necessary. A quick consultation with an attorney early on can help chart a course for success. Proactivity is the name of the game.
How Do I Find a Lawyer?
As with most services, start with some online research, but do not get consumed by the myriad of legal titles, awards, and accomplishments. Instead, look beyond good marketing to find an attorney you are comfortable working with. Beyond basic online research, word of mouth is a powerful tool. Reach out to your friends, colleagues, and industry groups. The local bar associations also have resources available to help you get started. Then, when you have a roster of potential lawyers, connect with each directly to assess their responsiveness, communication, and knowledge of the law. Don’t be afraid to ask all of your questions and fully vet candidates.
What Type of Lawyer Do I Need?
Lawyers often focus on particular areas of the law. There are certain lawyers who handle patents, others who take on lawsuits, and others who advise on corporate issues. A single lawyer might have a broad range of experience. For some topics, a specialist might not be needed, but highly technical or higher-stakes matters might warrant an expert.
What Type of Law Firm Do I Need?
Law firms come in all shapes and sizes – from small solo boutiques to large international firms. There are pros and cons to each. Smaller firms can often provide services at a lower cost and might be more agile, but larger firms often have more resources, geographic reach, and a broader range of services. You should look for a firm that works for your needs, meaning it has the expertise you need, a fee structure you are comfortable with, and makes sense geographically.
Fee Arrangements 101
The cost of hiring a lawyer is often the most intimidating part of the process. The billable hour (i.e., a dollar charge per hour of work) has been the industry standard for decades, but many firms are flexible on how they are compensated. Alternative fee arrangements are limitless. For example, some projects warrant a flat fee, while others might be better suited for a fee contingent on a specific outcome. It is important to understand the fee structure upfront. You can ask for a budget before the project begins and inquire about potential alternative fee structures. In the end, it’s your hard-earned money at stake, so understanding the relationship from the outset is important.
What Happens After I Select a Lawyer?
You will generally first be sent an engagement letter formally setting forth your relationship. Then, the lawyer will get to work on your project and, in most cases, exchange information, ideas, and solutions with you. The lawyer becomes another vital business tool to ensure that your organization can focus on the more important issue – bringing your business plans to fruition without legal roadblocks.
Michael J. Joyce is a Partner in the Pittsburgh Office of the national law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP. A business litigator by trade, Mike frequently helps start-ups and earlier stage companies navigate all sorts of legal issues. Mike can be contacted via email at Michael.Joyce@saul.com.
This publication has been prepared for informational purposes only. The provision and receipt of the information in this publication should not be considered legal advice; does not create a lawyer-client relationship, even if contact is made with the author; and should not be acted on without seeking professional counsel who has been informed of specific facts.