Some people mistakenly associate attorneys with times when things go wrong. The fact is that a skilled business attorney can help a small business owner avoid facing at least some of these unpleasant situations in the first place. Much of how and where you conduct business, franchise agreements, leases, employee relations, licenses, etc. have routine but important legal ramifications, some of which you simply cannot handle on your own. That’s why it pays to have a competent source of legal advice to help guide you through the maze of laws and regulations that govern your business, ensure that your rights are protected and, yes- help you resolve problems.

But simply being an attorney doesn’t always mean that they are the best qualified to advise you on your business matters. “An attorney develops an expertise over time,” says Martin R. Welles, Esq., an attorney practicing labor and employment law litigation for the United States government. “You want an attorney with practical experience addressing the issues that are likely to arise in your business. That could be previous industry experience, or a practice that focuses on your business niche.”

Is the jury still out on your attorney’s value to your business? Find out by taking this quick quiz.  

Answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions:

1) Is your attorney familiar with your type of business or industry?

2) Is your attorney licensed to give legal advice in the state(s) where you do business?

3) Does your attorney respond promptly to calls and inquiries?

4) Does your attorney have a clear disciplinary record from the state bar association?

5) Is your attorney candid in his/her communications?


Did you answer mostly YES?

Lucky you! You’ve obviously found someone who can not only help you with the routine matters, but also a confidant who will help you weigh the merits and risks of future opportunities. Only problem is that good attorneys usually attract a lot of clients eager for the same kind of quality service. Your attorney will always be there for you, but you need to take some proactive steps to keep him/her involved in your business.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do this. You can ask your attorney to sit in on your strategic business meetings, or invite him/her to speak at a meeting of your business or professional association. No doubt your colleagues are eager to find out more about current legal issues themselves, and your attorney will pick up a lot of information about your industry in the process. Just make sure you agree in advance as to the fee for such appearances. Your attorney may address a business group gratis because of the potential to develop new clients. For a business meeting, however, the attorney will most likely bill you for the time and expertise/

“View your attorney as a strategic business partner, much as you would a key supplier,” says Welles. “If your attorney has a vested interest in your success and a commitment to growing your business, he or she is more likely to keep you as a client.”

Did you answer mostly NO?

We hope this score means that your business venture is still in the planning stages, and you’re in the process of finding a good attorney to assist with routine legal issues. If not, you’re being underserved and will most likely be shopping for a new lawyer sooner than you think and for all the wrong reasons.

There are a number of good sources that can help you find the right attorney for your business. The American Bar Association (ABA) has a lawyer referral service based on locality. Go to the ABA Web site to find resources in your state. In addition, there’s the Martindale lawyer directory available at most large libraries or on the Web. It provides names, phone numbers, education and, sometimes, client lists and other representative information. (Note: The Web search produces only an abbreviated listing of what’s available in the hardcopy edition.)

What's the Verdict on Your Attorney?