Any of you that have ever hired a lawyer know that if you really want to screw up one of your business deals, a potential litigation issue or the future planning of your business, all you need to do is hire the wrong lawyer.
Too many entrepreneurs go into the selection process with the wrong pre-conceived notions and set of qualifications for the next critical member of their team. The decision to hire the correct lawyer should be considered carefully and using realist criteria.
Here are four of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when choosing a lawyer:
1. Hiring a Jack of all trades. This is a mistake that even the experienced business owner will make. As many of us know, there are all sorts of specialists in the medical profession and the same thing applies to the law. If you are doing business or tax planning, use a business lawyer and get your CPA in the mix as well. If you have a fight brewing, consult with a litigation attorney. A general attorney or advisor can play ‘'quarterback’' and give you sound advice, but when it’'s time to get into the details, use a specialist.
2. Choosing the cheapest lawyer you can find. This is a classic strategy that will ultimately cost you more in the long run after you find the right attorney. You may think you are saving money in the first or second meeting with that low hourly rate or a flat fee promise that rivals an online service with unlimited legal consulting. But this attorney will cost you a lot more with misdirection, and wasted time and money. Remember the old adage: "You get what you pay for". This applies with the law as well.
3. Paying a big retainer up front without a second opinion. This is a dangerous mistake and can be very difficult to undo and get your money back. A lot of entrepreneurs never get a second opinion and out of fear or intimidation, make a rash decision. There are many honest and skilled lawyers out there who can take a smaller retainer up front and bill as they go. If the amount they are asking for makes you feel uncomfortable, heed that prompting and interview some other lawyers before making a decision.
4. If it sound too good to be true, it probably is. We'd all rather hear how incredible our case or project is and how it's the "perfect slam dunk." However, nothing is always clear-cut and if a lawyer is sugar coating it you should be able to tell. Be careful when your lawyer doesn't speak realistically about your own situation and the mistakes and problems you are facing. Don't let yourself get pummeled in court. Lawyers can overpromise and under-deliver.
Consider taking recommendations from others who have already found affordable lawyers specializing in your area of expertise.
If you have a bad experience hiring the wrong lawyer, don't give up interviewing and networking with others to find the right advisor. Just like in every profession, there are winners and losers. Sometimes it take a little work to find the winners, but it is certainly worth it in the end.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Mark J. Kohler, a certified public accountant in Irvine, Calif., is a partner in the accounting firm Kohler & Eyre, and the law firm Kyler, Kohler, Ostermiller, & Sorensen LLP, specializing in business, estate and tax. He is the author of What Your CPA Isn't Telling You from Entrepreneur Press.