Few things make a cash-poor entrepreneur quake more than hiring a lawyer. Here are some questions to ask a prospective attorney before you hire them:
Do you have time for me? Ideally, your attorney is neither juggling 312 clients nor playing computer solitaire.
Have you represented small or homebased businesses before? What did you do for them?
How much is what I want you do likely to cost me? (You should have prepared a list of what you want your attorney to do.) Do you charge by the hour, or on a flat-fee basis?
Will you work on retainer? This means you pay the lawyer a certain sum each month and in return, he or she handles routine legal matters and is available by phone.
Can you provide me with references?
Finally, listen to your gut feeling as to whether or not you could work with this person.
Whether you need to hire a lawyer depends on your form of business; the issues you're facing; your level of knowledge; and your ability to extract information from free resources (Web sites, community organizations, trade associations, etc.). If you're buying a business or a property on which to run a business, you'll definitely need to consult a lawyer.
But don't just dump your problems on your attorney. As Washington, D.C., attorney Linda Ravdin says, "The best clients ask intelligent questions about strategy and help make decisions." Ravdin contrasts this type of client with "shopping bag people" who bring in reams of unsorted information for the attorney. "This type of client," says Ravdin, "wants you to do everything for them, even things they could do themselves."
Findlaw.com's SOHO Guidebook: This is a great site for all the simple questions you'd rather not pay your attorney to answer.
The American Bar Association: The General Public Resources section includes public education and legal referral services.
Lawyers.com: his is a Martindale-Hubbell site that lists lawyers by location and specialty.
The Entrepreneur's Business Law Handbook by Sean P. Melvin
The Law (in Plain English) for Small Businesses by Leonard Du Boff