Interacting with Lawyers 101

Hiring a lawyer can be a hard thing for small businesses. Here are a few tips on finding the right lawyer for you. First, some legal issues that small businesses regularly encounter, like picking a business name, registering for business licenses and permits, or applying for an employer identification number (EIN), can be completed without retaining a lawyer. Other legal issues, like forming your business, navigating employee disputes, or negotiating contracts, often require the guidance of a business lawyer. Second, consulting with a lawyer before committing to representation is an important step in evaluating his or her experience assisting small businesses. All D.C. lawyers are bound to the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, including the duty of confidentiality, which means information that prospective clients give lawyers will be kept confidential. A lawyer may disclose confidential information only in certain limited circumstances, such as to prevent death or substantial bodily injury, or to prevent a client from committing a crime or fraud. Small business owners can therefore trust that a lawyer will keep information disclosed during an initial consultation confidential, even if that lawyer is not ultimately hired by the small business.

Finally, after a small business owner has hired a lawyer or law firm, there are certain steps that can be taken to reduce legal fees. Gathering relevant documents before meeting with a lawyer will promote efficiency and avoid the lawyer spending billable hours tracking down those documents after the meeting. Being willing to collaborate with the lawyer on legal matters can save on fees, as helping the lawyer to understand specific business needs and anticipated hurdles will save time and money in the long run. Discussing payment plan options at the preliminary consultation stage can also reduce initial fees and develop a strong lawyer-client relationship from the outset.

More information on legal resources for small businesses is available through the D.C. Bar Association (www.dcbar.org), an organization to which all practicing lawyers in D.C. must be admitted. The D.C. Bar also offers monthly in-person advice clinics and webinar trainings on important legal issues for small businesses.

Jessica Phillips