Legal help can be essential in business

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New business owners may think that legal advice is too expensive. But all businesses will need a lawyer eventually. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to find one. Once you have been sued, you will end up paying for it, whether that includes settlements or just attorney fees to resolve the case.

It’s better to spend some money for legal advice during the startup phase than a lot later to clean up a legal mess. You might be better off finding a law firm that has lawyers with a variety of specialties. Businesses often need lawyers with expertise in three areas of law.
• Business lawyers typically can help you with a variety of matters, including selecting the structure of your business, forming that entity in compliance with statutory requirements, assisting you with startup financing transactions and drafting your contract forms and legal documents. If you consider financing from the U.S. Small Business Administration, you may want to look for a lawyer experienced in these sophisticated transactions.
• Litigators may be needed if an outside party brings legal action against you or you decide to bring legal action against a third party.
• Employment attorneys will be needed if your company has employees. It is important for you to understand labor laws.

Finding an attorney
Word of mouth might be the best way to find an attorney or law firm that fits your needs. Trade associations and other organizations tied to your industry may also have suggestions. The Virginia State Bar has a referral service at


When evaluating lawyers, you will want to consider whether you want to hire a big or small firm. A large firm may be more expensive because of overhead costs, but the advantage of a large law firm is that you could find all of your legal needs in one firm. For example, your business could need advice on tax, intellectual property and employment law.

Once you have a list of attorneys or firms, meet face-to-face with them. Find out whether the firm has experience with businesses similar to yours and ask whether they keep abreast of statutory changes and judicial decisions.

Things you should consider when hiring a lawyer:
• Does the lawyer have experience with businesses that are similar to yours?
• Are the firm’s offices convenient? You will want your lawyer close by.
• Make sure you discuss costs and fees ahead of time. Most law firms charge on a per-hour basis, but some charge a flat fee. Many law firms will ask that you sign a fee-arrangement letter so that both parties fully understand the cost and fee structure ahead of time.
• His or her personality. You need to trust your lawyer, so it’s important to trust him or her.
• Is your lawyer communicative? You want your lawyer to be prompt in returning phone calls and emails. If they seem rushed during your meeting, they may be too busy for you. They also must be able to explain legal complexities clearly.

Virginia Lawyer Referral Service

The Virginia State Bar offers a referral service that matches people’s needs with lawyers’ expertise. The service is available by calling (804) 775-0808 during normal business hours. A referral specialist will listen to the caller’s needs and provide a name and telephone number of a lawyer in the caller’s community with expertise in that area. The client can set up an appointment with the lawyer. The original half hour consultation will cost $35.

Alternative resolutions
Court isn’t the only way to settle disputes that arise during business transactions. One option is mediation, where a neutral third party meets with the two parties to find a resolution without the expense of a court trial. A mediator can be found through your local chamber of commerce. Some law firms also have lawyers who specialize in alternative dispute resolution.
Another method is arbitration, which is essentially like a private court. The two parties present their cases to an arbitrator or an arbitration panel. Arbitrators’ decisions are binding, and they often hand down decisions more quickly than a judge does. Arbitration is another legal method that is cheaper than a court trial.

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