How Small Businesses Can Afford Legal Counsel

By Drew Stevens - August 9, 2019 - Corporate & Business

Legal advice for small business can be a very mixed bag for some. For certain small and medium sized businesses, quality legal advice can be absolutely critical. Business owners may need the input of a Columbus small business attorney to help negotiate and draft contracts, deal with employment issues, form and restructure legal entities, or buy or sell a business.

However, some businesses view quality legal service as cost prohibitive, and at times, this perspective can be very justified. Unfortunately, we occasionally hear the horror stories of poor attorney communication, work product with obvious errors, and legal fees that skyrocket into the tens of thousands of dollars with no forewarning.

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Finding an experienced, high-quality Columbus business law attorney should not be difficult and cost prohibitive. Below, we offer some tips and points to consider when looking for a business lawyer.

Beware of Flat Fees

The cliché of “you get what you pay for” can be especially applicable to flat fee legal services. While you may think that a flat fee may offer budgetary peace of mind, your flat fee may end up costing you more in the long run.

Often times, law firms that crank out legal documents for flat fees are using generic templates. There is no incentive to tailor a contract or document to your particular business and industry or correct time-consuming issues. The pursuit of profitability means getting your legal issue out the door as quickly as possible, and then moving to the next matter.

The hidden cost of flat fees can sometimes not be immediately obvious. In more than a few instances, we receive requests for new business contracts or substantial overhauls because the flat fee work that was done in the past did not take into account specific industry requirements or key facts central to the business itself.

For example, we’ve had to help software companies with their services agreements where the existing terms did not fully address important issues such as intellectual property ownership, scope of maintenance and support, and limitations of liability for the business.

Additionally, small businesses may find that flat fee work may bring additional costs. Surprise invoices can arrive in the mail for “listen to voicemail” or for charges for the flat fee firm fixing typos or issues that were created by the firm in the first place.

Granted though, there are certain legal areas where flat fee pricing is the norm. Patents, wills and trusts, and certain real estate legal closing costs are all great examples of areas where flat fees can be de rigueur and offer tremendous value to a client. However, beware of an insistence on flat fees for work outside of these areas, especially transactional work.

Hourly Rates

Do not be afraid to be upfront and ask about hourly rates and how a firm handles billing. Quality legal services can be one of the most significant and expensive purchases your business makes. You should completely understand how billing works and be comfortable with the hourly rate structure. Ask in what increments does the firm bill in? Does the firm round up time? What counts as billable work? When and how often do invoices get sent out?

Ask for an Estimate

Ideally, the Columbus business attorney you hire will have experience working on your particular issue. Though unknowns and intangibles are often inevitable in certain legal and business transactions, an experienced business lawyer will be able to give an accurate range for how much time it will take to complete the matter, with particular practice areas. Whether the estimate is 3-4, 10-15, or 40-50 hours, an accurate estimate is much preferred to the shrug and an answer of “it’s difficult to say at this stage.”

Some legal areas, due to their nature, are indeed very difficult to predict. Complex business litigation in particular often involves a number of moving components that make estimating almost impossible at times. Prolonged discovery, responding to motions (sometimes meritless motions) from opposing counsel, and protracted settlement negotiations can greatly affect the time involved in a case.

Other areas though can often easily be estimated by experienced counsel. Reviewing contracts, drafting contracts, M&A transactions, and intellectual property protection actions are all areas where estimates can be given with reasonable accuracy.

Personality, Accessibility, and Fit

At times, you and your lawyer will be working on very stressful issues. Do you have to call your lawyer’s office seven times to get a return phone call or do you get same-day communication? Does your lawyer consistently miss or meet deadlines? Do you enjoy talking and working with your attorney, or does he/she have the personality of a wet cardboard box? You should enjoy talking and working with your counsel. If you’re not getting the right vibe during the initial interview, run away.

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Quality legal counsel can be much more affordable than most small business think. By taking the time to interview multiple firms, compare experience and expertise, and asking informed questions about billing and estimates, you can find a Columbus business lawyer that is right for you.

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