Securing competent legal counsel is a must. Below are tips on how you can find the right attorney for you and your business.
In my last article, I discussed a strategy for limiting long-term legal fees and how paying for lawyers should be considered a cost of doing business and an important component of a risk-management strategy. Here, I will outline the four sources you can use to identify competent legal counsel and offer one caveat.
- Word of Mouth
Ninety-nine percent of all the clients I have come through referrals from existing and former clients. Word of mouth referrals from family, friends, and business colleagues you can trust, even in this post-modern age of the internet and social media, continues to be the most reliable source for locating legal talent. So, your first stop to locating competent counsel should be to consult your own trusted network. But a word of caution here: Just because a person recommends their Trust and Estate’s attorney does not mean that that attorney is necessarily appropriate for intellectual property or tax advice. So, vetting a counsel recommended by a close friend is still advised because, even if that attorney is not the right fit for your project, they could still be a great resource for finding relevant legal talent.
- Check with Bar Associations
Almost every attorney is a member of a bar association, like the American Bar Association or a state, county, or even city bar association. Very often a lawyer is also a member of a bar association committee. Members of the public may be able to access the names and contact information of the types of committees a bar association sponsors and the names of committee members. Usually, the heads of a bar committee are identified, and their contact information provided. Sometimes, this information can be obtained by way of calling up the bar association’s main office. The point is that members of bar committees and chairs of those committees are likely to be solid attorneys and good legal citizens. Moreover, because bar associations have committee structures that may make it easier to locate the type of legal talent you want. So, if you do not know anyone who has legal contacts, bar associations can be a great resource.
As an aside, many bar associations provide pro bono (that is, free) legal services to fiscally challenged clients confronting certain circumstances. It is worth investigating such programs as some may involve helping small businesses and entrepreneurs.
- Check with Business Organizations
Local business groups, like chambers of commerce, county business associations, etc., may also have information on hand about local business attorneys. SCORE, one of the largest organizations dedicated to mentoring new businesses may also be a resource for finding lawyers who may also be business mentors.
- Look at Super Lawyer Publications
At least in New York, there are magazine sections annually published that purport to identify “Super Lawyers” in the Metro-New York region. These “Super Lawyers” are supposed to be the best lawyers, categorized by specialty. According to these publications, the attorneys selected to be “Super Lawyers” are highly vetted according to specified criteria. As with every other source, consulting a Super Lawyer-type publication is not foolproof, but will identify many of the top attorneys in your area. Again, even if attorneys located through these types of publications are not the right fit, they may well know colleagues who might be.
And now, one big caveat:
Beware of the Internet!
Sometimes, you can locate competent counsel through the internet. This may be more likely if you are searching for information about attorneys in “Big Law” firms. “Big law” firms—which include some of the largest and most prestigious firms in the world—have budgets to create very comprehensive websites, containing information on their attorneys. The problem is that such firms, primarily represent large businesses and can charge top dollar for their services.
As for small firms and sole practitioners who have an internet presence, the information on them can be spotty. I recommend that if you locate an attorney on the internet, you should be prepared to do some additional research on them; like sounding out friends and colleagues to ascertain if anyone has heard of them, seeking out articles they may have written, or investigating their bar association affiliations. Should you move to the next step and contact such attorneys, do not retain them until you have had the opportunity to check out their references. You may also want to contact your state and county bar grievance committees to see whether a client has filed a grievance against the attorney. In sum, locating counsel through a cold search of the internet is not a recommended practice because the presence of misinformation is at such a high level. If you cannot find third-party corroboration of the bona fides of an attorney located through the net, move on.
A word about rating sites: As with everything on the internet, be wary of sites that purport to rate attorneys. Many of these sites use algorithms—think search engine optimization (SEO)—to find certain types of information, some of which may be out of date or completely erroneous. Also, as with SEO rankings, a rating may reflect more a lawyer’s presence on the internet than their quality of work. Some sites give bonus points to lawyers who field questions from readers free of charge. Some sites give bonus points for the posting of favorable client reviews, which can be helpful, but which may also be one-sided. The upshot is that online ratings need to be considered in the context of other information about the attorney in question, and not be completely relied on as an indicator either of client satisfaction with the attorney or the attorney’s quality of work.
Good luck with your search!