6 Steps to Choosing an Attorney
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Sooner or later, you will probably need legal advice for your business. A seasoned attorney can help with everything from contracts and copyright protection to outlining an approach for employee benefits.

Whether you need help with one specific matter or ongoing legal advice, it's crucial to find the right attorney. This means finding one who understands you and your business. The following six steps can guide you through the process of choosing an attorney:

1. Ask for referrals

Referrals from other business owners can be a good starting point, helping you choose attorneys who are familiar with the needs and budgets of small businesses like yours. Your banker, accountant or business associations are also good resources.

Check the website of anyone you are considering so you can learn about their area of expertise. Also, look for a list of representative clients to see if it includes businesses similar to yours. Search the Internet for articles or blog entries written by the attorney that can give you a sense of their personality and depth of knowledge. Local review sites such as Yelp can give you a better overall picture of the attorney and reveal any red flags.

2. Review qualifications

After you've identified some promising attorneys, be sure to take the time to interview them. Ask what they charge for an initial consultation — some offer this for free, while others may charge a fee. Look deeper into the areas where you need help. For example, if you want an attorney to prepare contracts and legal forms, ask for samples of the kinds of legal forms that may be used for your business.

It may be beneficial to choose an attorney who has working relationships with outside specialists who can complement their expertise. For example, designers who want to register products for trademark and copyright protection might wish to choose an attorney who works with an intellectual property specialist. These types of connections can provide access to broader expertise and move matters forward more quickly.

3. Assess communication skills

Your future attorney may be helping you work through complex issues affecting your business, so you will want someone who can listen to your concerns and clearly explain your legal options. Start assessing these qualities from your first call or meeting. Do the prospective attorneys give you their undivided attention? Do they show you that they have the skills to resolve your matter? Move on if the answer to either question is no.

4. Request rates

Find out if the attorneys have flat rates or if they charge by the hour — either way, they should be able to provide a reasonable estimate for any potential service. Ask about smaller charges that could add up, such as phone and email time in between face-to-face meetings. To keep your costs down, see if certain tasks, such as research, could be handled by an associate or a paralegal for a lower hourly rate.

5. Consider a retainer arrangement

Depending on the amount of legal services you need, you may decide it's better to pay a retainer fee so you have access to an attorney's services on an ongoing basis. Some attorneys offer discounted hourly rates for taking retainers, which can lower your legal bills. Review the retainer agreement carefully. Understand which services the retainer fee covers, how they are priced and when additional fees would be charged if you enter heavy litigation.

6. Check references

You may want to request client references from any attorneys you are seriously considering. Ask the references how accessible and skilled the attorney is, if they are satisfied with the attorney's billing practices and whether the attorney listens to their concerns. You may think you're ready to choose an attorney after conducting your interviews, but talking with people he or she has worked with can help you make a better-informed final decision.

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This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and irs.gov for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.