Hiring a lawyer can be a daunting task, especially if the only lawyer you know is Saul Goodman from ‘Better Call Saul’. Imagine that you needed a lawyer to review a legal contract for your business but didn’t know who to contact.
If you were to google “contract lawyer Ontario” you would get about 9,430,000 hits.
Trust me, I googled it. How do you narrow it down? And when you do narrow it down, how do you decide who to hire? What are the best questions to ask them? Will they be offended by these questions? How do you decide who you’ll work best with? Ahhhhhhhh! It can all be a bit much!
The following 5 questions are essential when hiring a lawyer:
1. What is your specialty?
If you needed heart surgery, you wouldn’t work with a dermatologist. The same goes for lawyers. You don’t want to hire a family lawyer if you have a business law question. There are many lawyers who are generalists; there are others who specialize in a certain area of law. Seek out lawyers who have experience with your issue. I always let my client know that my specialty is drafting commercial agreements such as those listed here.
2. How much do you charge?
This sounds obvious but it really is a super important question. Lawyers and their fees are the root of all bad lawyer jokes. Many, many lawyers charge by the hour. Ask them what their hourly rate is as well as an estimate of how many hours it will take to complete your mandate. Some lawyers may not be able to provide you with an estimate so one alternative is to provide them with your budget first. Ask if they think they will be able to get the work done for that amount. If they think that they can, I suggest asking them to let you know when they are getting close to your budget and definitely to let you know when they cannot do the work within your budget. Communication about your budget is key.
No one likes to be shocked when they receive a bill. It just adds fuel to the “lawyer walks into a bar” jokes.
An alternative to the hourly rate is the flat fee. Not all lawyers offer this type of billing but make sure to ask. A lawyer may be willing to take on your file for a flat fee, regardless of the number of hours that it will take to get the work done.
3. What is your turnaround time?
If you need an answer by this Friday, ask the lawyer if they can get it done in that time. If that does not work with the lawyer, you may need to look elsewhere.
4. Can you provide me with references?
Yes, you can ask a lawyer for references. If they are offended by that question, I would wonder whether that lawyer is right for you. As with all references that are provided, view them with an air of caution. Remember that the lawyer has cherry-picked these references. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t contact the people that they provide as references, but you might also want to do some digging on your own to find people who have worked with them to find out what they have to say. A great resource for that is Linkedin. Check to see if you have any connections in common who can provide you with some honest feedback.
5. Who will be working on my file?
Lawyers who work in firms with multiple lawyers often pass files on to junior lawyers to do the work. In some cases, this can be a cost savings as the junior lawyer would charge less per hour; however, use caution with these types of arrangements. You do not want to be on the hook for paying the junior lawyer to get up to speed on a new area of law. Not cool. Sometimes, the more senior lawyer can do it much faster which might actually make it cheaper in the long run.
Whoever you choose to represent you, keep in mind that as your business grows, so will your need for legal services. The lawyer that you hire today may grow with you and become your business’ trusted advisor. So make sure that not only do they know what they are talking about, but also that you enjoy working with them. Saul Goodman is an interesting character but might not be your best choice for the long haul.
Are there any other questions that you would ask when searching for a new lawyer? Let me know in the comments!