The primary role of a business attorney involves providing advice and other legal services that affect various aspects of a business. In general, business attorneys ensure that companies are in compliance with various business regulations and that all operations in a company are aboveboard.
Business attorneys typically assist with matters, such as conflict resolution, corporate law issues, business formation, compliance, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and many other types of legal issues that come up when running a business.
One important thing to keep in mind about business attorneys is that they do not specialize in handling the same legal issues as employment lawyers. Remember, business attorneys are concerned with business operations and the overall structure of a business. Employment, lawyers, on the other hand, deal with issues like employment discrimination and employment contract disputes.
What Types of Cases do Business Attorneys Handle?
Generally speaking, business attorneys typically possess a broad range of skills and are thus equipped to handle various types of business-related matters. Some examples of common legal issues that business attorneys may encounter on a daily basis include:
- Business and/or contract disputes;
- Real estate or business property issues;
- Registration of intellectual property (e.g., copyrights, trademarks, patents, etc.);
- Improper use of protected data (e.g., privacy matters, security breaches, information governance, etc.);
- Conflicts in connection with the sale and purchase of companies, stocks, securities, and so forth;
- Compliance with business regulations and other relevant laws;
- Registration of business structure, federal and state tax identification numbers, and necessary licenses; and/or
- Interstate and international business issues (e.g., transportation of goods, etc.).
As is evident from the above list, business attorneys can provide a whole host of legal services. Depending on the issue, this may entail performing tasks that are transactional in nature, such as drafting contracts and preparing business tax filings, or those involving case-based work like representing a client in court or negotiating terms to reach a settlement agreement.
What Other Issues Do Business Attorneys Handle?
Some other less common issues that a business attorney may handle include:
- Transferring ownership or shares in a company;
- Overseeing the “wind-up” process (i.e., the procedures required to dissolve a company);
- Helping a company to adjust to certain changes in the law or new ownership;
- Assisting in changing the structure of a company (e.g., going from an LLC to filing as a C corporation); and/or
- Reviewing, drafting, and negotiating miscellaneous business contracts.
Many of the aforementioned issues and tasks that business attorneys handle on a daily basis may also depend on the size of the business and its industry. For instance, a small business attorney may be hired to handle every aspect of a small business or startup company. This may include anything from structuring the company to reviewing compliance issues on a regular basis.
On the other hand, business attorneys who work for large corporations may specialize in certain areas of the business. For instance, there may be an entire in-house team of legal professionals who only handle compliance matters, or the corporation may choose to only hire outside counsel for litigation purposes.
Finally, business attorneys’ wide range of knowledge concerning legal issues that affect businesses, may also make them a good candidate to serve as an expert in a lawsuit. For example, if the court or a party needs more information about a particular type of business practice, an experienced business attorney can be hired and consulted as an expert witness.
What Should I Consider When Hiring a Business Attorney?
There are many factors to consider when hiring a business attorney. The following list provides some general guidelines that may help when searching for the right business lawyer:
- Credentials and specializations: While it may not be necessary to hire the best lawyer in the country to file paperwork to form a Limited Liability Company (“LLC”), corporations that are involved in multi-billion dollar mergers will most likely want the sharpest lawyers negotiating on their behalf. Also, a general business lawyer can file LLC paperwork, but a party may want to specifically hire a corporate lawyer for a merger.
- Thus, to narrow down a search, start looking for attorneys who specialize in the area of law that the issue falls under and determine whether their credentials (e.g., what law school they graduated from) matter.
- Attorney fees: Before officially hiring an attorney, ask how much their fees are and how they are structured (e.g., flat rate, hourly, etc.). In continuing with the above example, a person should not be billed $1,000 per hour to simply file LLC paperwork, but they may be billed at that rate for a major corporate merger. It may also help to have a budget in mind when conducting the search.
- Research: Conduct background research on the attorney. Read firm bios, look for reviews from other clients, talk to other lawyers, ask for recommendations from friends and family, check out attorney rating websites, and so on. Oftentimes, a person can find a good lawyer through word-of-mouth recommendations.
- Location: Though not every legal issue will require hiring a lawyer who practices in the same state, a person should strive to find one that is as near to their residence or legal issue as possible. This way they will not have to search for a new business lawyer if a dispute occurs and they need to appear in court. Also, depending on the issue, a local lawyer may be a better option if the matter involves the laws of a specific jurisdiction.
- Firm/Resources: Aside from researching the lawyer, clients should also research their firm and what other resources they can bring to the table. For instance, can the firm introduce them to potential business partners, future clients, or other types of lawyers. Find out whether the firm regularly deals with the issue at hand and what their success rate has been in the past on such matters.
- Reason for hiring: Always know exactly why an attorney is being hired. This can help focus the above factors, which in turn, will narrow down the search and may also reveal how long the professional relationship should last. For example, a startup may want to hire a lawyer who will manage everything from its filing status to raising money to future employment issues.
- In contrast, a small business owner may only need to hire a lawyer for a short amount of time, such as when they need some quick advice on taxes or one-time assistance with filing their business’s trademark application.
Sometimes a prospective attorney may check all of these boxes, but for whatever reason, a client may not feel comfortable working with them. If nothing else, it is crucial for a client to not only be able to work with the attorney they hire, but also trusts that they will help them make the right decisions. As such, while it may not be an exact science, there are some instances where a client may be better off trusting their intuition above all else.
Should I Hire a Business Lawyer?
Although not every situation will require the assistance of a business lawyer, there are certain issues where it may be in your best interest to hire a local business lawyer for further legal advice. For instance, you may want to consider retaining a lawyer if you encounter a legal issue that needs to be addressed in court. Under these circumstances, a lawyer will not only be useful in providing advice, but can also help you prepare a case and provide representation in court.
Another scenario that may require the assistance of a business lawyer is if you need help with either starting or selling a business. Filing the paperwork to form a company may seem like a straightforward and uncomplicated task at first, but you may want to speak to a lawyer before doing so because they can provide valuable guidance on the relationship between taxes and certain business structures.
Additionally, your attorney can also explain why a particular business structure may work better for your specific company, which may lead to creating a more successful company as well as can help prevent future losses.