Legal counsel is something some business owners think they can’t afford or think is an option. Let me assure you now that it is not. Whether you have an in-house legal counsel, in-house legal department or have to hire an outside counsel, legal counsel is essential to having and keeping a successful business that makes money.
The presence of a legal counsel separates the professionals from the hobbyists and amateurs, especially in the entertainment industry. If you hope to make a living in your business, you will need legal counsel sooner or later. Just as you wouldn’t perform your own surgery, you should not do legal work yourself. Here are some guidelines on finding the right counsel for you.
Know what you are looking for
Lawyers, just like anybody else, are not a monolithic group. Some lawyers handle writing the paperwork and translating it (known as transactional attorneys) while others file lawsuits and argue in court (known as litigators). Transactional lawyers are not the same as litigators; these areas call for different skill sets that may or may not be applicable to your present needs.
Don’t just hire the cheapest
A legal service such as LegalZoom is not the same as an attorney. These services only allow you to fill out paperwork that you select and pick. They are not allowed to give you legal advice or tell you what you should do in a particular situation (like whether to register a business as an LLC or a C-corp or a S-corp); this is where the attorney comes in.
Like anything else in life, more experienced counsel costs more money. Certain tasks are not going to be performed for free. Do you perform your services for free? If not, don’t expect an attorney who has undergone years of schooling and has had to pay considerable fees each year to keep a state license, to work for free.
Also, consider that small mistakes can cost a lot more when they lead to your company or you personally being sued or losing rights to a product. Would you prefer to pay a few thousand dollars for a transactional attorney or pay 5 to 6 figures to defend a lawsuit?
Consider personality over pedigree
One thing that is extremely important, but isn’t taught in law school, is personality. The most important thing a lawyer can do and the hallmark of a good working relationship is care about trying to help you. It doesn’t matter what law school the lawyer went to or what firm (s)he works at if the lawyer doesn’t listen to your concerns, show empathy or care about your case/task at hand.
As an entertainment attorney, I’ve found that it’s crucial to be the kind of attorney a client feels comfortable discussing issues with instead of being seen as an intrusion or an outsider they can’t relate to. Find somebody you can relate to and build rapport with so you can trust this person.
Ask trusted sources or read online reviews of counsel/firms
The best way to find out if a particular lawyer will work hard for you is to ask people who have worked with that person before. You can also read reviews on sites such as Yelp or Avvo but try to find out as much information as possible on a given attorney and look for themes over multiple reviews and conversations. Just as you’d research a new product or ingredient or concept, you should do the same for a potential attorney. You can also go to Avvo or state bar websites to make sure the attorney is licensed in good standing in a particular state.
If you follow these steps, you should be able to find the proper legal counsel for your needs and that will help your business flourish.
Monica Trombley is a licensed attorney in NY, CT, SDNY and EDNY who was Production Executive/In-House Counsel of an independent film company in NYC for over 9 years. She is also an actress/singer/writer/model and appearance attorney who can be found at www.monicatrombley.com.
Photo credit: George Pagan @gpaganstudio