It’s a question that’s plagued every business owner at some point or another: “…do I need to hire a business lawyer?”
Business lawyers can be valuable no matter what your business is going through—whether you’re just getting started as a small business owner or are facing a business litigation suit / legal issue. However, a good rule of thumb to follow is this: the longer you wait to hire a business attorney, the more challenging your legal situation can become.
The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be more applicable. If you hire a business lawyer early in a business, partnership, or dispute, you can save yourself a lot of stress in the long run.
Do You Need a Business Lawyer to Start Your Business?
Legally speaking, no: you are not required to hire a business attorney just to start a business. In fact, South Carolina Business One Stop (SCBOS) offers a free, government-provided guide for individuals who are interested in starting a business in the state. This comprehensive guide outlines our state’s rules as they pertain to starting various types of businesses—from sole proprietorships to corporations.
Although this guide is very thorough, there are still many nuances when it comes to starting a business that can be easily overlooked. And as a business owner, chances are you don’t have time to weed through statutes and rules to make sure you’re following the process exactly.
A reliable business lawyer can walk you through the process of forming your new business, including:
- Helping you navigate forms and legal documents
- Advising you as to to the form of your business and the legal documents you will need to govern it.
- Protecting your name and reputation
- Handling the challenges so you can focus on your business
So while it’s certainly possible to form a business on your own, a business lawyer can streamline the process significantly. And by being proactive and consulting a business attorney when you start your company, you’re setting the stage for a healthy attorney-client relationship down the line should you ever have any business litigation needs.
What is Business Litigation?
Business litigation refers to any type of dispute that could arise in a business setting. In the beginning, it may seem far-fetched that you’d need a business attorney for litigation purposes—you certainly have no intent on getting in a fight with anyone. But good intentions are not enough and, unfortunately, litigation expenses have become part of the costs of running a successful business in America.
Every day business owners find themselves in business litigation situations that require a business attorney. And when the time comes, you want to make sure your company is well-protected by a business attorney that you trust.
Situations That Require a Business Litigation Attorney:
A contract dispute occurs when one party has a disagreement regarding contract terms, definitions, or performance. And when you’re running a business, the types of contracts that you have can run the gamut. Different types of contracts include:
- Employment contracts
- Purchase agreements
- Vendor agreements
- Non-compete agreements
- Sale of a business
- Operating agreements
- Service agreements
Whether you are being accused of violating an agreement or another party has failed to uphold their end of the contract, navigating a business dispute on your own will often lead to less than optimal outcomes.
Further, in South Carolina, businesses are often required to hire an attorney to represent them in court and cannot be represented by the owner or members of the business “pro se.” You should consult an attorney to determine whether your business is required to have a lawyer in court.
Intellectual Property Infringement
As a business owner, you don’t only have rights to your business’ physical property. Intellectual property law secures your rights to your trademark, logo, business name, and reputation.
If an individual or business is using your intellectual property without your permission, it is known as infringement. If you find yourself a victim of infringement, it makes sense to consult a business attorney for advice on whether to take legal action.
What may be less evident, however, is that you should consider retaining a business attorney prior to infringement actually occurring. By establishing a relationship with a business lawyer early on, you can be more proactive and handle a bad situation much more swiftly.
It’s a good idea to have a comprehensive exit strategy before you find yourself in the middle of a messy business breakup. In the heat of the moment, personal relationships may have deteriorated and finances are stretched thin, so it can be difficult to think rationally.
There’s no doubt that every business is unique—there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to a business breakup. In the end, everyone wants to walk away from the situation with a favorable outcome and with the business’ assets being preserved.
A business lawyer can help you navigate the difficult waters of a business separation.
No matter what your situation looks like, you don’t want to hire just any business attorney. It’s crucial to consult the appropriate resources and ask the right questions when you hire a lawyer.
How to Hire a Business Lawyer
In the Upstate of SC, there are many business law firms to choose from. It may seem intimidating to make such a big decision for your business, but hiring a business attorney is a lot like selecting a vendor for any other business function.
You might start by conducting an online search or asking other trusted business owners for their recommendations. While that will narrow your choices, there are quite a few factors you should consider before even reaching out to a business attorney:
What Law Qualifications Do They Have?
All South Carolina lawyers must meet some minimum qualifications to be eligible to practice law in our state. These include:
- Earn a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from an ABA-Accredited law school in the United States
- Pass the South Carolina Bar Exam
These qualifications help ensure that South Carolinians are well-protected by their attorneys, and that attorneys are held to a certain standard before representing clients. However, it is reasonable that you would expect your business lawyer to have more than just the minimum qualifications.
Luckily, there are lots of ways that lawyers can distinguish themselves in their field. Attorneys can earn peer review ratings from legal organizations, earn awards from local area publications, and join professional organizations that can further their professional careers. Some examples to look for include:
- Being AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell
- Being recognized in Greenville Business Magazine’s Legal Elite
- Being recognized in Super Lawyers
- Being a member of a specialty organization like the Claims and Litigation Management (CLM) Alliance, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), or the local bar association.
What Experience Do They Have?
While awards and recognitions are certainly important and speak to the professionalism and quality of a business attorney, nothing is quite as profound as experience. When you hire a business lawyer, you should completely trust that they both have your best interest in mind and are capable of getting you a desirable result.
Attorneys may not disclose certain confidential client details, but there are ways that law firms can highlight their experience without compromising their clients’ protected information. Many business attorneys in particular highlight recent trials and/or settlements on their websites. You should ask your attorney questions about their relevant experience.
If this information isn’t readily available on a law firm’s website, don’t hesitate to ask about recent trial experience or notable cases on which they’ve worked. You deserve to know as much as possible about a business lawyer before deciding whether they’re a good fit to represent your company.
What Fee Structure Do They Use?
Business attorneys’ fees can take on various forms. Before you hire an attorney to represent your business, you should discuss the fee structure used by that particular firm and decide whether or not it works for you. Some common fee structures include:
- Hourly rate: Many business attorneys calculate their service fees using an hourly rate. As the name describes, your business will be invoiced for any time an attorney spends working on your case or meeting with you in person.
- Flat fee: With a flat fee structure, a firm will charge you one overall fee for an entire case.
- Contingency fees: A contingency fee means that you don’t pay the lawyer unless your case earns a favorable financial outcome.
Once you’ve conducted sufficient research about a business attorney’s recognition, experience, and fee structure, you will be able to narrow down the most fitting law firm for your business. At this point, you should plan on scheduling an in-person interview to get to know the attorney better. Online research and word-of-mouth recommendations are certainly valuable, but in the end nothing can replace your impression.
Do You Need a Business Lawyer?
Whether you find yourself at the very beginning of your business’ journey or somewhere in the middle, you will likely require a business lawyer at some point or another. When it comes to your business, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Consulting a business attorney before you’re in the trenches of a difficult situation might seem unnecessary, but it can make all the difference in the long run. Learn more about ETB and how we can help you.