Business litigations generally occur as a result of improperly executed business transactions as well as disputes and misunderstandings from existing business relationships. Of the total civil caseload handled by state trial courts across the United States in 2018, over 50% involved disputes from business transactions, with matters involving contracts and small claims accounting for the highest number of these cases. During this same period, 23,106 of the 779,828 bankruptcy filings in federal district courts were classified as business bankruptcy filings. Retaining the services of a business attorney near you is important because it helps you navigate the complexities of business or commercial relations and either avoid litigation or increase your chances in court if necessary. Business attorneys offer varying services, which include:
- Drafting, reviewing, and negotiating business agreements
- Advising how to best maximize contract terms
- Advising how to proceed when there is a breach of contract by any of the relevant parties
- Carrying out due diligence for their clients on business-related matters such as property acquisitions
- Evaluating a possible case of bankruptcy and giving legal guidance
- Representing their clients in a litigation or dispute resolution process
The subject matter of business law cuts across a wide range of practice areas and this might make hiring the right business attorney seem like a daunting task. To satisfactorily verify the capabilities of a business attorney near you for your case, you should ask the following questions:
Where Are You Licensed to Practice Business Law in the State You Are?
To practice in a state or appear before a court, a business attorney must be licensed. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that any business attorney near you being considered is licensed to practice in your state before retaining the attorney's services. The procedure for licensing is similar across the United States, with some states having slight variations. Generally, to practice business law in a state, a person must obtain a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school and pass the state bar examination. To apply to the law school, the prospective candidate must first sit for a law school admission test (LSAT). In some states like California and Massachusetts, an attorney can obtain a law degree from a state bar-accredited or in-state law school, rather than an ABA-approved law school.
Some states have reciprocity agreements where attorneys from one state do not need to obtain additional licensing before practicing in another state's trial courts. For example, Virginia has reciprocity with states like Oregon, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Georgia. Also, in some cases, a state trial court may allow an attorney that lives or works out-of-state to represent a client in the state without any reciprocity agreement. This is known as a pro hac vice admission and it is done at the discretion of the court in question.
Similarly, the requirements for practicing in a federal court across the country also vary by location. To practice before a federal court, an attorney must be licensed to practice in the relevant state over which the federal court has jurisdiction and also be active and in good standing with that state's bar. However, many federal courts only allow representation from attorneys that are licensed by the state bar where they are located. Examples include the United States District Court Central District of California and the United States District Court District of Utah. Conversely, some federal courts, such as the United States Southern District Court of Texas, allows representation from attorneys that have been licensed and are in good standing with any state's bar.
There are important differences between federal and state courts, and the nature of a case largely determines what court hears the case. While most cases related to business law and relations typically fall under the jurisdiction of state courts, federal courts also have jurisdiction over certain cases, such as matters that involve bankruptcy. Therefore, ensuring a business attorney near you can appear before both state and federal courts is important and will determine how well they can represent you. You can also find out the licensing status of your business attorney through the ABA official website and Federal Courts Website Links.
What Kind of Business Law Work Do You Handle?
Business law is a vast area of law and many business attorneys specialize in specific subcategories. As a result, it is necessary to ask what area of business law your attorney has the most expertise in. Common subcategories of business law include:
- Contracts: Most business or commercial relations are based on contracts making it a fundamental aspect of business law. Accordingly, many business attorneys specialize in contract drafting, reviewing, or negotiation.
- Taxation: Business attorneys that specialize in taxation assist their clients in calculating and filing their taxes. They also advise their clients on tax obligations and other tax-related matters.
- Labor and employment relations: Some business attorneys focus on relationships between employers and employees. Depending on the client, they assist employers or employees to understand the contractual or legal duties and rights of either party and point out circumstances where there is a breach. They may also represent their clients in litigation or dispute resolution processes where necessary.
- Intellectual Property: Intellectual property is a wide subcategory of business law. It involves copyright, trademark, patents, and trade secrets. Typically, attorneys that specialize in this area secure the intellectual property rights of their clients and advise them on how to deal with these rights, in terms of assignments or granting of licenses. They also enforce these rights on behalf of their clients through legal means.
- Trusts and Estates: This involves the drafting of wills, division of estates, and trustee relations.
Due to the wide reach of business law, there are other areas such as anti-trust, bankruptcy, and securities, among others. As such, it is best to ascertain the specialty of any business attorney near you you are considering. While an attorney might have strong knowledge of multiple areas of business law, it is better to hire an attorney that specializes in an area relevant to your case.
How Long Have You Been in Practice?
Length of practice is a typical indicator of how experienced any business attorney near you is. Business attorneys with longer years under their belt are more poised to analyze situations, understand the procedural complexities of most courts and the leanings of some judges, and know the best approach towards a situation. Therefore, it is important that you find out how long your business attorney has been in practice and if your attorney's length of practice focuses on the area of business law relevant to your case. The American Bar Association recommends that you request a breakdown of your attorney's cases to help you deduce how much of this attorney's caseload involves cases that are similar to yours.
Do You Charge Fixed or Hourly Fees?
Knowing the charge rate of any attorney near you helps in deciding whether to retain their services or not. Typically, attorneys either charge flat fees or at an hourly rate. Flat fees vary, and they depend entirely on the attorney and the nature of the case or service requested. Attorneys that charge flat fees usually evaluate the case, it's possible cost in time and finances, and prescribe a fee. The range of fees depends on the service rendered. For example, the fee for drafting a commercial lease can range from $700 to $1000. For some attorneys, the prescribed fee covers everything concerning a service. For others, the prescribed fee covers some parts only. You might still pay for certain things such as the required fees for filings.
Conversely, some attorneys also charge at an hourly rate. Anytime spent generally handling the case, including preparing arguments and pleadings, is calculated under the hourly rate. Hourly rates may range from $100 to $1,000, and they also depend on the attorney, the nature of the case, as well as your location. Note that four-figure hourly rates are rare and are typically demanded by top-tier law firms. Also, attorneys that charge hourly fees typically require a retainer.
It is important to properly understand your attorney's preferred fee rate and seek clarity on anything that seems unclear to you. In cases of hourly rates, it is essential to request updates on work done so you decide if you are getting value for money. Alternatively, you can request detailed receipts of what you are being charged for.
Do You Charge for an Initial Consultation?
An initial consultation is a brief meeting between an attorney and a prospective client that involves a quick overview of a case or a particular service. Initial consultations are brief and typically span 30 minutes and when they are done, the client or attorney decides whether they want their attorney-client relationship to officially continue. Some attorneys give free consultation to clients, while others charge a flat fee for consultations.
Note that initial consultations do not usually involve an in-depth analysis of the case or legal issues. During this consultation, an attorney near you may offer legal advice, but this does not mean the attorney has taken up the case. There must be an express understanding between you and the attorney before an attorney-client relationship can begin.
How Do You Keep Clients Informed about Their Case?
An attorney is required to keep clients reasonably informed on the status of their case, according to the American Bar Association's Model Rules. This includes prompt information on any decisions or changes in the case. However, different attorneys or law firms have their preferred method and frequency of communication. The frequency might be weekly, bi-weekly, or only days when there is progress on the case. Also, some attorneys might prefer calls over emails. In any case, communicate with your attorney and conclude on the preferred frequency and method of communication. Particularly if you are paying at hourly rates, it might be better to request weekly updates to decide if you are getting value for money. You may also schedule occasional physical visits if the circumstances of the case require so.
On days when you need to make inquiries outside the agreed communication periods, you also need to establish whether you can still get direct access to your attorney. Depending on the attorney or the structure of the law firm, paralegal staff sometimes answer inquiries in such situations. Understanding the communication dynamics between you and your attorney is essential to the progress of your case, particularly in emergencies.
Who Will Actually Do the Work?
The structure of a law firm or an attorney's discretion determines how legal work is handled. Several things go into the preparation for a case. Research, legal drafting, and serving of processes are some of such things. Paralegals assist attorneys in handling some of these things, although they must be reasonably supervised by the attorney, per the American Bar Association's Model Rules. Communicate with your attorney to know the extent of paralegal involvement in your work. Note that the involvement of paralegal might not be included in your attorney fees and you may have to pay for their services separately. Always verify this with your business attorney.
Can You Provide References from Former Clients?
Upon request, a business attorney near you should be able to provide references from former clients with similar cases. References help you view your attorney from a different lens and also build trust. You can also find out whether your attorney has a good reputation, as some references contain the general conduct of the attorney throughout the legal process. Some attorneys have client references on their official websites which you can check. Additionally, you can contact the state's bar to inquire about the attorney's general conduct and find out if there have been any cases of misconduct. You may also find reviews of the attorney on d websites such as Better Business Bureau. Searching the attorney's name online is also helpful in getting information on your business attorney.
What Is Your Success Rate?
Asking your attorney about their success rate helps you evaluate your chances of getting your desired outcome. Due to the wide nature of business law, what is considered a success largely varies. In employment relations, for example, a job reinstatement or a settlement for wrongful termination may both be considered a success, depending on the case and the expectations of the parties involved. Communicating all the details of your case and your desired result to your business attorney is important to determine what you consider a success in your present situation.
You can have an overview of your attorney's success rate through references from former clients. You may also ask your attorney directly about their success in delivering the kind of result you want. Business attorneys typically have an idea of cases in their areas of expertise similar to yours that they have successfully handled.
Additionally, some business law cases such as bankruptcy cases, tax cases, and small claims are handled by specialized courts. This makes it easy to locate documents from cases handled by any attorney near you and evaluate the chances of getting a satisfactory result through the attorney. Note that some court documents might be exempt from public access or the court might require you to go through a verification process and pay certain fees before accessing them.
When Should I Hire a Business Attorney?
Simple business relationships such as buying and selling might not require a business attorney. However, things can get complex sometimes. If you are unsure whether you need a business attorney, then you probably need one. You can request a free consultation in some cases or pay for a brief consultation. If you are involved in constant business, it is ideal to retain a business attorney near you to help navigate possible legal issues and avoid the muddy waters of litigation.
Some of the services a business attorney offers include:
- Drafting and reviewing agreements
- Securing a mortgage
- Filing taxes
- Enforcing your rights under an agreement
- Securing your intellectual property rights
What Are the Typical Qualifications Held by a Business Attorney?
To practice law, any business attorney near you must first obtain a Juris Doctor degree. This is issued after graduating from a full three-year study in an ABA-approved law school and passing the state's bar examination. Besides ABA-approved law schools, some states like California also allow individuals that obtain a law degree from state-approved law schools to write the state's Bar examinations. Note that business attorneys who aim to practice in multiple states will need to acquire a practice license from each of these states. Aside from a license to practice, some business law attorneys also obtain certifications from ABA-approved organizations such as The American Board of Certification and the National Board of Trial Advocacy.