HIRING AN ATTORNEY Try to find a partner:

June 26, 2006

Every business, large or small, should establish a relationship with an attorney. I always recommend that such a "partnership" be put in place before legal services are needed.

Why do you really need an attorney?

In a perfect world, you wouldn't. Entrepreneurs can go to the Indiana Secretary of State's Web site and find all of the forms necessary to form a business structure. They can review the laws that pertain to their businesses by surfing the Internet. They can keep abreast of any law changes by constantly reviewing legislative or court actions.

But if an entrepreneur is doing all of this filing, searching and reviewing, not much time is left to run the business.

So how can you find the right one?

The same way you'd find a doctor, a plumber or a car dealer-shop around. Ask friends, relatives and business associates for recommendations, then call your top prospects to ask for a free interview.

Most attorneys will meet with you the first time at no charge. If you call one who won't do this, move on to the next one on your list. The interview gives you a chance to see if this is a person with whom you would like to do business. It gives you a chance to see if this attorney has a practice that will meet your business needs. And, it gives you a chance to review rate schedules.

Selecting an attorney in the early stages of a business venture is much like estate planning: You don't want to wait until you are on your deathbed to make plans. Do it when you have time to really think.

Start the relationship with something easy and non-stressful, like determining and setting the structure of your company.

Just like yearly visits to your doctor, go in for periodic "check-ups" and keep everything current. Then, if or when something happens-a lawsuit or a summons from the IRS, for example-you can pick up the phone and get your legal "partner" involved.

Choosing and working with an attorney early in your venture may cost you some money, but like any other investment in your company, it is merely a cost of doing business. And it can save you lots of money and grief in the years to come.

Long is a SCORE counselor and chairman of the Indianapolis SCORE Chapter. He retired after 35 years with RCA/Thomson, where he held a number of management positions.
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