This is the last part of a five-part series will help answer the question “how do I know which lawyer is right for me?” by breaking the analysis down into vitally important component parts.
QUESTION 5: HOW DO I EVALUATE LAWYER COSTS?
There is no question that legal fees are a concern for growing contractors. There are many ways to analyze these fees. But what follows is the analytical framework that several business leaders have told me they use, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. Analyzing legal fees can be accomplished by reviewing the following four categories of need:
1) I am looking for a lawyer to be part of my company’s management, to have input on strategic decisions, to keep me out of trouble and help me grow/prepare for sale/etc. These contractors likely need to focus on finding an “outside general counsel” to be a stable, available strategic advisor and the legal fees should be considered in the same way as salary and incentives for a key company officer are evaluated. You do not want a rotating series of attorneys, but a single point of contact that gets to know your business. That work can be accomplished on a retainer basis with set monthly amounts no matter how many strategic legal questions you might have. Note that these arrangements involve up-front legal spend for the strategic advice, but generally lead to many fewer crises down the road.
2) I have a real problem that is “bet the company” big. This requires the most talented practitioner you can find (and afford) with expertise in the area. This is an area where cost matters less than expertise. The best lawyers in a particular area will be able to help mitigate your risks and keep you in business. That is worth a premium. But do not fall into a trap and believe that price equals quality. Find the best lawyer first, and be willing to pay for him or her in this situation.
3) I have occasional legal needs to fill. If you have the time and the bandwidth to do so, this is an area where seeking proposals can help you reduce costs with a variety of discounts or alternative fee arrangements.
4) I have ongoing compliance obligations where I need help with policies, procedures and periodic audits. This is a great area for lower rate providers with high skill levels to assist. The savings from the lower rates will help preserve cash for other business operations while the higher end capabilities will help prevent future emergencies. And, in the event an emergency does happen, you will have high quality compliance materials already in place both to guide your lawyers working “bet the company” issues, and to help argue for lower penalties and fines under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations. Note, this is not an area where the lowest cost should automatically get the work. It is too important an area from a corporate risk management standpoint for that. But there is also no need to pay the high-end rates. This is an area where you may want a highly qualified practitioner, but at a firm without the extreme overhead expenses.