What do lean, mean startups, established mid-sized businesses and mammoth corporations have in common?
If you’re running a business and you haven’t been sued, congratulations – you’re in an elite, rarified minority. If you have been sued, Business Litigation is the inevitable path you must take to protect your company, employees, intellectual property and, potentially, your own personal assets.
But before you send a retainer check or sign legal representation documents, make absolutely certain that your chosen law firm is the best choice for your case. Here are four things that set good Business Litigation Attorneys apart from others:
1. Realistic look at outcome
By the time you sit down to discuss your lawsuit with your potential attorney, you’re most likely fixated on your chances of winning. Is it 50/50? 25%? 75% — if you’re lucky? Solid corporate, small business or startup Business Litigation lawyers will be very honest about your chances, even if it means losing business. In other words, if your gut instinct and research says your chances of winning are low, and the attorney across the desk promises the moon, stars, and a smashing, deeply improbable victory, they’re not the legal team for you.
2. Transparency in billing
Let’s face it: a lot of time will need to spent by your law firm to fight court battles, prepare and respond to discovery requests, and counsel you along the way, among a litany of other tasks. In doing so, typical Business Litigation Attorneys will charge on an hourly basis for any attorney or staff time involved in your matter. The billing is generally based on 1/10th hour increments, although some law firms bill in 1/4 hour increments. This means that if your attorney writes a one minute email, you’re still going to end up paying for a minimum of 6 minutes of their time, while some attorneys may change as much as 15 minutes for that one minute email.
Be sure to watch out for a blended billing rate. This means that all lawyers and staff are somehow created equal and have the same billing rate or, worse yet, you’re working with a solo attorney who has no legal backup or support staff. This doesn’t mean that you should only consider large law firms, since they can tend to overcompensate with too much staff. There is a fair and practical happy medium, which are small-to-mid size boutique law firms. These firms are comprised of (roughly) 5-40 attorneys, practicing within various disciplines, setup with managing partners and associate-level attorneys, and supported by paralegal and assistants. Law firms of this size and nature tend to be effective and efficient in their delivery of legal services, since they have enough professionals within their own firm to deal with even the most complex matters, yet they have a vertical structure of counsel and staff, which allows them to delegate tasks to the most appropriate person, based on skill-set required.
An ethical Business Litigation law firm will also be upfront about its own fees, expenses, and will deliver a monthly statement with every time entry and expense clearly outlined. With that said, it may be difficult for even an experienced law firm to provide an estimate of fees at the outset of your matter, since litigation is, by its very nature, unpredictable.
3. Relevant experience
Many law offices practice multiple types of law. This means that technically you can walk into some law offices and have a Revocable Living Trust drafted, create a Marital Agreement or register Patents in a single day. Your Business Litigation Attorney or team should be comprised of attorneys with at least 5-10 years of both transactional and litigation experience. They should have relevant experience in business law and strategy, as well as courtroom expertise in simple and complex business cases. In other words, if your attorney only settles business lawsuits early in the game, and has never made a single court appearance on behalf of any company, look elsewhere for counsel.
4. Competent people leading your case
You’ve met your dream attorney and you’re extremely impressed with their experience and accomplishment in the Business Litigation arena. However, does the attorney have a backup team in place? Business Litigation, whether simple or complex, may drag on for years. Make sure that attorney you’ve chosen has a team that can step into your attorneys shoes, just in case s/he is unavailable for a specific motion, or even take over the case, in case of some unforeseen circumstance that prevents your attorney from continuing to lead your case.
Business Litigation can be like a high-stakes game of skill and strategy, with plenty of perilous chances for significant, devastating loss. If you truly value your company, your employees, your products and your assets, never gamble on a law firm that lacks the above criteria.