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Unless you start your business as a sole proprietorship, you'll normally need an attorney's help to prepare a partnership agreement or set up your legal business entity. (For more information about forms of business structure, see the article How to Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business.) Most experts also recommend consulting with an attorney to make sure you obtain the necessary licenses, permits and contracts for your type of business.
Although some lawyers have a general practice that covers most areas of law, most lawyers choose to focus on one or a few types of legal issues. Because of this, one lawyer may not be able to handle all of the legal needs that arise during the lifetime of your business.
Here are some of the types of lawyers that small businesses may need to consult with:
So how do you find the right attorney for your business? If there's a lawyer you've used before and liked, such as the lawyer who helped you establish your business, it's a good idea to contact that lawyer first. If that lawyer can't help you with your current issue, he or she may be able to refer you to another lawyer in his or her firm, or to a lawyer at another firm.
Bar associations can also make referrals, but they will not be able to provide specific information about any of their members. You can also get recommendations from other small business owners or from professionals like accountants and bankers. Create a short list of candidates, and then make appointments to evaluate which you feel most comfortable working with.
Questions you should ask include:
Don't be afraid to "shop around" for an attorney with the right blend of experience, skills, and personality. Your goal is to find a lawyer that can not only provide great advice and counsel, but also to find a lawyer you will feel comfortable working with over the long term.
As you build that relationship, make sure each time you speak you are prepared, are honest, and that you don't withhold information. Your lawyer can only help you to the extent he or she fully understands your situation and your needs.