Getting legal advice for your small business

You might think lawyers are too expensive for your business, but their advice can be priceless. It's much less expensive to hire a lawyer at the start to do things properly than to hire a lawyer in an emergency when things go wrong.

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What can a lawyer do for you?

Lawyers can give you invaluable advice at every stage of your business. They can help you:

  • Choose and implement the right business structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, non-profit)
  • Write, review, or negotiate contracts on your behalf
  • Manage space or equipment leases
  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Defend any legal action against you
  • Hire and fire employees
  • Sell your business
  • Dissolve a corporation
  • And more

Canada Business Network has more information on how a lawyer can help you with your business.

When should you hire a lawyer?

Hiring a lawyer can be a difficult decision, as they can be expensive. Before you hire a lawyer, ask yourself:

  • What are the consequences if you are unsuccessful on your own?
  • How complex is the law in your situation?
  • Do you have the time and energy to handle the situation yourself?

If your situation is too important, complex, or involved for you to handle yourself, hiring a lawyer is a worthwhile expense.

How to find a lawyer

1. Find out what type of lawyer you need

Try to find a lawyer that specializes in the practice area you need. Business-related legal practice areas include:

  • Company/commercial/securities law: incorporation, buying/selling a business, drafting shareholders/partnership agreements, contracts, service/purchase agreements
  • Labour/employment law: negotiating and interpreting collective agreements, resolving disputes, explaining obligations, advising on strikes, lay-offs, dismissals
  • Civil litigation law: lawsuits, collecting debts, negotiating and settling
  • Real estate law: buying or selling land or property, negotiating a lease, solving landlords/tenants disputes, mortgaging property
  • Wills and estates: drafting or challenging a will, managing estates

2. Compile a shortlist of potential lawyers

You can find qualified lawyers in your area by:

  • Asking friends and colleagues for recommendations: just be aware that they might have different needs and expectations
  • Contacting lawyer referral services: The Alberta Law Society's Lawyer Referral service will give you contact information for up to three lawyers.
  • Calling Legal Aid Alberta's Alberta Law Line: Call toll-free at 1-866-845-3425 to find out if you qualify for Legal Aid Alberta's subsidized legal services.
  • Searching legal directories: The Law Society of Alberta has an online directory of all registered practising lawyers.
  • Searching the phone book or Internet: Make sure you verify the credentials and experience of anyone you find by phone or online.

3. Talk to the lawyers on your shortlist

Ask the lawyers on your shortlist if they provide a free initial consultation.

Make sure you bring:

  • A full description of your case
  • Any supporting documentation or evidence

Here's what you should look for when you talk to the lawyers on your shortlist:

  • Are they forthright and honest with you?
  • Do they have knowledge and experience in this area of law?
  • Are they looking for an ongoing business relationship with you?
  • Do they have good written and oral communication skills?

Here are some of the things you should ask in your initial consultation:

  • Knowledge, Skills, Experience:
    • How long have you been in practice?
    • How long have you practiced in this particular firm?
    • In what areas of law do you practice?
    • Are you a partner or an associate?
    • How much of your practice is devoted to my particular problem area?
  • Time and accessibility:
    • Do you have enough time to deal with my problem quickly?
    • How quickly can I expect a resolution?
    • When can we meet?
  • Cost:
    • How do you charge for your services?
    • Approximately how much will your services cost me in total?
    • Do you provide your clients with a detailed written statement of fees?
    • Do you charge anything for the first meeting?
  • Quality of service:
    • How do you keep me informed on what you are doing?
    • Will you send me copies of all letters relating to my case?
    • Will you be hiring others to work on my case?
  • Conflicts of interest:
    • Do you, your associates, or your firm have current relationships with any parties related to my problem?

4. Choose a lawyer to work with

Once you've spoken to the lawyers on your shortlist, choose the one that's the best fit for price, experience, and personality.

Be a good client

Just like you want to work with a good lawyer, lawyers want to work with good clients! Make the most of your partnership with your lawyer and save legal fees by:

  • Consulting your lawyer sooner rather than later: Prevention is the best way to cut down legal bills.
  • Doing your homework: The more you know about the law, the less time your lawyer will have to spend explaining it all to you.
  • Communicate thoroughly: Leave detailed messages for your lawyers, their secretaries or law clerks (don’t worry, law firms require all employees to keep client information confidential) so that your lawyer will be able to do what you want before connecting with you.
  • Be available: If it takes several attempts for your lawyer to contact you, your legal bill will rise because you pay for every telephone call, even if you cannot be reached.

Protecting your business

Visit the Canada Business Network's section on protecting your business to learn more about security, fraud, insurance, copyright, and more.

Still have questions?

Talk to our team. We'll help you find the answers you need.

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