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Finding a Lawyer Who Meets Your Needs

October 18, 2006|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Question: What should I consider in selecting an attorney to assist me in my business?

Answer: There are three basic issues to think about. The first is competence, meaning both a lawyer's legal ability and experience.

"Legal ability tends to increase with experience, but not necessarily," Los Angeles business attorney C. Dickinson Hill said. "In that respect, attorneys are like professional athletes: All are skilled enough to have made it to the professional ranks. Some excel there and others do not."

If your needs are not complex or your business is new, you may be fine working with a less-experienced (and probably less-expensive) lawyer. In other matters, such as litigation, there is no substitute for experience. But watch out: The services of the best attorneys will be costly.

Another issue is compatibility. You need to feel comfortable with your lawyer and confident that he or she will be available when needed. Your attorney's area of practice and expertise should also be compatible with your needs.

"Attorneys who have a specialty practice are ideal for their function but will not be general advisors or handle matters in other legal areas," Hill said. "Depending on preference and business need, you might have one attorney for one function and another for something else, or a general business practitioner" who would refer you to specialists from time to time.

The final consideration is cost, which will depend on the complexity of your legal matters. Most business attorneys bill by the hour, although some charge a fixed fee for things such as forming a business entity for a single owner.

Get referrals to lawyers from colleagues and associates or find contacts from online directories available through state bar associations or the State Bar of California (members.calbar.ca.gov/search/member.aspx) and legal network Martindale-Hubbell (www.martindale.com). In an initial meeting or telephone conference, discuss your specific needs and concerns and ask what experience the lawyer has in those areas. Make a list of questions to help you prepare and don't be afraid to ask them.

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Gaining Certification as Disadvantaged Business

Q: My wife is a Native American and wants to start a small business. How can she receive government designation as a disadvantaged, woman-owned company?

A: In the Southland, your wife should pursue certification through the Southern California Minority Business Development Council (www.scmbdc.org). She will need a tribal certificate or other proof of her Native American status. More information on the 595 recognized tribes is available through the National Congress of American Indians (www.ncai.org).

The Small Business Administration offers broad assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged firms through its 8(a) Business Development and Small Disadvantaged Business programs.

Information on eligibility and certification is available online at www.sba.gov/sdb. The California Public Utilities Commission operates a clearinghouse of women-, minority- and disabled veteran-owned business enterprises accessible at www.cpuc.ca.gov/static/supplierdiversity.

If she wants to certify her firm as woman-owned, she can get information through the Women's Business Enterprise National Council at www.wbenc.org/certification/index.html.

She may also benefit from joining the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California (www.aicccal.org), said chamber President Tracy Stanhoff, who owns a marketing firm and serves as chairwoman of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation. The statewide chamber has branches in Northern and Southern California with more than 200 members, she said.

"We sponsor business events, provide education, mentoring and networking opportunities," Stanhoff said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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