Guides

Business Owners

Choosing a Professional: Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

  • When should I hire a lawyer?
  • How would I handle a dispute on my own?
  • How do I find a good lawyer?
  • What questions should I ask?
  • What legal fee arrangements are best for me?
  • How can I save money on legal fees?

When should I hire a lawyer?

For certain legally complex or time-consuming disputes or problems, there is no doubt that a lawyer is necessary. For example, if you want a will prepared, or a more complex business deal handled, you will need to hire a lawyer. And, if a court case is involved (other than a simple, routine matter), you’ll almost always need a lawyer.

When deciding whether to hire an attorney, consider the following:

  • Does the matter involve a complex legal issue or is it likely to go to court? Is a large amount of money, property, or time involved? These factors indicate that you need to hire a lawyer.
  • Is there a form or self-help book available that you can use instead of hiring a lawyer? You may be able to solve certain problems with only minimal assistance.
  • Are there any non-lawyer legal resources available to assist you?

Unlike more complex transactions, some transactions can be handled without a lawyer. For instance, a living will can often be prepared with the help of organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Non-profits that deal with retired and elderly persons may also be able to provide you with the necessary paperwork to create a living will in your state, as well as additional information and/or assistance in completing the form properly.

Back to top

How would I handle a dispute on my own?

Many disputes can be resolved by writing letters or negotiating with the other party on your own, or by using arbitration or mediation. Legal self-help manuals and seminars can provide you with the tools to handle a portion of, or the entire, dispute.

Tip: Consider hiring an attorney to review papers or provide advice, rather than fully representing you.

Negotiating on your own. Negotiating on your own behalf is often the best way to solve minor disputes. Visit your local library or search online for resources that explain the best way to negotiate a dispute.

Tip: Before starting the negotiation process, it’s usually a good idea to familiarize yourself with legal issues that might come up by calling a legal hot-line or consulting other sources of information.

Mediation or arbitration. Dispute resolution centers have been established in every state. Most specialize in helping to resolve problems in the areas of consumer complaints, landlord/tenant disputes, and disagreements between neighbors or family members.

During the mediation process, a neutral person assists the two sides in discussing their differences and helps them possibly reach an agreement. In an arbitration setting, the neutral third party conducts a more formal process and makes a decision (usually written) after listening to both sides.

If both parties agree to it, using a dispute resolution center or a private mediation center is a lower-cost alternative to bringing a lawsuit to court or hiring an attorney to represent you during a negotiation process.

Small claims court. Small claims court may be appropriate if you have a monetary claim for damages within the limits set by your state (usually $1,000 to $5,000). These courts are more informal and involve less paperwork than regular courts. If you file in small claims court, be prepared to act as your own attorney, gathering necessary evidence, researching the law, and presenting your story in court.
Back to top

How do I find a good lawyer?

The first step is to compile a list of names. Ask relatives, friends, clergy, social workers, or your doctor for recommendations. State bar associations usually have lawyer referral lists organized by specialty. Martindale-Hubbell also has a comprehensive lawyer referral service. For specific groups such as persons with disabilities, older persons, or victims of domestic violence consult a community lawyer referral services. The court and your banker may also be good referral sources. Finally, don’t forget the yellow pages of the telephone book, which often lists lawyers according to their specialties.

Tip: If you use a referral service, ask how attorneys are chosen to be listed with that particular service. Many services make referrals to all lawyers who are members (regardless of type and level of experience) of a particular organization.

Tip: Be aware that many bar associations have committees that conduct training or public service work in various areas of specialty. An attorney serving on one of these committees could have the expertise you are looking for.

After developing a list of potential lawyers, interview them initially by telephone to narrow down the list and then arrange face-to-face interviews.

Back to top

What questions should you ask?

Before committing yourself to a consultation, ask potential candidates the following questions:

  • Do you provide a free consultation for the initial interview?
  • How long have you been in practice?
  • What percentage of your cases is similar to my type of legal problem? (A lawyer with experience in handling cases like yours will be more efficient).
  • Can you provide me with any references, such as trust officers in banks, other attorneys, or clients?
  • Do you represent any clients or special-interest groups that might cause a conflict of interest?
  • What type of fee arrangement do you require? Are the fees negotiable?
  • What information should I bring with me to the initial consultation?

Follow up your phone calls by scheduling interviews with at least two of the attorneys. Don’t feel embarrassed about selecting only the best candidates or canceling appointments with some of the attorneys after you complete your initial phone calls.

Next, interview the candidates. Come prepared with a brief summary of your immediate case (including dates and facts) as well as a list of general questions for the attorney. The purpose of the interview is twofold: (1) to decide if the attorney has the necessary experience and is available to take your case; and, (2) to decide if you are comfortable with the fee arrangement and, most importantly, comfortable working with the attorney.

Back to top

What legal fee arrangements are best for me?

The market rate for any given legal service varies by locality. A “fair” fee is what seems fair to you, based on your knowledge of going rates. Whether you are comfortable with a fee is likely to be based on the following factors:

  • How much you can afford
  • Whether the case is routine or requires special expertise
  • The range of attorney rates for this type of case in your area
  • How much work can you can do on the case yourself

The most common types of fee arrangements used by lawyers are listed below.

Flat fee. The lawyer will charge you a specific total fee for your case. A flat fee is usually offered only if your case is relatively simple or routine.

Note: While lawyers will not set a flat fee for litigation, they can usually give you a good estimate of the costs at each stage.

Hourly rate. Attorneys charge by the hour (or portion of an hour). For instance, if your attorney’s fee is $100 per hour, and he or she works ten hours, the cost will be $1,000. Some attorneys charge a higher rate for court work and less per hour for research or case preparation. And, as a rule, large law firms usually charge more than small law firms and attorneys in urban areas often charge more per hour than attorneys practicing in rural areas.

Tip: If you agree to an hourly rate, be sure to find out how much experience your attorney has had with your type of case. A less experienced attorney will usually require more time to research your case, although he or she may charge a lower hourly rate.

Tip: Ask what is included in the hourly rate. If other staff such as secretaries, messengers, paralegals, and law clerks will be working on your case, find out how their time will be charged to you? Ask about costs and out-of-pocket expenses, which are usually billed in addition to the hourly rate.

Contingency fee. Under this arrangement, the attorney’s fee is based on a percentage of what you are awarded in the case. If you lose the case, the attorney does not get a fee, although you will still have to pay expenses. A one-third fee is common.

Tip: Ask whether the lawyer will calculate the fee before or after the expenses. This can make a substantial difference, since calculating the percentage of the attorney’s fee after the expenses have been deducted increases the amount of money you receive.

Back to top

How can I save money on legal fees?

It is important to remember that a lawyer’s fees are often negotiable, but your lawyer is unlikely to invite you to bargain over fees! Here are some tips for saving ensuring the cost-effectiveness of legal fees.

Comparison shop for flat fees on simple cases.

Ask about the billing method for hourly rates. A written agreement specifying the fee arrangement and the work involved is the best way to be clear about the total cost of the case.

Choose a lawyer with the appropriate qualifications. Most legal work is relatively routine in nature and often has more to do with knowing which form to fill out and which county clerk will process it most quickly.

Offer to perform some of the work.

Hire the attorney to act as a go-between. Some lawyers are open to negotiating a lower fee if you are only looking for their legal expertise to write a letter to the other side to settle.

Hire the attorney to act as your pro se coach. If you want to represent yourself in court (called “appearing pro se”), hire your attorney to act as a pro se coach who will review documents and letters that you prepare and sign.

Choose a lawyer who specializes in what you need.

Prepare for meetings with your attorney. The more work you do to prepare, the less time your attorney needs to spend (and charge you) for finding the information.

Answer your attorney’s questions fully. If your attorney knows all the facts as early as possible in the case, it will save time and money that might be spent later on further investigations or misdirected case development.

If the situation changes, tell your attorney as soon as possible. You don’t want your attorney heading in the wrong direction on a case.

Maximize contact with your attorney. Consolidate your questions or information-giving into a single call. Unless you have a specific reason for doing so, pass on information in writing or to other office staff rather than speaking directly with the attorney.

Examine your bill. Request that your attorney bill you on a regular basis. Even if you have agreed on a contingency fee and will not actually pay the expenses until the case is settled, you should periodically examine the expenses. Question any items that you do not understand or that are not covered in your fee agreement.

Back to top

Ask a Question

Find comfort in knowing an Expert in accounting is only an email or phone-call away.

We Are Here to Help

We will happily offer you a free consultation to determine how we can best serve you.

Blog

Attestation Services: Compilations, Reviews, and Audits CPAs offer attestation services as unbiased options

frequently asked questions

  • What Is A Virtual CFO & How Can It Transform My Business?
    • a. A Virtual CFO can be a much-needed sounding board, coach, and guide. Outsourced Virtual CFO is generally not just one person, but an experienced team of professionals providing a full-stack Accounting and Finance Department at a fraction of the cost that it would otherwise cost a business to hire even just one full-time CFO internally. The right virtual CFO service team, such as the one at Perpetual CPA, can deliver timely, detailed, comprehensive financial reporting, interpret the financial data, prioritize recommendations, give expert guidance on how to execute those recommendations, and ultimately give a better path to business success.
  • How can a Virtual Accounting Department help small businesses scale and grow?
    • a. A growing number of small businesses are opting to outsource services such as IT, human resources, or accounting. The benefit of a Virtual Accounting Department is that the company can reduce or increase services to accommodate current business needs. Because the service provider has multiple clients they can absorb fluctuations in workflow more easily than the average small/medium business can on its own.

      b. A Virtual Accounting Department can integrate with a company’s own accounting department to create a blended solution or provide a full-stack accounting department, including Accounting Staff, Manager, Controller, and Virtual CFO. By using a Virtual Accounting Department Small business owners don’t have to worry about hiring, training, figuring out compensation, and payroll compliance for the internal accounting team. Also as the business grows and new and more complex accounting and tax issues come up, the outsourced Virtual Accounting Department can provide all the needed expertise to facilitate continued business success.
  • What are the benefits of hiring a CPA firm?
    • a. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) do a lot more than just crunch numbers and prepare taxes. They provide valuable expertise and strategies to help businesses and individuals achieve their business and financial goals. A CPA firm can help small businesses with management financial reporting, tax compliance, strategic business advice, and much more. Firms like Perpetual CPA, that specialize in helping small and medium-sized businesses achieve growth, can also provide Virtual CFO services, that help the business owners have the foresight into the short-term future cashflows and be able to more successfully navigate their business performance.
  • What are the best strategies for small business growth?
    • a. A business growth strategy is, simply, a plan of how a business gets from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future.

      b. Some of the questions to consider when coming up with a growth strategy are:
      i. Where will the business get new customers from?
      ii. How will the business expand into new markets?
      iii. What new products could the business offer?

      c. In reality, what happens with many small businesses, is that they generally achieve a specific level of business activity or sales and then the business growth trend flattens. In those cases, working with a firm like Perpetual CPA, which provides Virtual CFO services, can help small businesses avoid stagnation. Virtual CFO services, aside from providing timely accounting and tax reporting, can also provide valuable insight into the current performance of the business, as well as, foresight into the future cash flows for the business. Perpetual CPA Virtual CFO team helps small businesses interpret their financial information and come up with business strategies to help improve business performance and achieve growth.
  • What are the best strategies for small business risk management?
    • a. A risk management plan helps a business develop a detailed strategy to deal with certain risks that are particularly important for the businesses’ success.

      b. For many small and medium-sized businesses, the easiest way to develop and implement a business risk management plan is to work with a reputable CPA firm, such as Perpetual CPA. Large corporations invest a lot of resources and time into managing risk, which is a material factor that allows those large corporations to continue to generate billions of dollars in revenue every year. Small businesses, however, almost never manage any business risks, which is the major reason that over half of all the small businesses do not survive for more than 5 years. Generally, small business owners are not experienced corporate business professionals and lack the needed business knowledge, yet they often have to wear many hats while trying to get their businesses off the ground. In those situations, a CPA firm such as Perpetual CPA, can help small businesses better manage tax compliance risks, cash flow, internal controls, business administration, financial reporting, and much more.
  • What is Strategic Advisory and Virtual CFO? / How do Strategic Advisory and Virtual CFO services work?
    • a. When small businesses start spinning wheels, it is a good time to consider hiring a reputable CPA firm, such as Perpetual CPA, which can provide both Strategic Advice and Virtual CFO services.

      b. As a strategic advisor, the CPA firm will work with business management to improve the effectiveness and profitability of the business. They will look holistically at the business and find ways to operate the business more efficiently, increase customers through additional or improved marketing or improve customer touchpoints and service.

      c. As a Virtual CFO, the CPA firm is like a part-time version of a traditional CFO or Chief Financial Officer plus a full Accounting support team. They perform the tasks that in a larger organization would be performed by the CFO, Controller, and Accounting Staff such as preparing and overseeing the budget process, identifying and analyzing current and future trends, and developing strategies for the business growth.
  • How can timely financial visibility and management reporting help with better business decisions and growth?
    • a. A simple way to a successful business is to prioritize the timely financial visibility and management reporting as it means:
      i. Timely financial information and analysis are essential for making informed decisions, evaluating your company’s results, improving financial performance, and ensuring you are on the path to meet your strategic goals.
      ii. Management reporting is a source of business intelligence that helps business leaders make more accurate, data-driven decisions. But, these reports are most useful if they are available timely and the management receives proper interpretation of the business financial information.

free initial 30-minute consultation

© Perpetual CPA 2020   •   Site Map   •   Privacy Policy   •   Disclaimer   •   Powered By   Designed by Dot Com Media Moguls