Legal Services-Don’t Wait Until There’s a Crisis

A relationship with an attorney is like health insurance—you should have it in place before you need it. It’ll likely help keep your costs down.

Most people don’t hesitate to see their doctors for preventive care. When they get sick, they usually make an appointment before the illness gets severe and hard to treat. But they tend not to do the same with legal issues.

“People often wait way too long to consult an attorney,” says Joe Boucher, cofounder of Neider & Boucher, S.C., which specializes in legal services for small- to medium-sized businesses and their owners. But for both businesses and consumers, having a relationship with an attorney can actually end up saving them money.

Boucher cites an example on the business side. “If a business owner wants to sell a company, and works with a potential buyer to put together an agreement, and they agree on a price—and then come to us—the owner may have locked him- or herself into terms that aren’t advantageous,” he explains. “It’ll likely end up costing more, and taking more time, than if the owner had come to us up front.”

On the personal side, he says many people approach his firm for estate planning after a loved one has died or become incapacitated, causing a costly, time-consuming legal tangle. Then they see the value of proactively developing an estate plan. Doing so—and updating it regularly as your circumstances change—can make things go much more smoothly for your beneficiaries and heirs.

That’s true with a personal estate plan and with the succession plan for a business. Neider & Boucher helps businesses plan for an orderly change in ownership, whether it happens according to plan or because of an unanticipated event.

Prospective business owners should also consult an attorney before starting a business, Boucher indicates. And during the course of business, attorneys can help with things like large equipment purchases, establishing a patent, employment issues, raising capital, or protecting a brand or intellectual property.

Whatever the legal issue, if you’re going to involve an attorney, do so in advance. “Don’t start the process before you call your attorney. That’s like starting a remodeling project and then calling in a professional when you get into trouble,” says Boucher.

“Get to know your attorney over time, so they know your legal history,” he advises. “Then when you do call, you can have a five-minute conversation instead of a five-hour one.”

He recently got a call from a client he’s known for ten years. “He left me a short message, saying, ‘Do this, don’t do that, I’m going to New Zealand for three weeks.’ I know his situation, so I understand what he means and can get it done for him while he’s gone.”

Your attorney can also help educate you about handling some legal matters. “I’ve taught at the UW for thirty years and I’ve written books; I want to educate people,” says Boucher. “We want our clients to understand what things they can do on their own. Sometimes when clients come in with an issue, we tell them they can handle it themselves. Some don’t even call us—we’ve trained them to know what they can do on their own.”

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