There are a number of reliable ways for a founder or start up business to locate competent legal counsel in their city or state:

  • Referrals from friends and business acquaintances
  • Internet searches and legal websites
  • State bar referral services

Referrals: “I know a guy!”

When you are ready to hire an attorney, canvass your family and friends to find out if they know any reputable lawyers. Because people know people, referrals are a good way to find someone competent (same goes for accountants and financial advisers).

Be wary of someone referring you to a close relative or friend based solely on their personal relationship to the lawyer. You want to find someone that is recommending their attorney based on a professional lawyer-client relationship where the person making the recommendation has actually used this attorney to handle a legal matter, or at least seen this person’s skills in action. Some of the best referrals I have seen were from someone who was on the opposite side of a transaction or dispute from the recommended attorney and admired the skills of the attorney who bested their own attorney in the matter.

Determine what type of attorney you need. It could be a general practitioner or someone who practices in a special field like tax law, criminal, insurance etc. Be sure that the attorney you are referred to has experience in the specific areas where you need assistance. If the attorney does not have experience in all of the areas you need, then ask if they have colleagues at their firm who can handle matters that arise in those areas where the attorney is not proficient. If the attorney is a solo practitioner then ask if they have relationships with other attorneys or law firms to handle matters outside the scope of their practice.

Keyword Web Search

If you have asked around and did not manage to find a referral to a competent attorney who meets your needs, then you may want to turn to Google to help you find local attorneys who have the necessary expertise.

To ensure that your search locates the right attorneys, use very specific keywords when entering your search terms. For instance, if you type “Cleveland startup lawyer” or “Cleveland business attorney” you are much more likely to find an attorney with the type of background you need than if you simply type in “Cleveland attorney” or “Ohio lawyer”. Better yet, type in keywords for the type of matter you have, such as “trademark attorney”, “corporate law attorney”, or “contract law attorney” and you will find lawyers whose practice is focused on these areas.

State Bar Referral Services

If all else fails, it is helpful to remember that many state and local bar associations, such as the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, provide attorney referral services. When you contact them, they can put you in touch with members who practice in the area of law that you need help with. However, you may want to inquire as to what screening methods they use to find you an attorney. Presumably, they are only recommending attorneys who are in good standing. However, if they are randomly assigning you an attorney from their membership list, then you will have to conduct your due diligence on this attorney very carefully.


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