On Thursday, November 19th from 9:30-10:15 a.m. EST, I will be a guest on David Dirk’s BlogTalkRadio show, Job Search Marketing. David is the author of the book, Job Search Marketing: Finding Opportunities in Any Economy. David and I linked up via social media a few months ago, and have become mutual admirers of each other’s professional work and endeavors. We decided to partner together to offer listeners his job search marketing expertise along with my tips for how to stay organized during a job search.

If you or someone you know is currently looking for a job, or planning to engage in a job search in the future, you won’t want to miss this radio interview! Tune in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/jobsearchmarketing. Unable to listen live on Thursday morning? No worries! All shows are recorded and can be listened to at a later date for your convenience!

I will have the pleasure of being a guest on WTBQ’s Radio Show, Takin’ Care of Business, hosted by Michael Sweeton on Monday, November 16, 2009 from 1:30-2:00 pm EST. Michael is the Town Supervisor of the Town of Warwick, NY, in which I reside. He is also the successful business owner, along with his wife, of General’s Garden, a fabulous garden and landscaping business. 

Michael started this radio show to have a forum to discuss business with all types of business owners here in the Hudson Valley. I am looking forward to our conversation and hope you will tune in and join us. You can listen on the radio at 1110 AM, or online at www.WTBQ.com.

Many of you are probably already members of Facebook, the ever-growing, very popular social media site. By “member,” I mean that you have a personal profile. Millions of people do.

But how many know that businesses can create Facebook pages, which are called fan pages? The main difference is that a profile is personal and, therefore, linked to an individual person, while a fan page is linked to a business or organization. Another major difference is that profiles can only be entirely viewed by people that you “friend,” while fan pages are completely open to anyone on the web.

Why create a fan page for your business or organization? Fan pages are a great way for a business to get online exposure, keep in touch with clients, reach prospects, establish credibility, offer specials, etc. In other words, to develop the KLT (Know, Like & Trust) factor that is so important in doing business today. Fan pages can also increase your search engine optimization (SEO) online and drive traffic to your website or blog.

I created a Facebook fan page for my business, LM Organizing Solutions, LLC. You can visit my fan page at http://www.facebook.com/LMOrganizingSolutions. I plan to offer organizing tips, advice, inspiration and motivation! I also plan to “reward” my fans by offering special deals that only they are privy to, such as audio recordings available to fans only, discounts on products and services, periodic giveaways, etc. In addition, I plan to “use” my fans wisely by asking them pointed questions about their favorite organizing products, as well as their ideas for future blog posts, teleclasses, and article topics. It will be a wonderful, two-way relationship! Best yet, we can stay in touch on a daily basis and it is totally interactive!

So head on over to Facebook, check out the LMOS Fan Page, and click on the box on top that says “Become a Fan.” I promise you will be pleased you did so!

“We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

By now, you have probably heard the term “Coopetition.” Coopetition is a contraction of the words cooperation and competition, meaning essentially cooperative competition. In the business world, coopetition means collaborating or partnering with your competitors in an innovative way so that both parties benefit. The most successful entrepreneurs realize early on that the old military adage, “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy … Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” applies just as well to the business world. Of course, we all know that your competitors are not truly your enemies (at least I hope they aren’t!), but the idea of keeping them close is the point. A creative collaboration with your biggest competitor in the same industry may be the best opportunity for boosting your business.

Many of you are already familiar with the idea of collaborating with your competitors through membership in an industry specific professional association. For example, I am a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), the premiere association for my industry. I attend the annual conference every year as a participant or presenter, belong to a local organizers’ neighborhood (an informal chapter), frequently engage in discussion on the organizers’ email list, and serve as a mentor and business coach to new organizers and organizers-to-be. I have partnered with other organizers in various ways, as well as share referrals back and forth. This coopetition with other organizers has enriched my business in ways that are immeasurable. I’ve benefited greatly from these relationships and from keeping an open mind in my approach to dealing with my competitors.

It is smart business to capitalize on the positive aspects of a competitive situation. However, for coopetition to work effectively, both parties need to clearly define their roles, making sure not to overstep boundaries. The goal is to find a way to partner with your competitor (read: colleague!) so that both parties can substantially benefit from the collaboration. Look around at your competition, and identify competitors that share the same zest for business and success that you do. You want to make sure that you align yourself with a competitor that you respect and admire, and that exudes the same sense of professionalism and level of expertise.

What are some ways that you can engage in coopetition that will boost your business? Here are some examples of strategic alliances between competitors that are innovative, creative, and effective: 

  • Develop a joint venture project together. Some of the best business ideas are born out of competitors joining together. For example, in my industry, organizers are collaborating together to offer certification prep courses, train new organizers, design organizing products, etc.
  • Share a booth at an expo, tradeshow or business showcase. Not only will this help each party keep costs down, but as we all know, two minds are often better than one. You may come up with great new ideas to market your industry and businesses, offer more products, and gain more attention from participants and the media.
  • Co-present with a competitor. Co-presenting is a wonderful tool when done well. I have had the opportunity to present with colleagues to offer workshops that I may not have been able to do on my own. The participants benefit from hearing two different presenters, which helps keep the workshop fresh and interesting. Each presenter only has to do half the work, which makes your job easier overall.
  • Advertise with a competitor. Advertising is expensive. Sharing that expense with a colleague or competitor to promote types of service, your industry, or an event you are doing together is a great way to maximize advertising costs. 
  • Refer leads to each other. This is probably the most common form of coopetition. But don’t lose sight of how powerful it is! What you give out almost always comes back. If you cannot service a prospective client, find a colleague or competitor that can. The potential client will view you as a true professional and resource-provider, and the competitor will be grateful and will usually reciprocate in the future.
  • Co-author an article or book together. Writing does not come easy to many people. Consider sharing writing responsibility by co-authoring an article or book with a competitor. This may be the most effective way to get published in your industry. For example, if you teamed up with 9 competitors in your industry and all wrote one chapter, voila, a 10-chapter book is born!
  • Offer a teleclass or webinar together. You’ve probably seen this many times where two business experts team up to offer a teleclass or webinar together. Many times they are in complementary industries, such as an interior designer (or life coach, or wardrobe consultant, etc.) and professional organizer, or a financial planner and accountant. Again, two minds are better than one, work is shared among the presenters, and the participants get to hear from two experts. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

Think broadly, keep an open mind, and seek out collaborative opportunities to boost your business with coopetition. Used wisely, it is a fantastic tool to add to your business.

Discovery Studios, a division of Discovery Communications, Inc., is producing a new television series for TLC that examines the personal and family issues related to chronic disorganization and hoarding.  They are currently seeking people who have an interest in telling their story. One of the producers contacted me, and is interested in having me participate as an organizer on the show, provided I can find someone local (within reasonable driving distance of NYC metropolitan area) that will be a featured participant.

The series will explore various facets of hoarding through the personal stories of people who hoard and those who may live with a hoarder, along with insight from leading experts on this issue.  Situations can involve one, or multiple hoarders in the same family; people attempting to cope with a hoarding issue; or in more extreme cases, people who may be facing financial or marital distress due to hoarding.

The demographic that TLC is targeting is the person next door in middle class America. They would like to find middle-aged men & women, married or divorced, living with or without kids. Ideally, they are looking for interaction among people living together and how hoarding has affected their lives.

The goal of the series is to promote a better understanding of why people hoard, what steps can be taken to deal with the issue, and how a comprehensive exploration of this common problem can lead to positive change for the people involved. I understand the very personal, and sometimes embarrassing, nature of this issue.  The series promises to treat all program participants with respect and compassion. For those willing to participate, the show will offer assistance with finding licensed therapists, as well as professional organizers, who can offer support.

If you, or a family member, are a hoarder and are interested in being considered for the show (and you live in the NYC metropolitan area), please email me at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com as soon as possible, as filming starts in December 2009.  I will need photos of the inside and outside of your home, as well as a photo of yourself (and any family members living at home). Please also share a little bit about your “story” and what makes you a good choice for the show. If you are a good candidate for the show, I will forward your contact information to the producers for consideration. If you are chosen, then I will be assigned as your organizer for the show.

I look forward to working with you!

“The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.” ~ Robert C. Dodds

I’ve worked with many couples as a professional organizer over the last 7 years. Many of them are married, some are domestic partners, others just roommates, etc. My background as a trained mediator often comes in handy during these client sessions. Often, during an organizing assessment, a client will mention that another user in the home cannot maintain an organizing system (or that the other user IS the organizing problem!).  When I inquire as to whether the system was created with the other user in mind, the client usually responds in the negative.  Therein lies the problem. 

Here is some insight into why couples often have a hard time agreeing on organizing systems, as well as some tips for getting and staying organized when faced with the challenge of a perceived “uncooperative partner.”

Learn Each Other’s Organizing Styles: Yes, everyone has an organizing style, even if you don’t know exactly what it is! If you are familiar with the four learning styles, start there. They are Visual (learn by seeing), Auditory (learn by hearing/listening), Kinesthetic (learn by doing), and Tactile (learn by touching). Often times, couples have very different organizing styles, making it difficult to set up and maintain shared organizing systems. Give some thought to the organizing style of each person using the system so that it makes sense to both users.

Reach Compromise on Shared Systems: If the organizing system you are creating is to be a shared system, you must give consideration both users.  Failing to consider both users is a common mistake and often causes the system to fall apart.  So, do yourself and your partner a favor – communicate!  Spend the time brainstorming how each person plans to use the system, and create a compromise that makes the most sense.  The solution may be built around the most common user, or a combination of both users.  This may take some extra effort, but usually results in a system that is maintained more effectively.

Tolerance for Clutter: Different people have different levels of tolerance for clutter. Some are “outies,” meaning that they like the exposed areas like counter tops, to be clear, but can tolerate clutter in hidden zones, like closets, drawers, closets, etc. They just want their outward appearance to look organized and they don’t want to see the clutter. Others are “innies,” meaning that the clutter can pile up on exposed surfaces, but their drawers, closets, and filing cabinets are pretty well organized. They are “pilers,” leaving clutter out for all to see, but keep their private, inner spaces orderly. If an “innie” and an “outie” live together, there is often a big disconnect in the way they tolerate and handle clutter.

Leave Judgment Out: I know it’s hard but you really need to make a conscious effort to approach your partner in a non-judgmental manner. Otherwise, your partner will just become defensive, and shut down to any creative solutions that could be reached. Try to approach your organizing projects with a sense of humor. If your partner has difficulty with setting up and maintaining organizing systems realize that organizing is a skill and can be taught. Show some empathy and be patient as you try to find each other’s organizing strengths and overcome weaknesses.

A Sanctuary of Disorganization:  Just like Superman had a Fortress of Solitude (yes, I am a superhero fan!), couples may need to allow each partner to have one space that is off limits to the other partner’s organizing efforts. It should not be a space that is shared, and probably not in the most public areas of the home. Allowing your partner to have one place where he or she can be him- or herself and not worry about you organizing it will go a long way to keeping you two from driving each other crazy. Think of it like granting your partner a ‘free pass’ in that one area.

One half of knowing what you want is knowing what you must give up before you get it.  ~ Sidney Howard

Recently, I was asked to take on two separate leadership positions for two different organizations that I am a member of. While both offers were extremely tempting, I knew right away that there was no way that I could say yes to both positions, and do both with finesse. Every time we say yes to something, we say no to something else. Therefore, I made a difficult phone call to the incoming President of one of those organizations to explain to that although the offer was tempting and I appreciate his faith in me, I needed to turn down the offer in order to accept the leadership position for the other organization.

This made me think about how in all aspects of life, we sometimes have to ‘just say no’ to some offers in order to do the best job that we can with the things that we say yes to. I realized a long time ago that we can’t do it all. Well, not if we want to do the things we commit to well. In order to give 100% to every volunteer leadership position that you take on, you need to carefully consider what that role involves and whether you are able to bring your all to the table. If you can’t, the better answer (albeit often the harder one to give) is “No.”

The following guidelines have helped me to make the tough decisions as to what to say yes to and what to say no to with regard to taking on volunteer leadership positions for business or civic organizations. I hope they assist you, as you decide what falls within your ‘absolute yes’ list and what you will ‘just say no’ to.

  • Does it Improve Your Business or Further Your Industry? – When I first joined my local and county chambers of commerce, I was the first and only professional organizer to be a member. Not only did this bring an amazing amount of exposure to my business and what I did, it also helped further the professional organizing industry as a whole.
  • Will it Enhance Your Reputation? – Think about whether it will enhance your reputation in terms of aligning yourself with this group. Also, what if you take on the position and do not do a good job? Think about whether you can give 100% and shine in the position. If you can’t, then it may have a negative effect on your personal and professional reputation.
  • Is it a Cause That You Believe in? – Sometimes you take on a volunteer position not so much for the position itself, or even for the tasks you will be doing, but because the organization’s work or agenda furthers a cause that you so deeply believe in or value. For example, many people serve as board members of organizations that specialize in cancer research, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, etc. The list goes on depending on the causes that you believe in.
  • Been There, Done That – Will it be a repeat performance? For example, the offer I just turned down would have been my second term in the same exact position. I’ve watched this organization grow and expand, and feel it is in a good place right now, and that my time has already been well served. It is time to move onto leadership positions within other organizations and take on new and exciting projects to bring in fresh ideas and energy. The organization I am saying yes to is one I have been involved with for several years, but I have never held a leadership position within it, so this is a new experience and one I look forward to.
  • Can You Afford the Financial Commitment? – Most organizations expect their board members and other leadership volunteers to give freely of their time and expertise. But some organizations take that a step further and also expect their members to give a certain amount of financial commitment. One example is Rotary International, where the members give financial support and choose worthy causes within the community to be the recipients of those funds. Be sure to ask what level of financial commitment is expected, and ask yourself whether you can realistically meet it before saying yes.
  • When in Doubt, Follow Your Gut – Regardless of the above criteria, you will probably know if you should ‘just say no’ based on your gut reaction to the request to serve. If you are asked to serve in a volunteer capacity or leadership role for an organization, and you cringe at the idea, with no trace of excitement, follow your intuition and say no! Yes, a certain level of fear or anxiety may be normal when asked to serve as a volunteer in a leadership capacity for an organization. You may be nervous about being in the spotlight, meeting new people, how to juggle this new role with all of your other responsibilities, etc. But, often times, people say yes purely out of obligation when the ‘real’ answer is quite obviously staring them in the face based on their gut reaction. If your gut screams no, follow it!

First, let me start by saying that, if it weren’t for my friend, Tracy, I probably would not even be a professional organizer, or at least, it would have taken longer to find the profession that is my true calling.  Tracy, demonstrating the intuitiveness that I have come to know is her classic style, guided me to the field of professional organizing in 1999.  I was living in Michigan at the time and working as a lawyer — the career I trained, studied, and prepared for most of my life, and which has never brought me real satisfaction — and expressed to Tracy that I wanted to do something more creative, hands-on, and that would directly help people.  My husband, Sean, whom I also must give credit to for helping guide me to professional organizing, used to tease that what I was really excellent at was planning lives.  Indeed, his slogan for my not-yet-created organizing and coaching business was “Montanaro, Inc. – We Plan Lives.”

Tracy was surfing the Web and discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers website,  as well as that of the local New York Chapter.  She forwarded the link to me by e-mail and basically said, “See, what you do is a ‘real’ profession!”  This was news to me.  I thought, “People pay to have their lives organized?  There are ‘professional organizers’ who do this type of work for a living? Amazing. And awesome!”  I then spent a lot of time researching the profession, as well as brainstorming how and when I could “legitimize” my organizing skills by launching a business. 

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I relocated back to New York where my husband and I are originally from, that I seriously explored the organizing world as a profession.  I attended a one-day conference sponsored by NAPO-NY, “Putting the ‘Professional’ Into Professional Organizing.”   It was there that I learned what is involved in running an organizing business and what sets a professional organizer apart from someone who merely likes to organize.  I realized that I have been organizing people’s lives on an “amateur” level my whole life, and that my organizing and coaching skills transcended my work as a lawyer, educator, mediator, administrator, writer, public speaker, and performer.  Becoming more excited at the prospect of launching a business as a professional organizer, I decided to “practice” on Tracy, one of my closest friends. 

Tracy and I met through our high school chorus, and were co-stars of our high school musical.  Our friendship blossomed over the years through college, graduate school, relocation, and marriage.  We always supported each other and considered the other a nice combination of a guardian angel and a tough cookie; hence, our nicknames for each other — Thelma (Tracy) and Louise (Lisa).  I had been providing organizing and coaching services for Tracy for years: assisting her with writing letters to creditors, planning her vacations, reviewing her resume and cover letters, preparing her for job interviews, etc.  It seemed only natural to start my career as a professional organizer with my number one consistent informal client, my disorganized, but brilliant and wonderful, friend.

Interestingly, some people thought this was not such a great idea.  “Don’t mix business with pleasure,” is the old adage.  “You don’t want to spoil the friendship if something goes wrong,” people warned.  As a lawyer, I often referred friends and family to other lawyers when asked to assist, often because the area of law was one that I did not practice in but, sometimes, because I did not want to mix business with pleasure.  Yet, I felt entirely comfortable doing organizing work for Tracy.  “Well, she IS one of your best friends, and you had been doing organizing work with her all along,” you may be thinking.  This is true, although the work I had been doing for Tracy all along was never part of an official professional endeavor.  No, the reason I chose to do organizing work for Tracy was because it just felt natural.  Not just natural; more like it was what I was supposed to be doing.

So we started.  My first task was to plan her wedding and honeymoon in 2001.  Success.  We then moved onto organizing some of the rooms of the newlyweds’ apartment.  Done.  In 2002-2003, I assisted Tracy and her husband Mike with the first-time home buying process.  Voila — they now live only a few miles from my husband and I in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of NY.  Over the years, I have repeatedly provided organizing assistance to Tracy.  We have delved into time management, space planning, bill paying systems, paper management , and organized the master bedroom, master bathroom and home office.

Tracy is an extremely intelligent, self-aware woman who has made great strides when it comes to organizing, and benefits greatly from working with an organizer.  You may be wondering why she needed an organizer in the first place if she is so smart.  It is a common misconception that an intelligent individual who has it “together” does not need an organizer, and would not benefit from professional organizing assistance.  My clients are intelligent individuals that excel at many skills and have many talents.  However, they need assistance with organizing.  Organizing is a skill, but it is not taught in schools (a fact that NAPO is trying to change – check out NAPO in the Schools on the NAPO site).  My clients may not have had the benefit of a parent, teacher, mentor, work colleague, or friend that could serve as a role model with regard to organizing skills.  Some of my clients are organized at home, but not at work, or visa versa.  Some are organized physically, but their time management skills are lacking.  In other words, there is no standard disorganized person profile.  My clients all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is why good organizing means tailoring the system to match the needs of the client.  

Due to her background and intelligence, I knew one way to reach Tracy was by helping her to examine the psychological side of being disorganized.  She is an avid reader (as well as one hell of an editor, proofreader and writer — check out her blog!) and has digested a plethora of organizing books.  She approaches each book as a true researcher, going deep into the topic, highlighting the pages, and marking them up with notes in the margins.  She then discusses them with me, giving me the important client-focused perspective.  She is convinced that her lifetime of struggling with organizing her time, space, paper and possession stems from having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  Her light bulb moment has brought her a sense of clarity and understanding, as well as a renewed sense of hope that she can overcome these obstacles with the proper coping mechanisms and systems in place.  Furthermore, she is planning to write a book to share her story so that others can benefit from her knowledge and experiences with ADD and disorganization. Meanwhile, she chronicles her journey in a wonderful blog called Everloving Mess.

Indeed, that is what I have gained from this relationship.  While many outsiders may only see the benefit Tracy has received from being the guinea pig that I practiced on early on in my organizing career, I have truly benefited too.  I have been able to follow her struggles, research, revelation, and education process, while honing my skills and developing my unique approach to organizing systems.  This organizer-client relationship with a close friend proves that you can mix business with pleasure and not only have the friendship survive despite the business relationship, but improve the friendship and business because of it.

Whether you are a hoarder, have hoarding tendencies, or are just cluttered, I recommend you watch an episode of the new show, Hoarders, on A&E.  

New episodes air on Monday evenings at 10 p.m., while repeat episodes air on weekend afternoons. Each episode features two separate hoarders, and gives them assistance via a professional organizer or a therapist that specializes in hoarding. The show provides an up close and personal snapshot into the world of hoarding — a world that has remained very much unseen and off limits to the general public in the past. 

The most famous example of hoarding is the Collyer brothers.  In fact, the brothers compulsive hoarding was so extreme that there is a syndrome named after them, ‘Collyer brothers syndrome,’ a fear of throwing anything away. The brothers were found dead in 1947 in their Harlem brownstone where they had lived as hermits, surrounded by over 130 tons of clutter that they had collected over several decades. Their clutter included newspapers, books, furniture, musical instruments, and many other items, with booby traps set up to protect against intruders. Experts  surmised that the brothers accidentally fell into their own booby traps, got trapped, and died. A very tragic example of what compulsive hoarding can do.

You will see this type of extreme hoarding on Hoarders. It can be very unsettling, and you may feel voyeuristic at times (I do not recommend watching this show while eating by the way!). Yes, it is reality TV and some of you may not be into that genre. But I still think you can benefit from watching. Here’s why.

You will hopefully come away with a better understanding of the extreme grip clutter can have on a person, and the effect of all of that clutter on his or her quality of life, space, health, and relationships. You may recognize yourself, realize that you are indeed a hoarder, and decide to get help (visit the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). Or you may realize that someone you know is a hoarder and encourage him or her to get help.  At the very least, you will probably feel much better about yourself and your efforts to get organized and live a less cluttered life.

“The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deciding Whether to Go Legal

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face.  This provides me with the distinct advantage of knowing when to call in an attorney for assistance, as opposed to using another professional, such as an accountant, financial planner, insurance agent, or business coach — or perhaps handling the matter myself.  In addition, my background helps me to select an attorney that is the best fit for the business matter at hand.  Many entrepreneurs have had limited experience deciding whether a matter needs legal attention and, if so, what type of attorney to retain, how to find the best match, and how to maximize the attorney-client relationship.  As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you understand when to “go legal,” and if you do, how to find and work with an attorney that is the best fit for your issue.   

If you are confused about whether your matter needs legal attention or whether you can handle it yourself, try researching the matter on the American Bar Association’s Self-Help online center at www.abanet.org.  Go to Public Resources, then Legal Help, and then Self-Help.  The section is organized by state and is a user-friendly resource for determining whether a matter is complex and needs a legal expert, or whether it is something you can handle yourself. 

In addition, a good business coach, especially one with a legal background, is a great sounding board to assist you in determining whether an issue is truly legal in nature, and if so, which type of attorney to retain.  You would be surprised how many issues appear legal in nature, but turn out to be business decisions instead.  So don’t be hasty when deciding whether to go legal!

Not All Attorneys Are Created Equal

So, assuming you have decided to “go legal” and retain an attorney, which one are you going to call?  If you broke your arm, would you make an appointment with an allergist?  If you had an ear infection, would you seek the advice of a surgeon?  Of course not!  Yet, everyday, many entrepreneurs contact and use attorneys to handle matters for their businesses that are completely outside the realm of what that attorney specializes in.  Yes, attorneys specialize. 

First, there is the main issue of whether your matter is civil or criminal in nature.  Generally (and, thankfully!), the average legal matter an entrepreneur will face is a civil matter.  Thus, you will be dealing with a civil attorney (hopefully in more ways than one).  However, civil law is a huge umbrella.  Typical small business matters may include incorporation, intellectual property (trademark, copyright, and patent), contract drafting and enforcement, employment or labor law issues, etc.  Thus, look for an attorney that specializes in the area you need help with.  Don’t be tempted to use your cousin, who is a residential real estate attorney, to assist you with a complex trademark issue.  While this may be tempting in terms of saving money, it may (and often does) cost you more money in the long run if the matter is not handled properly.  So match the attorney to the problem, and you are on the right track.

If you are unsure what type of legal issue you are even facing, speak up!  Talk to a friend or business colleague that is an attorney, and ask his or her advice on the type of issue you are dealing with.  You can also call the local bar association, or do some basic internet research to find out the area of law you are dealing with There are several sites that provide basic legal information for non-attorneys, such as www.nolo.com, www.findlaw.com, and www.legalzoom.com.  This background research will arm you with enough terminology and basic knowledge to make the best match with an attorney whose legal practice covers the area of your business issue.

Finding an Attorney

So, now that you know the area of law, how do you find a good lawyer that practices in that area?  The same way you find any other professional to assist you with your business.  Referrals from friends, family and colleagues are a fantastic way to find a reputable attorney.  You can also ask your local chamber of commerce, local law school, and local and state bar associations.  Still can’t find an attorney that is a great match?  Try Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyer Locator online at www.martindale.com.  

Money Matters

If you’ve never worked with an attorney before, here are some basics of the legal profession with regard to money matters.  Most attorneys charge by the hour, so ask what the hourly rate is, and an estimate of how many hours the matter may take.  If the matter is small, or a typical one that the attorney handles often, there may be a flat fee for the entire transaction instead of an hourly rate.  Be prepared to pay a fee for the initial consultation, which is standard, but not a hard and fast rule.  In some cases, the attorney may require a retainer, which is money that you provide upfront that the attorney works off of as the matter progresses.     

One thing to consider is that law firms are typically broken down into partners and associates.  Partners are essentially co-owners of the firm, while associates are employees, albeit high level professional ones.  Who demands the highest rates?  Usually, the partners.  Thus, ask yourself if you truly need a partner, or can an experienced associate handle the matter.  Do you need the best litigator in the firm?  Often times, the best litigator may be an associate that is still active in the courtroom, as opposed to a partner that may be more of a rainmaker bringing in business for the firm. 

In some cases, for very small matters or legal research, even a law clerk or paralegal may do.  Ask who is the best match, and don’t assume it is always the person whose last name is on the door.

Maximizing the Attorney-Client Relationship

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accurate, concrete, and timely record keeping and documentation when preparing to work with an attorney, and during the relationship.  An attorney will need to go on a fact-finding mission in order to best represent you and your business.  Help your attorney do his or her job better by coming to the table with all of your ducks in a row.  Be prompt in providing requested information, as often legal timelines are at play.  Honesty is also vital when working with an attorney.  The best attorney-client relationships are built on mutual trust and, thus, withholding information can make or break your case.  An attorney needs all of the facts in order to make tough decisions with you about the best course of action for your business matter.