How To Select A Good Business Lawyer?
Dennis W. Chiu, Esq.

In order to find the best business attorney for your small to midsized business, you must do your "Due Diligence" (which means your own research).

1.  How do you get started?


Doing your own research may be as easy as asking someone you trust, if he or she knows an attorney that practices law in the area you need.  Getting the name of an attorney who practices in another area of law may lead to a referral. Good attorneys often know other good attorneys, so you can get a good second recommendation.

Referral Agency

If you do not have someone you trust that can give you a referral, then try using a California county bar association referral system. Each attorney or law firm that joins their local bar association values his, her or its community. Local bar associations, like the Santa Clara County Bar Association, are made up of individual attorneys seeking a connection with their peers, workshops to keep up with the law and new clients. Attorneys, who receive referrals from their local bar association, do not want to look bad to their peers by doing a bad job, so they will most likely try to do a good job for you.  However, not all good attorneys join the local bar association, and not all attorneys who join are good, so you must conduct further investigation.

2. Does the business attorney or law firm have a website?

After you receive a name, look on the Internet to find the firm website. If the attorney or the firm has no website, you probably need to find another recommendation.

Although all good attorneys do not have websites, and all attorneys with websites are not always good attorneys, the failure to have a website speaks poorly to the business attorney's modern business skills. When selecting a business attorney, the attorney must be both, a skilled attorney and a skilled business person. Do you know many modern businesses that do not invest in a good website. Since you are a business person, must communicate with your business attorney, and trust his or her judgment, the failure to have a website is a negative indicator for an attorney or law firm.

If a website exists, look at what it provides? Is it a basic website with one page and little information other than the contact address and numbers? Or is it a website that gives a professional biography, areas of the law practiced, free tips and information for businesses and other details so you may judge the quality of the attorney. Again, a business attorney should be thinking like a business person and conducting business in the mainstream like other businesses, and it is rare that a business person, who knows what he or she is doing, will do business without a presence on the Internet, the most important information tool of the last 15 years.

3.  Evaluating the education of the business attorney?

The first thing to look for is education, but please keep education in perspective -- it is not the only information you need to fully evaluate an attorney.

If an attorney went to a good law school, it provides you information that the attorney has a level of credibility and intelligence. So, in California, if you see Stanford Law School, Boalt Law School (U.C. Berkeley), U.C. Hastings, UCLA or an Ivy league law school (like Yale, Harvard, or Princeton), you will, more likely than not, be receiving a bright attorney. However, intelligent and savvy attorneys come from regional law schools.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the best regional law schools are Jesuit law schools, Santa Clara University and the University of San Francisco. Jesuits are the most open-minded, accepting, and intellectual /educational branch of the Catholic Church, who believe knowledge and using knowledge to give back to the community is the rationale for training students to join the legal profession. Students from these law schools tend to practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is why the schools are considered regional. The intelligence of these law students at these law schools can be very high.

Also, look to see where the attorney went to undergraduate university. If the attorney went to a good college prior to going to a regional law school, the odds are better that he or she will be a very competent and smart lawyer.

Regardless of education, the test is whether the attorney is knowledgeable in the law, and capable of out-of-the-box thinking.

4.  Evaluating the work experience of a business attorney?

Actual "in the field" work experience is more important than where an attorney went to school. The longer an attorney has been working in the field, the more he or she has seen and the more answers he or she knows. An attorney that has been practicing over 8+ years in business law has heard enough questions and seen enough similar situations that he or she probably knows the answer to your legal question off the top of his or her head, or can look it up quickly. Length of time of practice gives credibility to the attorney's competence. But, please note that like all things, there are exceptions, and sub-par attorneys have practiced for long periods of time.

5.  Always check the State Bar of California's website prior to hiring an attorney?

Go to and type in the name of the attorney you are thinking about hiring. You want to see the following sentences at the bottom of the screen:

"Disciplinary and Related Actions
This member has no public record of discipline.

Administrative Actions
This member has no public record of administrative actions."

If you see discipline, it would probably be best to find another attorney without discipline. You can always still work with an attorney, who has has a disciplinary record, but why, when there are so many qualified attorneys who do not?

It is very serious, if an attorney is marked with a disciplinary action, like suspension or disbarment for a period of time. An attorney owes his or her greatest duty of loyalty to his or her client and a disciplinary action often is connected with a breach of that duty. Please be aware that actions without merit may be brought against an attorney, so please do read the facts before making a final determination based on an attorney's disciplinary record.

6.  Informational icing on the cake.

If the attorney you are considering is a published author, lecturer, well-known in the community and has a strong reputation, these are all pluses. These activities are a sign of an active legal mind and commitment to excellence over and above other lawyers that simply work at their job day-to-day. These over-achieving attorneys do not accept the law as it is, but want to make new law, and believe in giving back to his or her community to make a difference. These things all translate into a smarter and more caring attorney for your business needs.

Good luck as you search for your attorney.