Prepare for All Meetings
First, you should prepare for the consultation and any subsequent meeting with your lawyer. This can include thinking about and writing down specific questions you have. It is also important that you take time to think about and articulate your individual and business goals. A lawyer’s advice on any given topic, such as what entity (LLC, corporation, nonprofit, etc.) to form for your business, depends greatly on what your goals are. Further, the more time you take to collect and organize the facts, the less time (and the less of your money) your lawyer will have to spend tracking those facts down.
It’s important to be honest with your lawyer and disclose any fact you think might matter. Your lawyer cannot adequately represent you if he or she does not have the full story. That said, part of the lawyer’s job is to determine what is relevant. So don’t be insulted if the lawyer changes the subject, tells you a certain fact doesn’t matter, or straight up cuts you off. They are most likely trying to be efficient with their time (and your money) – they aren’t trying to be rude.
After any meeting, you should maintain your own notes on what you discussed and note any important follow-up tasks your lawyer has asked you to do. You can compare these records with the lawyer’s monthly bill to assess the accuracy of the lawyer’s charges.
One thing to know is that everything you give the lawyer is part of your file and is your property. You may request a copy of this file at any time and it should be provided to you at no cost.
Agree On a Plan of Action
Ideally, after the initial meetings, you and your lawyer should commit to writing an informal plan of action that identifies and prioritizes the legal issues, discusses the ultimate goals, and names specific actions and any limitations on the lawyer’s scope of work. Through this plan, your lawyer can help identify tasks that you can take on yourself versus those tasks that the lawyer should handle. The client-lawyer relationship is most likely to succeed when everyone shares the same expectations and understanding of responsibilities.
Be a Good Client
Lawyers are humans. Even the most professional, straight-laced lawyer can’t help but have his or her most favorite and least favorite clients. You want to be a favorite client. Here’s how to do that:
Build an ongoing lawyer relationship
Another benefit to retaining a lawyer early on is the possibility of having a lawyer “on retainer.” Having a lawyer who knows your business allows you to access legal services in a more focused and efficient way because you do not have to repeatedly expend time and resources educating someone about your business. This allows you to literally pick up the phone or send a quick email for small questions as they occasionally arise. This sort of intermittent, small-scale legal advice can be critical to the success of a farm.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of Vermont Law School, and this toolkit provides general legal information for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute, and should not be relied upon, for legal advice. Each farmer’s circumstances are unique, state laws vary, and the information contained herein is specific to the time of publication. Accordingly, for legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.