The many facets of a farm or ranch business reach into just as many areas of the law. You may find your business better served, or your time better utilized, by outsourcing your legal needs. FindLaw, a company owned by Thomson Reuters, has an article that may help you make that determination. Given how unique farm operations are relative to other businesses, we recommend finding an attorney with agricultural law as an area of expertise.
FINDING A FARM AND RANCH ATTORNEY IN MONTANA
Seeking out a referral is a great way to begin your search:
- Identify other operations similar to yours and ask who their attorney is
- Network and mingle at events hosted by the Montana Chamber of Commerce or your local Small Business Development Center
- Ask your banker or accountant
- Ask acquaintances at local clubs or organizations you belong to
- Contact your local MSU Extension office
The State Bar of Montana has a “Lawyer Referral” service. The advantage is that any lawyer listed here is licensed and authorized to practice in Montana. However, it is still in it’s early stages so it may not list all of the available lawyers in any particular geographic or topical area as it is up to the lawyers to list their practice type(s). If you don’t find a lawyer that fits your needs, consider searching some of the other online directories.
There are an increasing number of lawyer directories available online; Duke University of Law in Durham, NC maintains a helpful list of such directories. While these can supplement your search, use them with care. Some require that lawyers pay to be listed or “featured,” and some use algorithms to generate reviews and ratings for each lawyer.
EVALUATING YOUR FARM AND RANCH ATTORNEY
The State Bar of Montana has a valuable list of tips to avoid working with people unauthorized to practice law. One such tip is to use its Attorney Search; only individuals licensed and presently authorized to practice in Montana will have a record there. You can conduct background checks using the Better Business Bureau and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel’s list of disciplined attorneys.
Having a business plan, and being clear on which areas of your operation require legal attention, will shape the questions you’ll ask when considering a particular lawyer.
Some questions to consider asking in advance of your first meeting:
- How long have you been a licensed, practicing attorney?
- What are your primary areas of practice? I.e. what is the breakdown of the type of work you usually do?
- How many other farm/ranch business have you worked with?
- Do you work mostly with sole proprietorships? Limited liability corporations (LLC’s)? Corporations? (Read: are your other client’s businesses structured like mine?)
- Do you offer free initial consultations?
- What do you charge? How do you calculate your fees?
- What types of fee arrangements are available? Flat, hourly, capped, contingency, other?
- Is a retainer required?
- How often will my bills be due? Can I see what you’re billing in real-time? Can I pay them online?
- Will you be my primary point of contact? What is your/their typical response time to clients?
- How do you like to communicate with clients? Phone, email, text?
- Are there other lawyers in your firm? What are their areas of practice? Who will be working on my matter?
- Can I talk to client references who either are like me in terms of size/industry or for whom you’ve done similar work?
Disclaimer: This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Seek the advice of a licensed professional regarding the application of these general principles to your individual circumstances.