Choosing a franchise is one of the most important decisions of your life. A franchise lawyer can help you make a better informed decision and protect you from an unfriendly franchise agreement. Franchise lawyers do so much for their clients. They sort through hundreds of pages of legal jargon, make relevant recommendations, and parse the existing franchising law. Make sure you not only hire an attorney before signing a franchise agreement, but choose an experienced attorney who specializes in franchise law.

Finding a lawyer with actual franchise experience is essential. Not all lawyers who would agree to look over a franchise agreement have industry experience. According to Franchise Group Franchise Consultants, only 2,000 out of the more than 1 million attorneys in the United States have adequate franchise experience. Franchise law is a very specific kind of business law, and lawyers who mainly practice in other areas of law may be unfamiliar with the nuances of franchising.

One of the best ways to find a great franchise lawyer is to visit the AAFD’s Franchisee LegaLineSM directory. The Franchisee LegaLine includes a roster of attorneys who practice in over 40 states and have been screened for quality (many of them appear on the Chambers USA 2013 list as will be discussed below). Franchisee LegaLine lawyers have also agreed to give AAFD members free initial consultations, and most of them have special member pricing and other benefits as well. To take advantage of these benefits, AAFD members can request a Franchisee LegaLine referral directly from the AAFD.

Another way to find a great franchise lawyer is to get referrals from franchise owners you know. Many investors meet other franchisees during their research into various franchise options. This is a great opportunity to ask more experienced franchisees about who helped them navigate the legal aspects of their purchase. If you get a referral from a franchisee in the system you decide to pursue, you already know the lawyer has experience with that particular franchisor.

If your contacts don’t have any referrals, a great source for finding the top franchise lawyers is the latest version of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business. This publication features an annual list of the top lawyers and law firms by field using in-depth interviews of both lawyers and clients. (Fun Fact: Eight of the top ten attorneys listed in the Chambers directory are members of the AAFD Franchisee LegaLine!)

Finding a great franchise lawyer doesn’t have to be difficult. If you are new to franchising, it is often best to get advice from a source you trust, whether that’s a fellow franchisee, a respected listing, or an independent owners association for the franchise system you are investigating, as well as national associations like the AAFD. Once you have a couple of candidates, look into each attorney’s background and ask questions about their experience. Make sure they are a good professional and personality fit for your franchise support team.