What does a patent lawyer do?
Applying for a patent is a laborious, costly and chance-laden process. At best your patent will allow you to reap enormous dividends from your desirable innovation and will protect it from imitation for decades. At worst, you won't even be granted one and it will all turn out to be an expensive waste of time. That's why it's vital to know a) whether it's worth applying for one at all, and b) how best to do it. Because there's a strong element of human judgment in the examination process, it matters almost as much how you couch your claim as what the content is. You can research through the internet and textbooks whether you are likely to benefit from a patent. In fact, there's nothing concrete to stop you from doing it all alone. But once you've got as far as knowing you may want a patent it's probably best to get expert advice from a patent lawyer.
If you have done some preliminary research your patent lawyer may or may not take it into account - probably, for the sake of clarity and avoidance of lawsuits, it will be the latter. So bear that in mind if you are short of time. Again, good old USPTO can help you with finding a reliable legal representative - there's a list on the website (www.uspto.gov). It's worth noting that lawyers can lose their license if they betray any confidential details relating to your application. There are also patent agents, whose capacities overlap those of a patent lawyer in some, but not all, ways. They can't draw up legal documents with certainty or represent your application in court - only USPTO-registered lawyers can do this. But they can explain the ins and outs of the patent process to you and advise you on whether it's a good idea to apply for a patent or not. They are also cheaper than lawyers.
Finally it's worth bearing in mind that the patent process is long and expensive and your lawyer's fees will be part of the reason for this. Some products and inventions can be safeguarded as effectively by employing other forms of intellectual property protection such as making them a trade secret. That costs little except some forethought and carefully drawn up confidentiality forms. If you have a limited amount of money to spend on your business it might be better to spend it on other aspects of a healthy trade, such as advertising and branding, than on the patent process. That is a matter for careful reflection and again, perhaps independent expert advice.