A reader emailed me asking: How do I know I have found a great startup lawyer?
And judging by this blog’s most frequent search keywords, you may be asking yourself that question, too.Evaluating your startup lawyer (or any lawyer for that matter) can be a difficult task because a lawyer’s work product tends to be intangible. That is, if you hired someone to build you a bookcase you could test its craftmanship in a matter of seconds. Not the case for the startup lawyer that typically deals in Word and PDF. Therefore, it’s good idea to evaluate your startup lawyer in the following ways to determine if you have found a keeper.
Go Small. Lawyers from small law firms, particularly in the 1-5 lawyer range, tend to make the best startup lawyers. In addition to usually being more cost-effective, small firms tend to understand the mind of the entrepreneur since they are not that far removed from being a startup themselves. Most large firms will of course disagree and attempt to appeal to entrepreneurs by looking 21st century. Typical dog and pony show. Seek an attorney that will truly understand what you are going through as a startup. It’s tough to do that if your office is on the 25th floor and a car service takes you home from work.
Referrals to Other Professionals. A great startup lawyer will suggest you seek the advice of other professionals. Whether the referral is for an accountant, financial planner, banker or even a lawyer in a different specialty, a great lawyer will recognize your non-legal needs in addition your legal needs. Your lawyer should want to help you assemble a professional team as it increases the chances your startup company will succeed. A short-sighted lawyer will try to keep all of your capital earmarked for professional fees with him or her. But the lawyer with a long-term vision for your company would rather you spread your initial professional fees around (even if it means billing less initially) with the thought that your company will then be more likely to succeed.
Prioritizing Your Legal Needs. Finally, a great startup lawyer needs to prioritize your startup company’s legal needs, lay them all out on the table and say something like “these issues HAVE to be addressed now, these issues can wait for now but must be taken care of eventually.” Your startup company will have a number of legal needs and since startup funding tends to be scarce, handling all of them will likely not be feasible initially. A great startup lawyer will rank your legal needs, get the most important issues handled and the navigate you through the rest of the list as your capital allows.