When you’re starting up a new company, perhaps with a new product, you already know that you’ll need to hire a lawyer. But many entrepreneurs are unaware of the range of services their lawyer can provide, and why it’s essential to make the best choice from the very beginning.
In this guide, we’ll go through some of the essentials to help you find the best fit for your startup.
Where to look
The first question is, where do I start my search?
A referral from someone you trust can be a great starting point. A couple of caveats though: does this lawyer specialize in the areas you need, eg corporate law, intellectual property, etc? Do they have experience in your industry or sector? For example, a firm with lots of retail clients may not have the expertise required for a tech start-up. You’ll save a lot of time and money if the lawyer you choose already speaks your business language.
You can also search local business directories, as well as online services such as Top Researched to identify firms specializing in your niche.
Linkedin can provide valuable leads and help you identify an attorney with the track record you want.
When to look
The best time is – as soon as you decide to start your company, and before you have shared your ideas with other parties (including potential investors). First, you’ll need to protect your intellectual property and get a solid NDA in place.
Your lawyer will also help you decide and set up the correct type of business entity – sole trader, partnership, or limited company. A correctly written partners agreement that clarifies roles and the share of the business each one is entitled to, can save a myriad of problems as the business grows.
If you’re going to be employing others, preparing employment contracts complying with federal, state, and local regulations will also mean you get the business off on the right foot.
What else should you take into consideration?
In addition to the areas of law mentioned above, look for a lawyer who will guarantee to respond to you quickly. Entrepreneurs typically don’t have time to waste chasing people for answers.
The person you’ll be dealing with must be the right personality ‘fit’ for you. Keep in mind that the person you first meet may not be handling your work directly– your account could be handled by a different (and more junior) colleague. So ensure that you meet your main point of contact to assess how well you think you’ll get along with them. Do they understand your business? Do they offer helpful insights during discussions? Are they in tune with the level of risk that you’re prepared to take to grow your business?
Finally, you should be looking for transparency in their fee structure. As a start-up you’re likely to be operating under financial constraints (pre-launch you’ll have no revenue to sustain you), so never be afraid to negotiate or propose a fee structure that matches your needs. If they want to build a long-term partnership, they will likely agree.