When you start a business you have a vision of doing something great, right? That’s why you want to do everything right, from your logo to employee contracts. I know how it feels! And because you want to do everything right, you decide to hire a startup lawyer so there aren’t any loose legal ends.
Apart from doing the right thing, there is another reason why the right decision about a startup lawyer is important. Yes, it’s money, the most valuable asset for startups. Lawyers aren’t cheap, just like any other professional service that requires extensive knowledge.
That’s why you want to get it right the first time. It’s going to cost you anyway, so why spend more than you need to (and can afford)?
Choosing the right startup lawyer not only saves you money but benefits your business in the long run in three distinctive ways:
- If you get them on board early, you won’t need them to fix anything later, which means less long term costs and “putting out fires.”
- The lawyer will know your business in depth so that she can provide personalized advice.
- She won’t take on clients that would create a conflict of interest. If you wait until you’re in legal trouble, you risk that the lawyer who can help you is already working with the enemy.
The good thing is, in my experience working with small businesses and running one myself, I have seen that in the startup world, entrepreneurs trust each other more than anywhere else. The chances are, the lawyer you’re considering for your startup has been recommended by a fellow entrepreneur. That’s a great start.
Yet there isn’t one size that fits all, and you need to do your homework.
Getting a recommendation or seeing outstanding reviews on a lawyer’s Google + page is an awesome start. You are smart enough to have figured at least ten interview questions that would paint the general picture. But how do you decide from here? What are the key questions that you need to ask to make the right choice?
Ask them these 9 questions and be sure that you’re making the right choice from the start:
1. Who is going to handle your business?
Is the lawyer you’re considering part of a big firm? If so, you need to make sure that she will be directly handling your business and you won’t end up with an intern to manage as well.
That’s the main reason why I recommend small law firms or independent lawyers for startups. They not only have more personalized and genuine service but also know the ins and outs of running a small business themselves so you don’t have to explain your view point.
2. Do you have business experience (other than law)?
Again, it’s going to be so much easier to communicate your vision and desires if your lawyer has been running a business herself.
That doesn’t need to be the law practice in question, but some business or industry experience is extremely beneficial in such relationships. It saves time, improves communication, and helps you save time and money by making decisions faster.
3. Are there billing plans specifically for startups?
Your lawyer might have special plans or packages that fit a startup budget. If you find such a lawyer, hug her and stick with her. She understands the needs of small businesses and will always offer you what’s great for you.
Even if there aren’t any existing startup plans, you might want to create one with your new lawyer if she’s open to it.
4. Are you a good teacher? Do you have any teaching experience?
As your business grows, you will learn to do many of the legal aspects of it yourself (like reviewing regular contracts or sending letters of demand). But you need to be trained first, and this is your lawyer’s job. She needs to be open to explaining what you can do herself and how to do it.
She must see this training process as mutually beneficial. She saves time and you save money in the long term. If your lawyer of choice leads seminars, events, teaches in a university, or is a public speaker, that’s a good sign.
5. Do you work with any specific industry?
The chances are that you already know the answer from pre-researching your lawyer but make sure to go into detail about this during the interview.
It’s always easier, more convenient and efficient to work with someone that can get in your shoes.
6. Do I like and connect with this person?
For me, this would be the most important question. Startups need to build a network of professionals that they can trust because these are the building blocks of a sustainable business.
If you don’t like the people you work with, the chances are that along the way you will say your goodbyes. Why start a relationship that you will need to end?
7. Can you handle slow times and high times?
Having high and low tides is very typical for startups and many established seasonal businesses.
It’s not unusual for you to have a few super busy months and lots of work for your lawyer (when starting up for example) and then a few very slow months when you even forget your lawyer’s number. She needs to be okay with that and be flexible so she can put the extra hours in when needed and feel at ease with not having much to do as well.
8. How do you communicate?
It’s important to know how you’re going to communicate with your lawyer in the modern age of social media and messaging apps. Make sure you feel comfortable with her communication style and tools.
Does she prefer email or phone calls? Is she responsive on social media? What events need to be communicated immediately?
9. What is your approach to solving legal problems?
If she answers “preemptive,” you should jump right on board. In the best case, you want a lawyer who works with you to prevent any legal trouble. She needs to have attention to detail and a future vision that spots potential gaps where problems might appear.
This lawyer will save you a bunch of money in legal fines and will be your most valuable friend in the long term. When you talk to your potential lawyer, make sure she is into avoiding not solving legal issues.
Ask these nine questions and you can hire a startup lawyer without fear!
Hiring an attorney that you can trust for you startup is like having a sister. They have seen all of your dirty laundry multiple times and still like and support you!
2016 is coming and every startup should make a New Year’s resolution to find a lawyer who works to grow the business rather than the number of cases on her record.
About the Author
Katherine Hawes of Aquarius Education is a lawyer with two dogs as the office companions that races cars in her spare time. She has practiced law for over 15 years assisting small business grow and understand their legal responsibilities. You can find her on