Entrepreneurship and start-up rates are growing at an impressive rate. Gig economies and the alignment of universities with accelerator units are defining a clear path to the start-up world.
With the rapid expansion of routes to success and the need to incorporate rapidly, founder knowledge of formalities is, at times, undercooked. This has meant the reliance on a trusted lawyer to ensure and enable a smooth ascent has become more pertinent. But how do you choose a lawyer for your start-up?
1) Lead with Your Potential Needs
Much like the search for anything, you need a firm grasp of your requirements to find a result. Remember, each start-up faces a different landscape and your lawyer will likely need a range of competencies.
Look at your current status. How far along the incorporation stage you are? Have you already filed your status and submitted a memorandum of association? If you are at the preliminary stages and won’t have the time for this, you have a starting point for your lawyer.
The next piece to consider is the field you are in. What type of red tape will you be faced with? Are patents, IP, certifications, licenses, medical, culinary or technological approval in your future? If so, you need a corporate lawyer equipped for the challenge.
Finally, consider your ongoing and future needs. Will venture capital be a part of the story? You will need someone with the experience to advise sooner rather than later. Put your requirements on paper and rank their importance. Once you have your priorities reviewed, you know what you are looking for.
2) Do They Know Your Industry
It’s likely you already know but lawyers have areas of specialty much like doctors. Obviously, your need will be for a corporate or intellectual property lawyer.
Beyond specializing in business affairs; it is advisable to look for a lawyer that is familiar with your field of operations. Knowledge of your industry streamlines your conversations and won’t require you to bring anyone up to speed.
A lawyer with a grasp of your industry will always be one step ahead watching industry trends, competitor moves, potential opportunities and blind spots. What potential issues in the market or governmental regulations could possibly hurt your business?
A good window into how forward-thinking your lawyer might be is how well they embrace technology. If they have all the very latest software for lawyers, you can be assured they are doing what they can to lead their industry.
3) What are their Connections?
Future plans undoubtedly include significant growth, market domination, or even a lofty merger. For the vast majority of start-ups, these plans include financing. The popularity of a lawyer tends to grow more because of their ability to open doors for their clients than completing rudimentary tasks.
Survey the market and gauge how well connected your options are. Access to mentors, strategic partners, angel investors or even working relationships with banks can get you a seat at a table you might not otherwise manage.
– Do they partner with venture capitalists?
– Have they successfully counselled mergers and acquisitions?
– What partners or potential customers within the industry do they know of?
4) How responsive are they?
Though you hope to never be in a pinch needing immediate counsel, it is worth knowing how responsive your lawyer is. The simplest of things can turn into major headaches when you are left hanging.
Tenancy agreements, incorporation filings, non-disclosure agreements, or zoning licenses may seem like arbitrary challenges. However, when they go unchecked, they can turn a good day into a bad week. If those matters are slowly attended to, what happens with serious matters of urgency?
5) Are your lawyer’s tech-savvy?
Digital technology is automating processes beyond our most hopeful aspirations. The time used on simple tasks is dramatically reduced thanks to tech developments. The characterization of the law profession in cinematography shows paralegals and lawyers spend hours trawling through physical libraries to find what they are looking for.
What software for lawyers is your office using to cut down time wastage? If you are billed per hour or are urgently waiting, you want to know how your office is minimizing delays.
6) Agreeing Costs
Start-ups are not known for unlimited capital. 69% start out from their own home. Fortunately, entrepreneurs no longer need to settle for good faith measures when it comes to billable hours. Law offices no longer tell you “I don’t know what the cost will be” only for you to get levied with an unpayable bill later.
The ease of switching between law offices enforces the need for transparency and a trustworthy lawyer with your interests at heart will keep you abreast of invoicing matters. Open dialogue is preferable anyway and if lawyers are aware of your financial concerns, they will keep you informed at all times.
In developing your contract, clear transparency is where you start. It is the responsibility of the start-up owner to ask the right questions:
– Is there a special start-up rate? What discounts are available?
– How is your contract structured? Retainer, billable hours, zero-hour contract?
– What services are provided free?
– How does the firm make things more efficient for the client?
– Do junior associates handle smaller matters?
As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for so many moving parts of the business. You cannot wear every hat and juggling too much usually leads to oversights. Finding a lawyer is challenging and will always depend on your need. Use your network and industry to look for a referral.
Ultimately, you want someone who you can trust, and a referral generates the best of these candidates. Take them for a test drive where possible and see how well you click. Without chemistry, you will feel like a paying client rather than having a supportive partner in…. crime?