In the early stages of any business, finding the right people is extremely important. Among the most important of these initial hires are a good accountant and attorney. The need for a good accountant are relatively self-evident - backroom tasks such as making sure the books are balanced, bills are paid and knowing cost and cash flow are fundamental to the viability of any startup. On the other hand, the need for a solid lawyer is not always as obvious.
If your startup has matured to the point that you're now worth suing, congratulations! Your company is successful enough that someone wants a part of what you have. Unfortunately, if you've also waited until this point to hire an attorney, then it may be too late. The infraction has already happened and it's now a matter of how much the problem will cost.
Many startups make the mistake of not hiring a lawyer until a problem arises, since lawyers cost money and manage a lot of the boring day-to-day banalities like employment contracts and service agreements, which are easy to overlook at times. This is unfortunate, because while they are qualified to deal with a lawsuit, a good attorney can also help you take steps to avoid lawsuits and other legal potholes altogether - saving your business time and money in the long run.
But how do you find a smart, capable lawyer that also fits with your working style and can help achieve your business goals?
Upon making the smart decision to hire a business attorney sooner rather than later, the next step is to begin your research to consider how each potential legal partner would fit with your startup. This is a situation where asking your network for referrals can really help, as they should be able to provide an honest, first-hand assessment of a lawyer in terms of ability as well as working style and personality. You will likely be working with your legal team fairly regularly, so compatibility is crucial.
If your network references do not provide any promising legal options, shift your search to professional associations within your industry or relevant trade organizations. Internet searches can also provide a list of options in your area; however, these candidates will require more scrutiny to ensure they're the right fit for your business. Ask for a list of current or former clients to contact and do some digging online. Resources like Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings can provide valuable insight on an attorney's reputation. Once you've narrowed down your list, bring each contender in for a meeting. Good lawyers will anticipate the kinds of questions you will ask and should be able to provide all the information you need.
Experience Within Your Industry
When judging prospective attorneys, it's critical to find out if they have experience working with startups and if they know your industry. The difference between working with large and small companies is huge, and you want to make sure your lawyer is responsive and works at a fast enough pace to keep up with your needs. Additionally, each industry has its own unique challenges and your attorney needs to know these details to effectively protect your interests when reviewing contracts or conducting negotiations. A lawyer who understands and considers all relevant factors before offering legal counsel can save you a lot of headaches in the long run.