Many entrepreneurs have an engrained distrust of lawyers. They don’t want to rack up enormous legal fees or wait for a lawyer to tell them all the reasons why they should not do something. While entrepreneurs like to view themselves as problem solvers, lawyers are trained to identify potential problems before they happen.
Even if your company is small, countless legal issues can arise during its early years, ranging from setting up the firm's legal structure to hiring first employees. Laws are complicated, and so is the language that goes with them. A lawyer can help you understand your options and make the best decisions about the complex processes every startup goes through.
A lawyer's advice will also give you guidance about potential situations you hope won’t ever happen. If there’s a fire in your building, you don’t want to realize too late that you failed to obtain proper insurance coverage. If a sexual harassment issue arises, you don’t want to be caught off guard and make a bad decision. Remember: If you mix your personal resources with the business, your own assets (and your spouse’s) can also be at risk.
A lawyer can stop these issues from blowing up into potentially business-crushing ordeals, but you must hire the right lawyer. Here’s how to find the right person:
1. Look for the right qualities. You want a lawyer who is thorough and aggressive enough to fight for you, but you also want someone who’s personable and can relate to your needs. She or he should be willing to work with you and communicate clearly so you can determine how to proceed in any situation. In addition, an ideal lawyer pursues continued education and remains civil and composed despite having a competitive drive.
2. Don’t use your friends. You need to be able to make tough decisions without worrying about your lawyer’s feelings or the possibility of that attorney divulging your faults. Friends can be successful in providing what's needed, but relationships also can become strained during an intense trial.
3. Ask for recommendations. An excellent place to start your search is by asking friends and acquaintances for referrals. Gather a few names, set up some appointments and interview lawyers who have received good reviews from people you trust. Ask about experience, strategies and what the attorney would do to help you specifically.
Related: How to Find the Right Lawyer for You
4. Use online resources. The website LegalMatch is a great way to find a lawyer who is suited to your industry. You select from a directory a specific area of law and enter details about your case that will be posted in the database. Attorney who are using the site and who might be interested in working will respond. This process weeds out lawyers and firms that don’t have the specific expertise.
5. Choose a suitable firm. There are pros and cons to working with both large and small firms. Sole practitioners work one-on-one with you and typically take on smaller cases for lower fees. You might find a more informal experience when consulting with small firms, which can provide more variety in terms of expertise and coverage. Mid-sized and large firms will provide full-service benefits, including all required resources or contacts and an established reputation. Larger firms also typically have multiple locations and have teams devoted to specific categories of litigation.
Making smart choices for your startup comes down to being proactive. If you wait until you’re sued to find a lawyer, the problem’s already occurred -- and you risk being in over your head.
Starting your own business always involves risk, but there’s no reason legal issues need to be included in the list of potential hazards. Hire a lawyer now to ensure your business will be up and running for years to come.