When looking for a lawyer, look to build a long-term relationship. You don’t want to make a shortsighted decision based on who might be the cheapest today, who might be your friend, or who you might have been referred to first. Someone who understands you and your business is a huge asset and not always easy to find. Taking the time to vet potential lawyers will pay off in the future in the form of a strategic partnership.
Below are what I consider the three most important characteristics to look for in a lawyer for your startup.
When looking for a lawyer, look to build a long-term relationship. Tweet This Quote
Not only do successful lawyers know how to think like a lawyer, they also know how to think like a client. The most important quality to look for in a lawyer is empathy.
Sometimes, lawyers only see the world through their own eyes. In order for a lawyer to take ownership of your problems as their responsibility, they have to see those problems through your eyes. In fact, the right lawyer will understand you well enough to reveal problems that you didn’t even know you had. If you can find such a lawyer, you can provide your business with a core strategic asset.
2. Creative Problem Solving
Although it’s important for a lawyer to understand your problems, it’s not enough. What is harder to judge at the outset is whether the lawyer is thoughtful, creative, and really engaged in coming up with solutions. There are two things to be cautious about. First, some lawyers are simply not solution-oriented. They are good at pointing out a problem, but will not own the problem as one they need to solve.
Second, some lawyers lack creativity because they operate from a limited toolkit. There’s a famous expression: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Some lawyers are used to certain agreements, financings, and procedures. They might only know a single or a few ways to approach issues and thus will look to apply that toolkit, even when it does not fit. When operating a startup, where the problems may be unfamiliar and complex, you need a lawyer who can think creatively outside of the box and look for creative solutions.
A judge whom I clerked for in the past taught me a valuable lesson I like to refer to: I’m not afraid of what I don’t know; I’m afraid of what I think I know. Too often, lawyers are afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer. It says a lot about a lawyer if they admit they need to talk to a colleague or do some research before offering you advice.
Too often, lawyers are afraid to admit when they don’t know the answer. Tweet This Quote
All of this sounds great, but what if you are short on resources? A lot of lawyers are willing to be flexible and creative on payments, which is actually a good sign that they will be creative in other matters. Many will suggest that they accrue fees to collect later when your company is in a better situation. If someone won’t work with you financially, they might well not be right for you anyway.
How do you know if a lawyer is who they say they are? When looking for a lawyer, don’t rely only on your own instinct. Check references. Ask if they have encountered a certain situation you might be facing and how they handled it. Chemistry and cultural fit are important, but performance and competence matter more. No matter how much you like someone, at the end of the day you want the job done well.
Chemistry and cultural fit are important, but performance and competence matter more. Tweet This Quote
If you can find a lawyer who understands your business, owns your problems as their own, solves problems creatively, and willingly admits what they don’t know, you have a long-term partner who can help your business grow and avoid pitfalls. So take the time to look for the right lawyer, and that investment in your business will pay dividends over the long run.