Determining Legal Representation

Figuring out the right legal representation can be a real challenge for entrepreneurs and small businesses, particularly for those who operate in niche markets.

Here, we examine a number of tips business leaders should consider when determining the right legal counsel to represent their business. 

These reflections follow, or expand upon, the 7 legal qualities previously mentioned in “Tips On Finding Legal Counsel”. 

However, this post focuses on important questions entrepreneurs should ask any potential counsel about their approach to the law, their internal structure, method of doing business, and relationship with outside institutions.  


1. Approach to Conflict Resolution. 

Evaluate how the lawyer(s) approaches conflict resolution because it is important to distinguish between experience in the courtroom and mediating disputes. Both can be valuable for your company, but often not at the same time.  Strength in the courtroom and in the conference room has specific benefits and purposes, and can answer different needs. 


2. Their Legal Team.

Naturally, it is important to choose a law firm dedicated to providing the best possible counsel. Pick a firm with a strong team mentality and whose leading attorneys demonstrate significant ownership of the work they do. Try to avoid legal advisors who delegate your possible legal needs to paralegal subordinates.

As a start-up you do not have the time or resources to re-explain your problems and requirements to subordinate legal advisors. Demanding full disclosure of the legal team representing your company should be a priority.     


3. Competition.

Business leaders should try, at all costs, to avoid attorneys and legal advisors who represent possible industry competitors or former business partners. This arrangement can pose a real conflict of interest, undermine your legal needs, and damage your business activities and relationship with the marketplace.


4. Communication Methods.

Be sure to treat the accessibility of your legal advisor and their counsel as fundamental requirements. Always clearly define your expectations and requirements to do business with them, and take the extra time to clarify the most effective methods of communicating with your legal advisors, whether by email, phone, or office meetings. 

As a young business, punctuality is important. Budget constraints limit the amount of time you can allow issues to persist unaccounted for, and you can't afford allowing real concerns to be lost in translation or lost.  


5. Costs & Savings.

When negotiating with attorneys, it is important to be upfront with your legal advisors about the costs associated with their counsel. 

Always demand full disclosure about how the law firm typically bill their clients and similar companies within your industry and stage of operations. And, inquire whether there are feasible ways to reduce the costs in the short-term for their legal services.     


6. Memberships, Associations & Referrals

Entrepreneurs should always make sure, and demand, that your legal counsel is aware of the contemporary legal and business issues surrounding your industry. 

Look for their membership to groups including local bar associations, chambers of commerce, or small business advisory boards. These relationships are important to ensure up-to-date legal counsel.

Similarly, any potential counsel must be able to refer you to other legal experts who can resolve particular issues that your traditional counsel lacks experience in.


Ultimately, you want to treat your legal counsel as if he were a full-time member of your executive team.

Take the time to vet their background, evaluate their strengths, and work to build a solid relationship with them. They can often be the difference between efficiently managing legal conflicts, and being bogged down in endless litigation. 

And, be open with attorneys about your economic constraints.

Entrepreneurs should avoid offering any impression that they are more or less economically flexible than they really are.

Attorneys will understand your economic constraints, particularly if they are familiar with the start-up ecosystem. If they are honest, they will advise you to look elsewhere if and when they feel engaging with your business does not represent an appropriate match.

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