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Stuck between a rock and a hard place? Here’s how to find a lawyer that works with your business, when you don’t have the budget for an in-house lawyer.
The law firm llgold opened its doors after I had first-hand experience of how frustrating it is when your external lawyers don’t get you and what your business is trying to achieve. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall. I had been employed in-house at a fast-growing financial services company and, after a lot of arguments with external lawyers, thought, ‘there has got to be a better way!’.
I get it. It’s not hard to see why so many small business owners shudder at the thought of having to call a lawyer. Let me guess – the first things that come to mind are frightening bills (with time charged in 6 minute units), leather armchairs and lavish law firm lobbies.
Ok, well the good news is that there are a lot of lawyers in business these days that do things differently – but we will get to that.
So, for many of you, it might seem like the only options are external lawyers that are distanced from your business or in-house lawyers.
In-house lawyers are incredible because they live and breathe the company’s culture, plans, products and dreams. Everything they do as part of their work is coloured by what a company is trying to achieve. They give business fantastic value. A really cluey in-house counsel will work to use the law to take your business up and onward on its path to success.
The thing is, many small businesses (especially start-ups) don’t have room in the budget for in-house lawyers. Instead, they have to take a punt on external lawyers.
In the most disappointing of its incarnation, an external lawyer will work in a vacuum without any visibility of (or, sadly, interest in) what you do and what is important to you. This could lead to you getting legal advice that might be technically correct, but doesn’t go very far to push your business along in its journey of growth. Many external lawyers won’t even leave their offices – making their clients come to them! Crazy! Don’t they know that you have a business to run?
Don’t panic. The important thing to remember here is that you are the client. You have choices. And you can scope the market for the people and services that suit you and your business.
So, if an in-house counsel isn’t in the budget, how do you find an external lawyer that you love working with? What should a small business or start-up do to find an external lawyer that they can bring into the tent and be a helper not a hindrance to growth? Here’s my tips:
#1. Meet with lawyers with the goal of finding one that ‘gets you’ and is excited about your business.
#2. Talk to everyone in your network and get referrals for trusted advisors.
#3. Meet with prospective lawyers face to face before engaging them (whether they agree to come to you is a good test of what sort of operator they are).
#4. Ask them if they have a passion for business. Ask them why they are a lawyer.
#5. Talk to them about the way they charge for their services. Are they ‘billable hour’ and ‘6 minute units’ all the way, or are they able to offer up front fixed fees, or even fixed amounts for each stage in a matter?
#6. Find out if they are prepared to spend some time getting to know you and your business, without charging for it (even invite them to spend some time working from your office to get a feel for what you are doing).
A really good lawyer that suits your business will challenge you, but will always (always) work to find a way forward for you. Remember, you don’t want a ‘yes man’. You want an advisor. Someone that has the guts to call a spade a spade and protect you from risk. But, if you constantly feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall, you probably haven’t met your match.