Having access to sound legal counsel when founding a startup is essential to ensure that your business is compliant with general business laws as well as industry-specific rules and regulations.
Seasoned startup lawyers are generally experienced in most legal aspects of business, and can help you at every step of the way, from selecting the best business structure to formulating policies and crafting agreements, protecting your intellectual property and guiding you in funding-related matters.
If you’re looking to hire an attorney or a law firm for your new business, here are five key questions you should ask them before signing a contract.
Do you have experience working with early-stage startups?
A young startup has unique legal requirements, and hiring an attorney who has not previously worked with new startups can pose problems later. This is because early-stage small business and startups entrepreneurs may not be aware of minute legalities, and a legal expert who has worked with young startups will be better equipped to help you navigate the complex world of corporate law.
Building a sound legal foundation for your business is an essential part of setting it up for long-term success, so it’s important that you work with a startup attorney with extensive experience in helping startups right from incorporation to actual operations.
Have you worked with businesses in my industry?
Only finding a good startup lawyer is not enough, you need to ensure that they have the relevant experience to offer you industry-specific legal counsel on every important matter. So don’t stop your search when you find a business attorney with startup experience through recommendation or reference. Go a step further and find out if they have exposure to the nitty-gritty of your industry.
The job of a business lawyer is not only to write and get your contracts and other documents. You need to have access to an expert legal team that has worked with other new businesses in your industry so that they know what kind of legal issues can crop up and how they can be mitigated.
For instance, if you’re building an e-commerce business, you’ll need an ecommerce internet lawyer who is well-versed in the legalities of setting up and operating an online business and can guide and support you in legal matters through your entrepreneurial journey.
What all services do you offer?
Most new businesses prefer hiring a corporate lawyer when starting out. But as your business grows and complexities arise, you will need an attorney or a law firm with experience in a wide range of areas, such as trademark application, patent application, managing trade secrets, infringement, cyber squatting, data breach, privacy matters and, if needed, litigation.
Ideally, you should engage with a law firm that can offer you the full range of services as and when needed, including:
- Intellectual property protection and litigation
- Creating and negotiating funding contracts, shareholder agreements and legal guidance in IPOs
- Drafting employment contracts and ensuring compliance with relevant labor laws and employee health and safety regulations
- Buying, selling or leasing real estate
- Legal advice in the development and use of trademarks, copyrights and domain names
- Industry-specific legal counsel and up-to-date information on changes in laws that affect your business
How much will you charge?
Having a knowledgeable and experienced startup lawyer on board can be costly, but in the long-run, it is worth the investment. However, early-stage startups have limited funding, so your focus should be to find a good lawyer who is also affordable. Many law firms offer a free first consultation to help you understand how they work and what they can offer you.
Knowing exactly how much an attorney’s services will cost is important before you hire them. You also need to know if they will bill a flat fee or an hourly rate. The most important factors that affect legal fees include the size of the law firm, the experience of the attorney, the type of legal services you’ll need, the industry of your business and the time needed to resolve the issue at hand.
To safeguard your interests, ask for a service agreement that clearly mentions the lawyer’s fee as well as the billing method.
How will we communicate with each other?
Especially in the beginning, you’ll need a startup attorney who is readily available to answer your queries and comes across as a friendly, positive individual. It works best for both parties to agree upon a preferred mode of communication and to set up alternative contacts when either is not reachable.