Hire An Attorney Like A Pro

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Originally appeared on the Startup Grind. Photo Credit: Unsplash http://bit.ly/1OiLATe

I see it all the time: organizations run out to buy top of the line computers, walking desks, fancy Swedish staplers – you name it. But the minute I recommend they hire an attorney there’s pause – “that’s too expensive!” Maybe they should wait until there’s more of a need, like when their IP is directly violated.

The response is understandable. It’s easier to spend money when you get quick gratification you can touch, see or feel. The fact that you can’t touch, feel or quantify an attorney’s  “advice” makes it difficult for us to wrap our head around the benefit. Where is this going, and how will you know it’s worth it?

It’s a mistake to frame this as, “What can an attorney do for me” instead of, “What do I need from an attorney?” The difference is subtle. The former is an intimidating black-hole of possibilities. Which makes it hard to see a benefit. It’s like walking into Best Buy and saying, “All right guys. What do you have to sell?” But the latter lasers in on what matters. Your need. And the benefit is identifying an attorney who fits your need.  Whether or not they’re “worth it” depends on whether they have the things you should be looking for, namely:

Advice You Understand

I’ll take heat for this, but if an attorney throws Latin terms around this may be a problem. One or two are fine; they may be “terms of art” or words specific to the legal practice.  But once you start to squint, it might be time to move on.

I say this because it’s so easy for organizations to be intimidated into following an attorney. The problem is, your attorney is there to assist not intimidate. A worthy attorney breaks down complicated concepts into understandable bits. Showing you they can not only communicate, but have a good command over their subject matter. And most importantly, can apply all that knowledge to your specific situation. This means having a good grasp of what you do. A worthy attorney actually takes an interest in what you do. Asks questions, gets to know you and your business.

A Legal BFF

As a metaphor of course.  Much like a bestie, a worthy attorney is someone you’ll love and you’ll hate. Nevertheless, they look out for the best interests of your organization. This isn’t a “yes” man. It’s a “maybe” man or woman, who doesn’t focus so much on what you can’t do as much as helping you find solutions for what you can. But he or she also won’t have a problem telling you “no” when appropriate. It’s also someone who thinks ahead, like how a current deal or arrangement may impact the organization and its goals further down the line.

An Honest Deal

The training a good attorney gets ain’t cheap. There’s a huge educational cost incurred in the minting of every lawyer, along with research tools and everything else that makes a legal business run. Before focusing too much on cost comparing, ask a potential attorney for cost explanations. A worthy attorney will walk you through it. And as they do, will be honest about what they don’t know or can’t predict. Some will even give you a heads up on what tends to happen with other clients or where they get tripped up.

Deliverables That Reflect You and Your Business

A worthy attorney works with you when it comes to the end products you receive.  If your marketing says a service is easy-going, but the client contract is 100 pages and starts with “We proclaimeth” there’s a disconnect. The key is whether your attorney makes an effort to fit deliverables in with your business.

If you’re a small start-up, did the attorney suggest arranging  contracts in a way that allows flexibility with mixing and matching?  Or point out how formation documents will impact long terms goals, like issuing stock or selling?  These are those intangible, but potentially real, headaches that you’re paying to avoid. And where the true value of a worthy attorney lies.

When hiring an attorney, organizations must take a more active role in deciding what they want and need. Then decide based off those needs. Ultimately, the best attorneys are not only those who “fit” with an organization but also focus on being an active partner and listener. Make sure this exists from the outset.

 

 

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