Your lawyer is your representative to your state, to the court, and in high pressure business negotiations. It is important to find a lawyer that meets your specific needs. What follows is part one in a series about the factors to consider in your choice of lawyer.
Factor One: The Goldilocks Conundrum
Just as Goldilocks was faced with a choice of porridge too hot, too cold, and just right, you will be faced with a range of law firms who all want to represent your start-up venture. Law firms come in all shapes and sizes and bigger is not always better. Big law firms employ teams of lawyers working together to solve your legal issues, while smaller law firms often operate in teams of one. A team of lawyers from several different specialties may make a single big law firm a “one-stop-shop” for all your legal needs. On the other hand, one lawyer with 20 years of experience in a specific legal area working alone might be a better choice than a team of lawyers who have never handled the same issue. You are always allowed to use different lawyers for different legal issues. For example, you may use a big law firm for all your general business issues and use a small boutique law firm for your equity offerings.
In a big firm, the lawyer in charge of your case (also known as a “partner, shareholder, or member”) may not be the attorney doing the work on your case. Big law firm lawyers often rely on “associates,” young and enthusiastic lawyers without much relevant experience, to do much of the work on your case. The big law firm lawyer in charge of your case will then generally review the associate’s work. When working with a small law firm, work on your case will usually be completed by the lawyer in charge of your case.
Both big and small law firms use paralegals to complete work in a cost-efficient manner. As a lawyer is analogous to a doctor, a paralegal is analogous to a nurse or physician assistant. Paralegals are not allowed to practice law and must work under the supervision of a lawyer. However, utilizing paralegals to perform appropriate work can save you money, because paralegals are billed at a rate lower than a lawyer.
Big and small law firms each have their place in the legal marketplace, and your choice will be personal to your needs. During your lawyer selection process, be sure to inquire as to who will be doing the work on your case, their relevant experience, and who will be available to answer your questions should any arise to determine whether the candidate law firm is “just right” for you.
Check out the next installment in this series, Choosing a Law Firm for Your Startup: Part 2 – Factor Two: Know When to Hold ‘Em. ________________________________________________________
Homero Vela is a small business attorney with Barkdoll & Von Ahsen LLC.