Choosing a Law Firm for Your Startup: Part 3 - UNeTech Institute

There are few relationships as intimate as a lawyer and client and in many ways, courting a law firm is like courting a partner. You may find yourself telling your lawyer any number of secrets or embarrassing things. Make sure that when you “swipe right,” you’re not left with a catfish. This is the third and final entry in a series about the factors to consider in your choice of lawyer.

Factor Three: Compatibility

As in all other things, experience is king. A lawyer with experience in your particular issue is worth their weight in gold. However, a lawyer also has an ethical duty of competence, which is not the same as experience. A competent lawyer is one that has researched the issue and consulted with subject matter experts, data experts, and anyone else necessary to provide satisfactory representation. A lawyer can be competent without having years of experience in the area, and in fact, is ethically required to refuse representation if they do not feel they can provide such competency. You may be compatible with a competent lawyer with less experience.

Lawyers are educational chameleons and whether your legal issue involves crop insurance, Kickstarter fundraising, or religious discrimination, your lawyer will dive in and learn that area of law as part of your case. A lawyer with less experience in your specific legal issue may be willing to charge you less for the opportunity to gain experience. Coupled with the duty of competence, this could represent a significant cost savings opportunity.  Ask your candidate lawyer about their experience, but also ask about challenging cases that required them to branch out and learn something new.

Additionally, communication compatibility is extremely important. Some clients like to receive weekly updates in person with their lawyer, while others prefer updates only when necessary by email. A lawyer should be willing to meet your communication expectations, but they may do so by assigning a paralegal or associate to do so. Setting expectations during your selection process can avoid frustration by both parties down the road.

Finally, it is important that you find a lawyer you just “click” with. There is no way to quantify this “x-factor” and you will need to rely on your instincts and your research of both the firm and the lawyer. A referral may get you part way to an attorney you “click” with, but be sure to meet with the lawyer, in person if possible, to gauge your compatibility before committing to an engagement.

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Homero Vela is a small business attorney with Barkdoll & Von Ahsen LLC.