How to choose a start-up lawyer


As a start-up founder, you have a lot on your plate – not only do you need to grow and scale your company, but you also need to manage all the risks that come with running a new business. 

And while every start-up is different, the goal when seeking out legal support is always the same regardless of the size or stage of the business: identify potential risk, and mitigate it. 

But there are other criteria to consider when bringing in a lawyer to support your fledgling business. 

So what should founders look for in legal counsel? David Masse, one of Caravel’s experienced corporate, commercial, and securities lawyers, goes over the top qualities to seek out in a seasoned lawyer for your start-up. 

1) They get to know your business intimately 

You want to avoid working with a lawyer that takes a cookie-cutter approach to servicing their clients. These firms tend to treat all businesses in the same way and provide generic, templated legal advice. 

A qualified start-up lawyer should spend time understanding the ins and outs of your business, and complete a custom risk assessment of your organization. Seek out a lawyer who shows excellent listening skills and a strong sense of empathy. 

[Read our blog post: Tips & tricks for high-growth tech start-ups on setting up their legal support]

Ultimately, you want a lawyer who is able to get to the heart of your business and understand its profitability, and what makes it tick. Ideally, your lawyer will be willing to come up with creative solutions in order to mitigate risk while saving your start-up as much money as possible.

2) They help structure your start-up in the most simple and efficient way 

The biggest mistake founders make is creating a business structure that involves unnecessary complexity. If you make that mistake in the early stages of your start-up, it’s very hard to correct down the road. A good lawyer will help you structure your business in the most simple and efficient way possible so that you’re prepared for success from day one.  

3) They understand which legal issues to prioritize 

As a founder of a start-up, you’ll have pressing legal issues you need to deal with first and foremost. These usually involve: 

  • incorporating
  • filing trademarks, copyrights and patents
  • ensuring you’re following regulations specific to your industry
  • drafting employment contracts
  • drafting shareholders agreements
  • ensuring you’re legally able to trade in multiple jurisdictions

A great lawyer will understand what the legal priorities are for your start-up and advise you accordingly. Founders rarely count legal expertise among their tools, and typically ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, so this guidance from your counsel is incredibly important for start-ups that always run on a tight budget. 

[Read our blog: 9 questions start-ups need to ask before taking on external funding]

4) They understand the importance of drafting a rock-solid master service agreements 

You’ll likely rely heavily on the services agreements you have with your clients. An experienced start-up lawyer will draft this agreement in a modular way so that the contract is ‘self-sufficient’ and the variables like duration, the scope of services, fees and other operational elements are easily managed by the client so that the lawyer doesn’t need to be involved every time a new contract is signed, helping to save on legal costs. Ideally, your lawyer will only get involved if your client requests changes to be made to fundamental aspects of the legal agreement.  

5) They make themselves available

Because start-ups can’t afford to have full-time in-house counsel, you’ll often struggle to get legal support when you need it. A good lawyer working with a start-up will make themselves reasonably available – even if they aren’t retained full-time – and show that they’re committed to the growth of the business.

[Read our blog: Why lawyers with in-house counsel experience are so valuable]

6) They offer their services at a reasonable price 

Start-ups have the perennial challenge of working with tight budgets, which makes securing senior and experienced legal professionals especially difficult. 

Experienced lawyers at traditional law firms are often too expensive for start-ups, and as a result, they generally offer the services of junior lawyers instead. Junior lawyers certainly have a role to play, but they don’t typically have the experience or breadth of knowledge to properly service the complex needs of a start-up. 

Alternative law firms often provide qualified, experienced lawyers at reasonable hourly rates and focus specifically on providing legal counsel to start-ups and other new and smaller businesses. 

If you’re looking for a lawyer for your start-up, we can help. Caravel Law is an alternative legal firm with over 70 qualified and experienced lawyers, including those specializing in start-ups. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.

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