Entrepreneurs are often surprised to learn the helpful roles that lawyers can play—and truly want to play—in helping them grow their business. (Hint: it’s not processing ISO grants.) Smart collaboration with your lawyer allows you to build a valuable relationship with them, while helping you control your legal costs. The tips below will prepare you to partner with your lawyer in new and better ways that can contribute to the growth and success of your business.
Control Your Own Paper
For each transaction, ask which pieces your team can own and deliver. Save money by doing some of the work yourself, and then invest in your lawyer for advice and to carefully review your work, instead of routine document production.
- Use templates to prepare standard documents (offer letters, NDAs, option grants) yourself.
- Do your own annual state filings (e.g. DE Franchise Tax, Mass Annual Report). These can all be completed on-line and, with some patience, you can figure it out.
- Take ownership of your cap table.
- You are actually in the best position to create your disclosure schedule. Do the legwork for your lawyer and have them review.
- Be comfortable pushing your lawyer to use standard forms. Yes, your business is unique in many ways, but re-inventing the corporate legal wheel only leads to complexity and increased fees.
- Take charge of gathering signatures, follow up, etc.
Your lawyer represents you best when they understand your business, and have open and efficient communication channels with you. These simple tips will help you optimize the time you spend with your lawyer.
- Be ready for conversations, have your documents and questions in order.
- Have one point person to work with your lawyer. It's not your attorney's job to navigate your management team.
- Provide clear and realistic deadlines, tie them to your business needs to help your lawyer prioritize.
- Keep your lawyer in the loop: This can be as simple as CC-ing them on updates to the Board and having a regularly scheduled monthly call.
Stay on Top of the Bills
Review your bills. Lawyers are busy and mistakes get made. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! If you're a young company, you won't see a lot of the Partner you initially meet. Ask to meet the junior lawyer who will be doing your work. They're the one in the trenches with you and the ones who will drive most of the bills.
- If you don't get at least a 10% discount on rates, your lawyer doesn't love you enough. Ask for the discount!
- Discounts should also grow over time. If you’ve spent a lot on your lawyer over time, consider asking for another 5%.
- Fee deferrals—helpful to have, but understand what they are. Be sure to ask about what happens if you don't get funded.
- Take advantage of law firm publications and educational sessions. Firms offer both frequently. Often times your billable question can be answered there. Even if your issue is not squarely addressed, you’re better prepared to have the conversation with your attorney.
Use the “Counsel” in Your Counsel
You'll be surprised at what your counsel can offer when you let them understand your business. Lawyers love it when they can provide value above and beyond document production.
- Corporate lawyers see many different businesses. They are trained to issue spot, and they see what succeeds and certainly what fails.
- Lawyers love to make connections.
- Any good corporate attorney will have a deep network of investors (angels, VCs), lenders (venture debt), advisors, (consultants, accountants, 409A providers, insurance brokers) and talent.
- Instead of paying a recruiter to find your next VP of Finance or HR Manager, try your lawyer.
- They don't bill (or shouldn't bill) for this kind of stuff.
- Invest some time in getting to know your lawyer. A more personal relationship, like all relationships, will pay off in terms of response time, lighter touch on billing, etc. It’s also important for your lawyer to know your business and your challenges.