Starting a business is an exciting experience and can be hugely rewarding. However, running a business successfully over the long term can also be challenging, with countless legal decisions and requirements to comply with.
Choosing the right law firm is essential to ensure you have a trusted partner who can both protect your business and help it grow. Whether it’s negotiating business contracts, filing a patent for a new product, writing employee contracts or dealing with disputes, you will need a lawyer to navigate your business journey.
Here are my top four tips for SMEs when selecting a law firm:
1. Ask around
As a first step when looking for a law firm, you should seek referrals from your SME network. Ask other small business owners in your industry about lawyers they would recommend, or not recommend, for you to work with. Speaking to someone about their own experience will give you a better idea of the service you can expect than doing desktop research.
2. Think value rather than cost
Small businesses often focus on keeping the purse strings as tight as possible until the business starts to turn a profit, which is why many avoid hiring lawyers, or select one based on low fees. However, given the importance that legal advice plays on the long-term future of your business, it’s better to select a lawyer based on their level of experience rather than the cost. Treating the legal expenses of starting up as an insurance policy for future success is a good way of putting initial advice and documentation into context.
For your lawyer to get the best outcomes for your business, it’s essential they have a deep understanding of your operations. The best way to do this is to hire someone who specialises in your industry, so they know what is most relevant to your business and can stay across any regulatory changes in the industry. Even if you aren’t looking at a specialist law firm, ask if there is someone at the firm with the speciality or an expert they can work with.
4. Ask for a fixed quote
Working on a fixed-fee basis, for specified deliverables, means that you can pose questions and research details without the risk of being charged extra fees. Don’t be afraid of a charge for a “deep consult” prior to the fixed fee on deliverables, as the quality of outcomes (making the deliverables bespoke rather than vanilla) often turns on the time you and a lawyer spend on discussing the business and key issues facing you. If an hourly-rate retainer is proposed, ensure the lawyer can demonstrate why this is of benefit to you.