Finding a Lawyer for Your Startup: What You Need to Know - Image by LEANDRO AGUILAR from PixabayIn the fast-paced world of startups, particularly those navigating the complex terrains of emerging technology, the importance of legal guidance cannot be overstated. Legal challenges can arise at any stage of your business journey.

They occur from initial formation and intellectual property protection to fundraising, compliance, and employment issues. If you select the right lawyer, their value can be far beyond just mitigating risks.  They can enable your growth and ability to thrive in the market.

Understanding Your Legal Needs

Assessing Your Startup’s Legal Requirements

The first step in finding the right lawyer for your startup is to understand your specific legal needs. This may seem straightforward, but the legal landscape for startups, especially those in emerging technology sectors, can be complex and multifaceted. Frequent areas where startups require legal assistance include:

  • Intellectual Property (IP) Protection: Essential for safeguarding your innovations, brand identity, and competitive advantage.
  • Contracts and Agreements: From co-founder agreements to customer and supplier contracts, clear and enforceable agreements are foundational to your business operations.
  • Fundraising and Equity: Legal expertise is crucial in navigating the complexities of raising capital, equity distribution, and investor agreements.
  • Employment Law: As you grow your team, understanding employment law is critical to ensure compliance and manage relationships with employees effectively.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Startups, especially those in fintech, health tech, and other regulated sectors, must navigate a myriad of regulatory requirements. A good lawyer can help you pre-empt and tackle these requirements and make introductions to regulators where you would benefit from special conditions.
  • International Expansion: Many startups have global operations from their earliest stages. Operating across jurisdictions can pose complex legal challenges that will need to be balanced with your commercial goals. A law firm that operates in multiple countries or that forms part of a global network could be valuable for companies with their sights on international expansion.

The Search for the Right Lawyer

Finding a lawyer who meets your startup’s specific needs requires a proactive and strategic approach. Here are my key recommendations to guide you through this process:

Referrals and Networks

Start by tapping into your professional networks. Referrals from fellow entrepreneurs or business advisors can be invaluable. Just be careful not to pick a firm because a friend or family member recommended them. Just because a lawyer was great at drafting your brother’s will, they are unlikely to be able to tackle complex startup questions.

Initial Screening

Once you have a list of potential lawyers, conduct an initial screening by reviewing their online presence, including their firm’s website, LinkedIn profiles, and any published articles or blog posts. Look for evidence of their expertise in your industry, understanding of startup challenges, and any relevant case studies or testimonials. This research will help you narrow down your list to those who are most aligned with your startup’s needs and values.

Evaluating Potential Lawyers

After identifying potential candidates, it is time to evaluate them. Here are the most important things you should consider:

Experience and Expertise

Look for lawyers who have a proven track record of working with startups and your specific industry. Their experience should include dealing with the types of legal issues you anticipate facing. A lawyer with a strong background in intellectual property law, for instance, is crucial for a tech startup focused on innovation.

Cultural and Operational Fit

Your lawyer should be more than just a legal advisor; at times, they should feel like a co-founder, guiding you through fund raises, go-to-market, and inevitable challenges. You need a team that understands and fits well with your startup’s culture and way of working. Consider their communication style, willingness to educate and explain complex legal concepts, and their approach to problem-solving. A good fit will facilitate a stronger, more effective working relationship.

Fee Structures and Affordability

Understanding and agreeing on fee structures is crucial. Many lawyers offer different billing arrangements to accommodate the financial realities of startups, including hourly rates, flat fees, or retainer agreements. Some may even consider equity as part of their compensation where the company is already VC backed. It’s important to have a clear conversation about fees early on to ensure there are no surprises and that their services align with your budget.

Building a Relationship

Once you have selected a lawyer, the focus shifts to building a productive and positive working relationship.

Initial Consultations

Make the most of initial consultations by coming prepared with questions about their experience, approach to client relationships, and how they can help your startup succeed. This is also an opportunity to assess their communication skills and whether they’re a good cultural fit.

Setting Expectations

Clear communication about your expectations, needs, and how you prefer to work is essential. Discuss how often you’d like updates, preferred methods of communication, and any specific concerns or priorities you have. Setting these expectations early are incredibly helpful. Some clients prefer talking through things on the phone, whereas others dislike interruptions and would prefer an email or Slack message.

Flexibility and Scalability

Choose a lawyer who can adapt to your startup’s evolving needs. As your business grows, your legal requirements will change. Your lawyer should be able to scale their services accordingly, providing more comprehensive support as needed.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

When selecting a lawyer for your startup, it’s crucial to be vigilant about certain warning signs that may indicate a lawyer or law firm might not be the best fit for your needs. Here are some red flags to be aware of:

Lack of Clear Communication

  • Delayed Responses: If a lawyer takes an unusually long time to respond to initial inquiries or follow-up questions, it may indicate poor communication practices that could become problematic, especially when timely advice is needed.
  • Vague Answers: Lawyers who provide vague or non-specific answers to your questions might not have the expertise you require or might not be investing the necessary effort to understand your startup’s unique needs.
  • Overuse of Legal Jargon: While legal terminology is part of their profession, a good lawyer should make an effort to explain concepts in terms you can understand. An over-reliance on jargon could indicate a lack of willingness to ensure you’re fully informed.

Overpromising Results

  • Guarantees of Success: Legal outcomes can rarely be guaranteed. Lawyers who promise certain outcomes may not be giving you a realistic assessment of your situation.
  • Too Good to Be True Fees: If the fee structure seems significantly lower than market rates without a clear rationale, be cautious. It might indicate a lack of experience, or you may find yourself facing unexpected additional charges later on.

Not Understanding Startup Culture

  • Lack of Flexibility: Startups often operate in a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. A lawyer who shows a lack of flexibility in meeting times, communication methods, or billing arrangements may not be well-suited to the dynamic nature of startup operations.
  • No Evidence of Working with Startups: If a lawyer or firm doesn’t have a track record of working with startups or doesn’t seem to grasp the unique challenges and pressures startups face, they may not be able to provide the tailored advice and support you need.
  • Beware of pseudo expertise: There are many lawyers who ‘specialise’ in areas like AI, fintech, or startups but lack the technical and legal expertise needed to tackle the unique challenges around these areas. Explaining your products and market shouldn’t feel difficult to a true tech lawyer.

Not Being Proactive

  • Reactive Rather Than Proactive Advice: The right lawyer for a startup should not only be able to address current legal issues but also anticipate potential future challenges and advise accordingly. A purely reactive approach might leave your startup vulnerable to unforeseen legal pitfalls.

Misalignment of Vision

  • Disregard for Your Commercial Vision: A lawyer who doesn’t take the time to understand or shows little respect for your startup’s vision is unlikely to provide the level of support and partnership you’re looking for. Legal advice should align with your business goals. As a fast-moving startup, a risk-averse lawyer who doesn’t consider your commercial goals is only going to slow you down.
  • Differences in Values: Your values as a founder and as a company are incredibly important. You select your team based on alignment with these values. External advisors like lawyers should be no different. If you have fundamental differences in opinion on the way your company should be managed, you’ll find it difficult to receive useful advice.

Insufficient Resources or Support

  • Solo Practitioners Overstretched: While many solo practitioners are highly capable, some may not have the bandwidth to provide the level of attention your startup needs, especially if they’re handling a large number of clients. Their attention may be spread to thin to have a strong personal grasp on the unique complexities of your business.
  • Large Firms Where You’re a Small Client: Conversely, at very large firms, smaller startups might not receive the attention or prioritization they require, as the firm may be more focused on their larger, more lucrative clients.

Being aware of these red flags can help you avoid potential pitfalls and ensure that you select a lawyer or law firm that is truly aligned with your startup’s needs and values. The right legal partner is out there; it requires diligence, patience, and a keen eye for these warning signs to find them.


Selecting the right lawyer is a critical decision for any startup. By understanding your legal needs, conducting thorough research, and evaluating potential candidates based on experience, expertise, and fit, you can establish a strong legal foundation for your business. Remember, the right lawyer is not just a service provider but a strategic partner who contributes to your startup’s success.

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In the meantime, if you can’t wait, you can contact us directly for impartial advice by visiting our website or emailing [email protected] 

A City Law Firm Limited is a leading entrepreneurial law firm in the city of London, with a dynamic and diverse team of lawyers. It was awarded most innovative law firm, London 2016 and Business Law firm 2017. They specialise in start-up business law, the tech industry, IP and investment.


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