If you want to attract business clients, tell them you’re more interested in solving their problems than scoring legal wins.
And let them know their growth and success are your priorities as well.
Those are two things businesses are looking for when choosing legal counsel, says one expert.
“You want a lawyer who understands that winning means growing your company, not securing every tiny legal victory,” writes Miriam Rivera for Entrepreneur magazine. “[W]ork together like winners in a three-legged race, moving smoothly in tandem, each aware of their responsibility and how to respond to the actions of the other.”
A former lawyer, Rivera is now a venture capitalist who advises startups on how to select the right attorney. She began doing this after seeing how often entrepreneurs grow frustrated in their legal dealings.
“They complain that their attorneys slow down negotiations and the closing of deals urgently needed to bring in vital revenue,” she writes in the Entrepreneur piece. “All that and they cost too much!”
Who’s Managing Whom?
Lawyers talk about managing their clients. Businesses talk about managing their lawyers.
“Managing your relationship with your lawyer starts with understanding the orientation of the legal mind,” writes Rivera. “Entrepreneurs that run startups are comfortable wearing many hats to make their businesses successful and typically like to work in a non-confrontational, quick and collaborative manner. That’s not how the mind of your typical corporate lawyer works.”
The phrase “managing your relationship with your lawyer” might bring unpleasant images to mind (for instance, billing guidelines that dictate how many associates can work on a matter, or how much you can charge for photocopy costs). But you’re more likely to create a win-win relationship if you understand where your client is coming from.
That’s why Rivera’s article is so helpful. It offers a peek behind the curtain at how startups and small businesses are being told to choose outside counsel – and how the relationship should work once that choice has been made.
Such as: “You are the ultimate decision maker; your lawyer is there to offer advice. Sometimes the right business decision may be ‘acting against advice of counsel.’”
Four Things Small Business Clients Want in a Lawyer
- Pragmatism.“Employing a lawyer, perhaps one that has worked in a startup before, who shares a similar work orientation is a great place to start,” writes Rivera. “For example, a lawyer negotiating a contract between a startup and Google should understand that getting the deal done is what matters most. If Google requires an indemnity, there’s little use in fighting the point with such a large company. It’s unlikely to move forward without such a term. Effort is better spent managing the risks to the business of providing the indemnity, whether it be avoiding behaviors that might cause your partner to be sued, capping the financial downside of the indemnity or obtaining insurance to cover the risk.”
- Clear priorities. “If you need to sign a deal this week to make payroll obligations, your lawyer needs to know. Likewise, if you need an upfront payment or a specific revenue schedule, tell your lawyer.”
- Time limits. “Don’t simply ask a lawyer to review a contract. Instruct her to spend two hours reviewing a contract and to schedule a half-hour call to discuss it with you. Read the contract yourself before the call. Note any areas of concern or questions you want to ask. You also may want to set deadlines for closing a deal as opposed to just the duration of effort. Lawyers respond to deadlines.”
- Quantified risk. “If your lawyer flags an issue, you need to ask questions to help assess the level of associated risk. For example, ask how many similar cases or contracts the lawyer has worked on and how frequently this particular issue has come up. Ask about the severity of the outcomes and costs associated with taking the risk. Understanding whether you could face a minor nuisance, a fine, jail time or bankruptcy makes it easier to decide whether to take a risk or not.”
Do you represent businesses? What items would you add to the list?