Is this how it has to be? Or are you missing something?
Finding the right law firm for your company may not be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible either. If your company needs legal help, but you’re dreading yet another lame experience with a law firm, this blog post is for you. If you’ve struggled with hiring the right law firm for your company, it’s probably for one of the following reasons:
Hiring generalists instead of specialists
This is probably the #1 issue I’ve seen with business owners. I know you want one go-to lawyer who can do everything, but once a business has reached a certain level of maturity this is simply not optimal. Honestly, even when a business is relatively young, the fact that one lawyer can do everything does not mean all of those things are being done equally well.
Think about going to the doctor - most medical issues outside of the common cold require attention from a specialist. If you injure yourself at the gym, you go see a physical therapist. If you have an ear infection, you go see the ENT. When you need new glasses, you go see the ophthalmologist. We understand this when it comes to our personal health, but fail to apply this same principle when it comes to business health. If you went in for heart surgery and the doctor said “I’m actually a dermatologist - the closest thing I’ve done to surgery is a facial”, you would get up and walk out. You wouldn’t allow them to perform the surgery, because it’s not their specialty.
Lawyers have specialties too. As a lawyer myself, I am the first to admit I do not have expertise in everything. I am an intellectual property specialist and I am excellent when it comes to trademark and copyright law. But if you are being investigated by the SEC, I can’t help you. Looking to structure your business to comply with the latest IRS tax requirements? I’ll be referring you to someone else.
The truth is that “business law” is an incredibly vast subject. Looking to sell or buy a business? That’s mergers and acquisitions law. Hoping to open multiple locations of the company with different owners? Welcome to franchise law. Is it time to structure benefits packages for employees? Time to find a good employment lawyer. Did a customer sue because they got sick after using your product? Hello product liability law. These are only a few examples of the incredibly broad array of legal topics that are all related to “business”.
So what does this mean for you, the business owner who needs a lawyer to advise their company? It means that if you have been hiring generalists to fix specialized issues, that may be why you’ve been frustrated with your law firm experiences. I’m not saying that a general business lawyer cannot be helpful up to a point - there are plenty of entry-level legal issues that don’t necessarily require a specialist. But past a certain point, most businesses need to transition to hiring experts.
The law firm is wrong for your company’s stage of growth/maturity
Just like lawyers are specialized in different areas of the law, law firms are optimized for businesses of certain sizes, certain growth stages, and certain maturity levels. While a law firm may be capable of helping companies across the spectrum - from startups to multinational corporations - a single firm is probably not optimized for every stage of that spectrum.
Why is this? Because businesses have different priorities based on their size and maturity. For startups and new businesses, their priority is generating revenue. Accordingly, the legal priorities revolve around fostering a revenue-generating environment and preventing risks that would jeopardize that environment. Once a business has consistent revenue and the founders start to build a team, the priorities shift. Suddenly, you are trying to keep people happy; you are trying to keep your employees happy so they don’t leave and you’re trying to keep your clients and customers happy so they don’t sue you. As your company grows and becomes more well-known (which can happen relatively quickly in a niche industry) the priorities shift again - this time towards compliance. Suddenly, your company is a realistic target for an audit or a government investigation and it’s crucial to be prepared for that eventuality.
Because the priorities are different at each stage of business, most law firms are not optimized for every stage. Business owners will often assume that small businesses need small law firms and large businesses need large firms, but this is not necessarily true. Size is less significant than specialty and expertise. The more relevant question is which subject areas and which types of clients the law firm typically serves.
Insisting on being the sole point of contact
There is a misconception among business owners that “done for you” services means “done without you”. If your expectation is to hire a law firm and receive a finished product in a few weeks, without needing to be involved, you are going to be disappointed. Although the lawyer is going to do the actual work, they will still need input from you - decisions, approvals, company data and records. So this begs the question: are you the best person to provide that information?
Hard truth: it’s not always productive for the CEO to be involved in every layer of detail. Legal strategy can involve many minute details and the data a lawyer requires may be extensive. Past a certain point in business, the CEO is probably not the best sole point of contact for certain legal situations. It might be better to have a chief of staff handle the day-to-day and then loop the CEO in for big decisions.
Of course, effective delegation requires having the right team in place. Business owners who don’t have that team or who are solopreneurs can help themselves by intentionally budgeting the time needed to provide the answers, the data, and the approvals that their legal team requires to do their job. When the owner becomes the bottleneck, that slows everything down (and potentially makes things more expensive).
Undervaluing the importance of “fit”
Lastly, if you’ve never had a good experience working with a business lawyer, it may be because they were simply the wrong fit.
Here is an underappreciated fact: working with a lawyer means spending a lot of time with that lawyer. This means that fit matters, and it probably matters a lot. I’m not saying they need to be your best friend, but I am saying things will go more smoothly if your communication styles are compatible. Anyone who stays in business long enough will eventually need a lawyer to advise on something emotionally difficult - a bad business mistake, a painful situation with a business partner, or laying off employees when the economy turns sour. When those moments happen, you want a lawyer you feel comfortable walking through the mud with.
Hiring a lawyer does not mean that person stays in a distant office where you never have to deal with them. Depending on what is going on in your business, you might be talking to that person a lot. So yes, fit matters.
If all of your experiences hiring law firms have been “meh” hopefully this post brought you some clarity and helped you understand why.
May your next search for legal help be a successful one.
Thanks for reading the Bevel Law Blog! While this information is hopefully helpful to you, nothing in this blog is intended to be legal advice. Always consult a lawyer before making any legal decisions based on topics in this blog.
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