Legal-Ease: Building a Strong Client-Lawyer Team

By Jennifer C. Adams, Esq.

Whether you are starting a new business or growing an established firm, reinforce your efforts with a solid business plan. Give yourself every chance at success by including legal insight into the planning process. Here are a few basics on how to develop a strategic partnership with your business attorneys. Remember that your lawyers should create value and add to your success, not just drain resources. You will reap the benefits when you include your lawyers in your business planning process.

First: Find the right lawyer.

In selecting a lawyer to assist you with your business goals, you want someone who is competent in the right subject matter areas. Your lawyer should be able to advise you on the proper entity to use; assist with the creation of your initial contracts, especially your agreements among owners and key employees; and prepare financing documents to properly fund your operations. If your venture fits within a particular industry specialization, your lawyer should have some experience within that field or the ability to acquire the right knowledge. You should also have a candid conversation about legal fees and how your lawyer will manage costs.

In addition, you should develop a level of trust that your lawyer is working with you in a supportive, non-competitive role. Keep in mind that successful entrepreneurs often share essential qualities: strong personalities, competitive spirit and vibrant self-confidence. These basic characteristics are often the drivers of a thriving venture. Good lawyers, like successful business people, also use these characteristics to their advantage. Taken together, these factors can lead to a clash of wills and unnecessary friction that can inhibit a good relationship between client and lawyer. Your lawyer should be a sounding board for your plans, demonstrate a measure of enthusiasm for your projects, offer creative solutions and ease the way to the achievement of your goals.

Basic Checklist:

1.                  Business Knowledge —has your lawyer:

___      Explained the different types of entities available and made a recommendation on the right entity for your venture?

___      Outlined the business structure and the variety of contracts your new business will need?

___      Designed a timeline for creating internal policies (e.g., for employees, contracts administration, financial accountability, etc.) and licensing issues?

___      Explained your options for financing operations and is able to assist with soliciting investments or loans?

2.                  Know whom your lawyer represents—has your lawyer:

___      Explained whether the lawyer represents you, the new company or a business partner?

3.                  Budget for Fees and Costs—has your lawyer:

___      Created a project timeline and a budget to accomplish tasks?

___      Explained billing options, including alternative fee arrangements?

___      Provided a written fee agreement before commencing work?

4.                  Communications and Responsiveness—has your lawyer:

___      Prepared a reasonable meeting schedule?

___      Established reasonable deadlines and met them?

___      Responded to phone calls and requests for information in a timely manner?

Second: Create a business-to-legal team.

Of course, forming your new business is only the first step in your plans. As you grow, you will want to make sure to have a legal perspective guiding many of your business decisions. You should develop a team approach with your legal assets, in which your lawyers become effective partners to enable your success. Here are some suggestions on how to build a strong partnership with your legal team:

1.         Lawyers Should Attend Your Key Business and Staff Meetings

  • Involve lawyers in all key company business decisions.
  • Ensure that your legal team members attend important staff meetings where you discuss business plans or goals.

2. Lawyers Should Know Your Business Goals and Help You Achieve Them.

  • Not all lawyers say “no” or stand in the way of your business objectives—a good lawyer is a problem-solver who can adapt in the face of challenges.
  • If you include your lawyers in your business planning process, they can help ease the way to accomplishing your goals.

3. Corporate Counsel Are Business People

  • Lawyers can offer insights into problems from more than just a “legal” perspective.
  • Solicit your lawyers’ business contributions, which can be significant.

4. Your Lawyers Should Be Responsive and Prompt

  • Establish objectives early with your lawyers, such as deadlines and expectations for work product and fees.
  • Consider your lawyers as part of your team and communicate with them regularly.

5.         Learn About Problems Early

  • Enable your lawyers to stay abreast of business developments to learn of potential legal issues early.
  • Your lawyers should maintain contact with business and working groups, attending vital company meetings.

6.         Get to Know Your Lawyers as People

  • Allow your lawyers to attend company functions so that you get to know them as colleagues and as individuals.

7.         Your Lawyers Should Learn Your Business

  • Give your lawyers access to trade journals, sales meetings and company literature.
  • The more your lawyers know about your business, the more effective they will be for you in managing growth and preventing trouble.

8.         Be Proactive: Educate Your Business Staff

  • Ask your lawyers to hold seminars to educate non-legal staff about issues or job responsibilities that may have a legal implication.

9.                  Your Lawyers Should Offer Solutions.

  • You should ask your lawyers for recommendations, not just analysis.

© 2010, J. Adams, LLC

Jennifer C. Adams, Esq.

J. Adams, LLC

1419 Forest Dr., Ste. 205

Annapolis, MD 21403

Jennifer Adams practices business law and litigation, including government contracts. Her firm has combined experience of twenty-plus years advising new ventures and growing businesses. J. Adams, Attorneys offers a signature program to enable businesses to include lawyers in the business planning process. We also feature alternative fee arrangements to give flexibility and add value.

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